Victims from Sept. 11, 2001, were honored as heroes at Fallon’s 9/11 ceremony Thursday behind City Hall.
Mayor Ken Tedford Jr. decided to share a different story than the ones he has told in the past.
“Normally, we would give a brief history about where we got the memorial and what the city did to get the beam after 9/11, but I’m going to strike from that this year,” Tedford said. “We have a citizen with us today and who has been here every year, Jacquie Heppinger. Jacquie’s cousin story was written up in the Washington Post on Sept. 10, 2011 … it was the 10-year anniversary. Lt. Heather ‘Lucky’ Penny was on her runway at Andrews Air Force Base and ready to fly. She had her hand on the throttle of an F-16, and she had her orders: Bring down United Airlines Flight 93. The day’s fourth hijacked airliner seemed to be hurtling toward Washington. Penney, one of the first two combat pilots in the air that morning, was told to stop it.”
Tedford continued to read Penny’s entire story at the ceremony. He said Penny took off to find United flight 93 and to bring it down. The only problem she was faced with was she didn’t have any live missiles or ammunition on her jet — she only had her jet.
“Because the surprise attacks were unfolding, in that innocent age, faster than they could arm war planes, Penney and her commanding officer went up to fly their jets straight into a Boeing 757,” Tedford read. “We wouldn’t be shooting it down. We’d be ramming the aircraft,’ Penney recalls of her charge that day. ‘I would essentially be a kamikaze pilot.’”
Tedford said Penny is one of the first-generation female combat pilots in the United States. He said Penny earned her pilots license when she was a literature major at Purdue University and during her graduate studies, Congress opened combat aviation to women.
“A third plane hit the Pentagon, and almost at once came word that a fourth plane could be on the way, maybe more,” Tedford read. “The jets would be armed within an hour, but somebody had to fly now, weapons or no weapons. ‘Lucky, you’re coming with me,’ barked Col. Marc Sasseville. They were gearing up in the pre-flight life-support area when Sasseville, struggling into his flight suit, met her eye. ‘I’m going to go for the cockpit,’ Sasseville said. She replied without hesitating. ‘I’ll take the tail.’ It was a plan and a pact.”
But she didn’t have to die. She didn’t have to knock down an airliner full of kids and salesmen and girlfriends. They did that themselves, Tedford said.
“It would be hours before Penney and Sasseville learned that United 93 had already crashed in Pennsylvania, an insurrection by hostages willing to do just what the two Guard pilots had been willing to do: Anything. And everything,” Tedford said. “’The real heroes are the passengers on Flight 93 who were willing to sacrifice themselves,’ Penney says. ‘I was just an accidental witness to history.’”
When it was Gov. Brian Sandoval’s turn to speak, he said Americans count the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, as one of the darkest days in American history.
“The sadness and shock that day is seared into our collective memories,” Sandoval said. “None of us will forget where we were when the first news began trickling in when the first tower fell. We will remember our shock, our grief and our anger. But more importantly we will remember how we came together as Americans, bound in both mourning and resolution. We were stead fast, strong and determined. As one people and as one nation.”
Sandoval said he doubts that American will ever comprehend the evil behind those attacks but attendees all understand why they are present at the ceremony and what is being honored.
“We understand that life is fragile and we must cherish every moment,” Sandoval said. “We understand how unbelievable fortunate we are to live in the United States of America. We understand that there is nothing conventional about the human spirit and its ability to triumph over tragedy.”
Sandoval ended his speech with positive words.
“We suffered a great loss on 9/11 and we’ve suffered even more losses since then,” Sandoval said. “But we’ve never given up, we’ve remained resolute and we continue to stay strong, committed and proud.”