Katy area veterans reflect on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

By Andy Valadez, USMC (88 to 92)/Public Relations Officer for Katy American Legion Post 164
Posted 9/19/21

It seems that every generation in America has its wakeup call. Every war, every undeclared war, every attack, and every call to duty is remembered more acutely by those called to serve our nation in …

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Katy area veterans reflect on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001

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It seems that every generation in America has its wakeup call. Every war, every undeclared war, every attack, and every call to duty is remembered more acutely by those called to serve our nation in the United States Armed Forces. These volunteer civilians are transformed into dedicated warriors who head into harm’s way. Harm can come in various forms, personal sacrifice and financial hardship, psychological trauma, exposure to harmful chemicals and diseases, physical injury in training and combat, and the ultimate cost - one’s life.

According to a recent article by NPR in June 2021, “An estimated 7,057 service members have died during military operations since 9/11, while suicides among active-duty personnel and veterans of those conflicts have reached 30,177.”

A few veterans remember:

Founder of the Portrait of a Fallen Warrior Gallery in Cypress, Ken Pridgeon (86), USAF Veteran, who painted U.S. Army Captain Jonathan D. Rozier (the namesake for the Katy American Legion Post), the first killed-in-action in the War on Terror from Katy remembers.

“I, just like everyone else, heard the news of the first tower and then saw the second which I thought was a rocket. I started painting fallen warriors from Texas in 2010 and have painted over 300; however, about 630 have fallen since then, the most recent from Afghanistan – U.S. Marine Lance Corporal David Lee Espinoza (20) has been delivered to (his) family in Laredo,” Pridgeon said.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, a routine deployment turned into a life-altering event,” said former U.S. Navy, Operations Specialist Second Class Dr. Grace Horner.My then-future-husband and I found ourselves onboard the USS Carl Vinson. He, on the flight deck working aircraft launch and recovery operations, and I, standing watch at my radar station on the navigation, watching what we all thought was a terrible movie on a small TV screen. As the 2nd plane hit the South Tower, we couldn’t fathom the enormity of what was taking place. The USS Carl Vinson went on to be first to strike in Afghanistan following the horrific attacks on our nation. To this day, I find it difficult to visit the WTC. It was the day that unified us as a nation, a day that brought us all together as one military force, a day we continue to mourn with so many families who lost loved ones. It is the day we will NEVER forget.”

“September 11, 2001, the changes we have seen. The planes hitting the Towers, the Pentagon, and crashing into an empty field in Pennsylvania. I was sitting on my couch tying my shoes, getting ready to head out the door to work,” said Mark “Oz” Geist a U.S. Marine and author of “13 Hours.”  The news was on as it was every morning. The moment I saw the first plane explode into balls of flames as it crashed through Tower One, I knew it was not an accident. I thought in the back of my mind - hoped and prayed it was. Then the second plane hit Tower Two and my worst fears were confirmed. Our country was under attack. I called my wife Krystal and told her the news. She was driving to Fowler, Colorado with our daughter. Not fully understanding how but knowing our lives would be changed on that day forever. 9/11 happened twice for us. Once in 2001 and again in 2012. Our lives have been changed forever.”

“When 9/11 happened, I was finishing a work-up at our desert training facility in California with SEAL Team 5, getting ready to deploy,” said U.S. Navy veteran Charlie Melton. “We all came in for lunch and it was on TV. At first everyone thought it was a movie. It’s hard to believe that something that took away so many of our freedoms is hardly remembered 20 years later.”

“On 9/11, I was confirming an appointment with a client,” said Harry Woodstrom, U.S. Army veteran and commander of the 22nd District Department of the Texas American Legion. “Once on the telephone, he told me to turn my television. Our meeting was cancelled. I was stunned. My brother-in-law, (a wing commander with the British Royal Air Force), was stationed at the Pentagon. The aircraft arrived at the Pentagon before he did. He was safe. I was retired Army and I called to see if my services were needed. They were not. I stayed retired and managed to watch a 20-year attempt to make things right in the world. I believe we made a difference, but I also believe that history will not be kind to the attempt.”

“I was stationed at the Pentagon on 9/11. I was in Room 4E468 when the plane struck the building.  As soon as the second plane attacked in (New York City), I knew we were at war,” said Joe D. Baker II, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel. “A photo of room 4E468 was taken one to two days later and the Marine Corps flag was still standing. The flag was retrieved, went to the International Space Station, and is now on display at the Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, Virginia.”

As we remember those who lost their lives 20 years ago, let’s continue to stand for America and never forget the men and women who have lost their loved ones since then and those who stand ready to defend her today. We are Americans.

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