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Memories of 9/11 here in La Vernia

Memories of 9/11 here in La Vernia
Don and Ruby Manen

A La Vernia News exclusive

A few days ago, on Sept. 11, we stopped what we were doing and remembered the 9/11 event that changed America and most of our lives. Most everyone recalls what they were doing on that day and remember the date with dismay.

Some were at home when the television began to bring news of the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, and then the news of the plane crashing into the Pentagon and into the field in Pennsylvania. It was definitely a day of shock and grief.

Some folks at work received phone calls, saying, “Look at the TV or turn on the radio; our country is hurting!”

The business world came to a halt as the terrible news of the day unfolded. Business didn’t seem very important all of a sudden.

Parents went to the schools and picked up their children, wanting to be close to them in this time of danger. While the littlest ones didn’t understand any of it, older children were concerned as they saw their parents hurting. Families needed to be together.

It was a time of grief and reflection, a time of worry and wondering if our freedoms and liberty were disappearing. Many tears were shed for the victims and their families. Also held high in honor were the 351 firefighters and emergency responders and 60 police officers that lost their lives trying to rescue victims. We now know that 2,974 innocent people lost their lives on that day.

We share our community with a couple who really lived that day in a way that none of us would ever want to. Ruby and Don Manen’s lives changed that day.

As executive director of the Air Force Manpower Agency, Ruby has two offices. Her primary office was at Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio; her secondary office was in the Pentagon in a classified vault. That fateful day found Ruby and four of her Randolph employees in the Pentagon, working on a classified project for the Air Force chief of staff.

Just as many others did, they realized something terrible was happening from reports on the television. They thought the first airplane to go into the Twin Towers could have been an accident, but certainly not when the second plane followed suit.

Ruby and two of her team were working in the vault that day; they immediately started searching for their other two teammates. Ruby’s intention was to get them out of the building, because she was certain the Pentagon would be the next target. During the Cold War days, the very center of the Pentagon was nicknamed “Ground Zero,” because it was the No. 1 target in the Soviet Union war plans.

As a supervisor, Ruby had been trained by the Air Force in fire drills and evacuation procedures on a periodic basis; supervisors were required to account for all their employees after leaving the building. On 9/11, she was very thankful for this training. No one panicked and everyone followed the evacuation procedures.

The Pentagon is a very large building two basements and five floors. The outer ring of the building is 1 mile around; it houses approximately 28,000 military personnel and government employees and another 3,000 contractor personnel.

As Ruby and her staff evacuated down the stairs from the fifth floor, their path took them just outside the crash site. The smoke and smell of jet fuel was very, very strong. They witnessed horrific scenes of victims being removed from the site by emergency workers.

After getting out of the building, Ruby continued to look for her other staff members. It took several hours to find the other two, but they turned out to be safe and uninjured.

Later, they learned that American Airlines 77 took off from Dulles Airport and flew directly into the Pentagon. The dead numbered at 184. That included 125 people who worked in the Pentagon, 54 passengers on the plane, and five hijackers.

Ruby shared her thoughts, in the wake of the recent anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

“It was terrible to lose these people but the loss could have been much greater,” she said. “What if the area that was struck had been repopulated? It had just been remodeled and many had not moved back into the offices.

“What if the plane had hit the other side of the building, killing the top echelon of the military, or if the hijackers had been expert pilots, or what if we had not had a strong commander-in-chief at the helm? What would have happened at the Pentagon and to our country?”

Because communication on the East Coast was down, Don didn’t know for a long time if his wife was alive or dead. Finally, after about six hours, he received word and, of course, rejoiced at being back in contact with Ruby and knowing that she had not suffered any physical damage. His day of grief turned to joy.

Let’s never forget that day. How can we pay homage to those who suffered and died? How can we make a difference in our country and our freedoms?

We must stay informed. We must pray for our leaders and we must be involved in voting and working with our elected officials.

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