9/11: Stories that Shaped Who We Are

Thursday, September 9, 2021
Vector image of WTC and Pentagon

Twenty years ago, our country witnessed the single deadliest terrorist attack to ever take place on American soil. A day that forever changed our nation. A day from which our Transportation Security Administration was a direct result.

Ask anyone who was old enough to remember, and they can tell you exactly where they were that day. Twenty years later, and some of us can recount almost every minute of September 11, 2001. One of those people is Carmen Fernandez-Hockaday, a Supervisory TSA Officer at Orlando International Airport.

On 9/11, Fernandez-Hockaday was a salon owner in Brooklyn, New York. She was working in her salon on that fateful day. She remembers watching the news, which she had on the salon TV, and thinking at first that somehow the station switched over and a movie was on instead. She quickly realized that those events were happening just across the bridge in Manhattan. We’ll let her tell her story from here:

“I started to see people walking into my shop. They looked like zombies. Soot all over their faces, clothes, and skin. They were in a trance. I immediately wanted to help, so I brought them in, grabbed some wet towels, and helped them remove the soot from their bodies. Some wanted me to wash their hair, others just wanted towels to wipe themselves off. Some people just wanted a place to sit and cry. I cried with them.” 

Fernandez-Hockaday, also worried about her son who was working in Manhattan that day, tells us that September 11 was one of the worst days of her life.

TSO at Pentagon Memorial

Federal Air Marshal J. Bethea remembers where he was on September 11, 2001, as well. He also remembers where he was just two nights before, driving past the World Trade Center with his family. Bethea says, “It had only been two days since I last saw the World Trade Center standing. I became sad and even more confused. September 11, 2001, would be a day that I remembered forever. I was hurting for the lives that were lost and the families that were affected. I remember thinking, what can I do to protect our fellow people and country?”

John Bell, a TSA Assistant Federal Security Director, remembers the drive he took to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, a few years after the 9/11 attacks. He walked the site where United Flight 93 crashed, reading the painted rocks, signs and license plates from around the world. He stopped to reflect, he can’t remember for how long, staring at the flag that hung on the fence line around the crash site. He turned around to find a place to sit down, and noticed that each bench, 40 in total, had the names of the flight’s victims etched into them. It was at that point when he openly wept. “Seeing those names made it much more real than I was prepared for. May we continue to give our greatest effort as a tribute to those who began the war on terror above that quiet field,” he said.

The stories of Carmen Hernandez-Hockaday, J. Bethea, and John Bell are just a few of the stories TSA employees have to tell. We encourage you to take a moment to read their essays, and other stories, on our website. And we’d encourage you to ask those in your life what they remember about that day as well.

While it’s important to remember where we came from, and the moments that shaped who we are, it’s also important to look ahead. As TSA prepares to celebrate its 20th anniversary this November, we’ll do a bit of both of those things here on our blog and across our social media platforms. We’ll tell you where we’ve been, we’ll tell the stories of our remarkable workforce, and we’ll tell you where we’re going.

But today, we’re thankful that we’re here and continue to serve our country.

About This Blog

The purpose of this blog is to share the latest news and helpful information with the public. If you have questions about TSA or the information presented here, please contact our AskTSA customer care team on Twitter or Facebook.

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