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Remembering 9/11

Kadena Airmen salute the American flag during Taps at the 9/11 memorial ceremony near the wing building on Kadena AB, Japan, Sept. 11.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

Kadena Airmen salute the American flag during Taps at the 9/11 memorial ceremony near the wing building on Kadena AB, Japan, Sept. 11. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

Maj. Jason Settle, 18th Wing Inspector General chief of wing exercises, plays Taps during the 9/11 memorial ceremony on Kadena AB, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

Maj. Jason Settle, 18th Wing Inspector General chief of wing exercises, plays Taps during the 9/11 memorial ceremony on Kadena AB, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

Veterans, Roger Shelton, right, and Kevin Freeland, left, bow their heads during a moment of silence at the 9/11 memorial ceremony at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007.

Veterans, Roger Shelton, right, and Kevin Freeland, left, bow their heads during a moment of silence at the 9/11 memorial ceremony at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007.

Maj. Chris Iriarte, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, plays the bagpipes during the 9/11 memorial ceremony at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007.
(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

Maj. Chris Iriarte, 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, plays the bagpipes during the 9/11 memorial ceremony at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Sept. 11, 2007. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Ramon)

KADENA AB, Japan -- Feeling a powerful blow, the mother of a Kadena NCO, looked up and saw the tail end of a plane protruding from one of the World Trade Center towers. 

"While standing in the street, everyone was talking amongst themselves of the sad fate for those where the plane hit," said Melva Sierra, mother of Tech. Sgt. Luz Swanner from the 18th Equipment Maintenance Squadron. "Everyone thought it was just an accident." 

Her initial reaction was to go straight to work across the street from World Trade 7. When she arrived there everyone was evacuating. 

"Everyone started walking home because transportation came to an abrupt stop," Mrs. Sierra said. 

She decided to get out of there fast even though she did not know what was happening. She went down to the subway and took the last train out of Manhattan. She went directly to a family owned butcher shop and noticed they were watching the accident on television. 

"When I got there, a second plane hit the other tower. Then the first tower began to fall and I could not watch it anymore," Mrs. Sierra added as she cried. 

While viewing the destruction of the first tower, she was on the phone with her daughter.
As Mrs. Sierra watched the coverage, she saw people fall from the tower and became very emotional. 

"I had been trying to contact her from the time the first plane hit till the first tower fell," said her daughter.
"It was very emotional at the time and it felt like the world had just stopped," said Sergeant Swanner. 
I felt comforted just talking to her on the phone, she added. 

"The irony of this is that she never took the e-train concourse that stopped at the bottom of the WTC because of the congestion," said Swanner, "but that day she decided to get an application for a relative." 

Mrs. Sierra usually took the chamber street train which took her closer to her job.
Going to work after the tragedy affected her so much she decided to retire early at 56. She would become very emotional when she saw the monuments, firemen's jackets or remembered the people she had seen buying fruit or coffee that day, of whom many may have died in the attack. 

"I went once to the site and have never gone back," said Mrs. Sierra. "It made me nervous and depressed." 

Years have passed and Mrs. Sierra still tries to forget the terrible tragedy of 9/11. 

"It brings sadness to think about what happened," said Mrs. Sierra. "It was very ugly and difficult to witness." 

She was also in the WTC in 1993 when a terrorist bomb went off in the basement. 

"It felt like an earthquake when the bomb went off," she said. 

After that frightening attack, it seemed to her unthinkable for a terrorist plot to be carried out in the air using airplanes. 

"Because of my experience in 1993, I believed all terrorist acts occurred on the ground," said Mrs. Sierra. 

"When the first plane hit on 9/11, I did not connect it with 1993 or terrorism," said Sergeant Swanner. "I did not think anything of it other than it was just a big accident."
After the second tower was hit, I heard on the news that it was an act of terrorism, she added. 

Though she was relieved to know her mother was safe, Sergeant Swanner was saddened her mother had to go through that experience.
As Sergeant Swanner saw one of America's iconic structures completely in ruins, she reminisced of the streets once walked, restaurants visited, and lunches spent with her mom. 
All of a sudden those places were covered in soot, debris and innocent lives had been lost. 

"These two buildings I used to see everyday while I grew up in New York are gone," she said.