September 11th brought out many stories that most of us just can’t imagine. Few have heard the journey of one fighter pilot who faced an unimaginable mission that day: to bring down an airliner full of passengers.
On that clear day, 20 years ago, the stories of heroism rose above the confusion that clouded our country under attack. Lieutenant Heather Penney saw that firsthand. “I think anyone who was closely involved with that day has difficulty talking about it,” she told us.
To understand the role of Lt. Penney that day, you have to go back to when she was a little girl when she watched her father, who was a fighter pilot. She remembers wanting to be a pilot when she was just three years old.
As a member of the military’s National Guard on 9/11, she was a fighter pilot based in Washington, D.C. Heather’s mission that day was unimaginable to most. She was tasked with trying to bring down United Airlines Flight 93, which could be headed for the U.S. Capitol or the White House. “That meant that we had to do what was necessary and because we didn’t have any missiles on board, that meant that we would have to ram the aircraft, like kamikaze of the aircraft. This would have been a suicide mission for us,” says Penney.
At the time, she was a young lieutenant with no kids. She recalls not having time to even call her parents and say goodbye.
It wasn’t until much later that day when Lt. Penney had learned Flight 93 had crashed in Pennsylvania because the 33 passengers on board decided to fight back and take down the aircraft. “Those passengers should not have had to have made that decision. Thank God they did, " says Penney. “We were unable to execute our oath to protect and defend and it put our citizens in a position where they had to step up. That haunts me,” she said.
Her mission now includes flying as a hobby, being married and a mother of two. Like most of us, she’ll never forget that day in September, 20 years ago.
“For me, what’s important is not to live in the trauma, or the sensationalism, or the hate or the anger or the fear. What’s important is how we live out the legacy of the people who gave their lives,” said Penney.
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