GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – At 8:46 am on September 11, 2001, a commercial aircraft flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Within an hour and a half, other aircraft would hit the South Tower, the Pentagon, and crash in a Pennsylvania field.
Although 21 years have passed, most Americans that were working or in school at the time can recall what they were doing the exact moment they heard the news.
Mike McEligot, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., was a chief petty officer and instructor in San Angelo at the time. He was preparing for his day as the command duty officer at Goodfellow AFB. McEligot, now a retired Navy Master Chief, is again working at Goodfellow, this time as an instructional systems specialist at Information Warfare Training Command Monterey Detachment Goodfellow.
McEligot recalls, “I was on my way to work when I heard on the radio that the first plane had hit the north tower. No one was really on alert yet because it was only one plane.”
“I got to the Angelo Inn, where the quarterdeck was at the time, and turned on the TV,” McEligot continued. “That’s when the second plane hit, and I realized it wasn’t an accident.”
He remembers calling the officer in charge to make sure he had received an update and thinking that everything kind of snowballed after that. The base went into Force Protection Condition Delta, then was a lockdown was issued about an hour later.
“I was basically in contact with the Air Force Command Post all day and kept my eyes on the TV,” McEligot. “We were preparing for the worst. No one knew what the next target might be.”
On a personal note, McEligot shared, being from upstate New York, he had friends that lived in New York City, none of them worked at the Trade Center, but said it really hits home when something like that happens. He felt sad that so many innocent people lost their lives.
“It’s not like when you’re in a warzone and lose people,” said McEligot. “I felt like having a specifically civilian target was out of line. At the same time, it gave me a sense of pride as a New Yorker. Just watching how the emergency personnel responded, how civilians helped civilians, and all the people just doing their jobs and responding the way they are supposed to in that type of situation. We saw the best of America that day.”
McEligot said he doesn’t think kids these days quite understand what happened that day, and hopes they never have to.
“To live through something like that really makes it stick with you forever. Especially this time of year,” said McEligot.
Chief Cryptologic Technician (Interpretative) Jennifer Cardenas, originally from Puerto Rico, and currently stationed in San Angelo, remembers she was returning from a trip when she heard the news.
“I was in Puerto Rico driving home after visiting my niece for a few days,” said Cardenas. “I was listening to music in my car when suddenly a news report broke in. I remember thinking that it was just a bad joke but as time passed details got more consistent.”
Right before she got home, she remembers, it was officially declared a terrorist attack after the second airplane hit.
“I just started sobbing and could not understand why would anybody do that,” said Cardenas. “I have never felt so hopeless and hurt for strangers like I did that day. It is hard to comprehend how something that happened over 1,500 miles away could have such a long-lasting effect on an insignificant ‘Boricua’ (person of Puerto Rican descent) like me, but it did.”
After the attack was confirmed and officially labeled a terrorist attack, she felt uneasy and couldn’t be still. This is when it became clear to her that she wanted to serve in the military.
“As silly as it may sound, I wanted to in some small way protect people from terrorism, so I joined the Navy,” said Cardenas. “I remember a U.S. flag that was posted around the mountains of debris where the twin towers used to be. Even after more than 20 years serving, I still feel sadness and extreme pride when I hear the national anthem or see the flag being raised or lowered. It will forever mean hope to me.”