Homer Alaska - News

Story last updated at 9:24 PM on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A day to remember

Sept. 11 survivor recalls those who have died for U.S.

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff Writer


Photographer: McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Eileen Faulkner of Homer, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, proudly wears on her American Legion hat the silver pin that identifies her as a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001, Eileen Faulkner was nearing retirement after 24 years of service in the U.S. Air Force. Before the day was over, the building she worked in would become a terrorist target. Ten years later, she remembers those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Faulkner, a lieutenant colonel responsible for obtaining funding for various Air Force programs, was in a meeting in the Pentagon, the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense in Arlington County, Va., the morning of Sept. 11. Shortly before 9 a.m., Faulkner and others in the meeting heard the news that American Airlines Flight 11 had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

"We were going, well, maybe it was a stupid accident even though it was a clear sunny day," said Faulkner, now a Homer resident.

Shortly after 9 a.m., when they learned that United Airlines Flight 175 had hit the WTC South Tower, they knew it was no accident.

"We knew we were at war," said Faulkner.

What neither she nor those with her knew was that a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77, was headed their direction.

Seconds before the Boeing 757 hit the five-story cement structure, Faulkner heard it coming.

"After being in the Air Force, you know when an engine is spooling up to get more power. We heard it, but it was too late to do anything," she said.

The airliner, with five hijackers and 59 others on board, slammed into the Pentagon 100 yards from where Faulkner worked, killing everyone on the plane plus 125 that worked in the building.

"We felt the building shake, rattle and roll and we knew right away it was related," Faulkner said, referring to the earlier attacks of the World Trade Center

Victims at the Pentagon included both military and civilian workers. They were men and women. Their ages ranged from early 20s to late 60s. Their hometowns were scattered across the United States. Had the plane hit the Pentagon anywhere other than where it did, Faulkner is certain the death count would have been higher.

"The only reason there were not anywhere near as many lives lost was because where they went to was a section of the building that was under renovation so it was not really occupied," she said.

Had the building been newer — construction began in 1941 and it was dedicated in 1943 — Faulkner is certain the damage would have been worse.

Memorial Day Services

The public is invited to the following Memorial Day ceremonies organized by American Legion Post 16, Homer; American Legion Post 18, Ninilchik; and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 10221, Anchor Point:

Monday, May 30

10 a.m. Hickerson Memorial Cemetery, Diamond Ridge Road

Noon Anchor Point Community Cemetery, Kallman Ddrive

2 p.m. American Legion Cemetery, Ninilchik

"A newer building would have tumbled to the ground. Because it's such an old building, it's solid concrete," she said.

What happened that day was a shock.

"The military might of the world had been hit," said Faulkner. "Then of course they started evacuating Washington, D.C., because (United Airlines) Flight 93 was coming and nobody knew what was going on.

An hour after the Pentagon was struck, the fourth plane, believed to have been targeting either the U.S. Capitol or the White House, was crashed by hijackers and passengers outside of Pittsburg, Pa.

In the wake of the day's disasters, it took four hours for Faulkner to travel the six miles from the Pentagon to where she lived. During that time, she borrowed a cell phone to call relatives in New York state and let them know she was OK. She also called her cousin, Janet Higley of Homer.

"I knew she was in the Pentagon and I was worried about her," said Higley.

When she heard her cousin's voice, Higley could tell Faulkner was upset, "but, normal for her, she was very strong."

News stories showed Pentagon personnel returning to work the following day, "but that was the other half of the building. In my office, we couldn't get back in until a month later," said Faulkner.

By that time, debris was being cleared away and plans were being developed to rebuild what had been destroyed. In spite of the progress, powerful reminders lingered.

"The first time I walked in, I could still smell it," said Faulkner. "The fumes of fuel oil and whatever else was mixed in from the building renovation going on were there."

Not all of the feelings following the attack were unpleasant. Faulkner remembers a "feeling of Americanism, of being united in the United States. ... A feeling of patriotism."

In the past 10 years, she has unexpected moments when the horror of that day come back.

"I remember being up in Anchorage the following summer in a hotel meeting room and the fire alarm went off. I almost went underneath the table," she said.

On Sept. 11, 2002, Faulkner, by then retired from the Air Force and living in Homer, was in the Homer High School gym when the Homer High School concert choir and the Kenai Peninsula Community Orchestra, under the direction of Mark Robinson participated in the Rolling Requiem. The worldwide event commemorated all those who had lost their lives a year earlier.

"I thanked (Robinson) afterwards," she said. "It didn't bring closure, but I thanked him."

Does she believe attacks like those of 2001 will be repeated?

"Maybe the idiots will get stupid again. I don't think it will be right away, but I think they'll try something again," she said. "And if something doesn't happen, it could be just that our intelligence caught on and managed to stop it."

Asked about the death earlier this month of Osama Bin Laden, the leader of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, Faulkner said, "I'm glad they got him. I just wish it hadn't taken 10 flipping years."

Of the war on terrorism that was been waged since the Sept. 11 attacks, Faulkner is well aware of the cost.

"I'm sorry for all the young soldiers, Marines, Navy and Air Force personnel that have passed away because of this," she said.

Faulkner also is aware that not all wounds suffered by those in the military are fatal. Nor are they seen or quickly healed.

"You don't give up what's in your head," she said. "Which is why I say I'm kind of over it, kind of not."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.