Remembering that fateful day 17 years ago, 375th Air Mobility Wing Commander Col. Leslie A. Maher recalled how resilience and caring for others helped the nation rise up from tragedy together.
Maher, who had been assigned to the Pentagon on 9/11 but left the day before for duty in Boston, shared her personal account at a Patriots Day ceremony hosted by Scott Air Force Base, held early Tuesday morning outside wing headquarters.
“Thank you to those who have taken time out of their days to honor this tradition – a tradition we didn’t want. A tradition we never hoped to have,” Maher said.
Maher said that she had worked at the Pentagon in 2001, but had gone to Boston on Sept. 10, 2001.
“When I got to Boston that night, I didn’t call my husband,” she said.
Maher said that as she heard the news of a civilian plane hitting the World Trade Center the next day, all she could think about was how she hadn’t called her husband the night before.
“The second tower was hit while I was attempting to dial,” she said. “I couldn’t even make the call. Not even a few minutes later, flashes of the Pentagon came on the TV. Now I was really regretting not telling my husband where I was at.”
Maher said that she made it back to Washington D.C. 48 hours after the attack and it was “eerily quiet.”
In D.C., Maher worked in the Crisis Center along with medical first responders, psychiatrists and chaplains answering calls “to aid those families who had not heard from their loved ones.”
Maher said that she answered one call from an 18-year-old male who inquired about his mother who he had not heard from in three days. As she was not a professional social worker, she was instructed to pass along the inquiry because it was a directly affected family member who was calling.
Maher said that the young man was taking care of his sister who was nine-years-old and the social worker was working through how to get him the care he would need.
“Yes – his mother had been one of the victims of the Pentagon,” Maher said.
“Days went on like that,” she said. “Us rising up. Working countless hours and helping each other. Half staffed at the Pentagon and the other half somewhere else.”
“People rushed in to help, not running away. That will forever be marked in my mind,” Maher said. “I will never forget it.”
Maher said that “truck after truck” came and parked in the parking lot and donated good to make sure that the responders were taken care of.
“As you know, we each have a story. We need to talk about it. We need to share it,” she said. “We need to make sure that what we do has purpose.”
“Share your story and show how resilient we all are.”
“It’s taking care of each other. It’s rising up. It’s putting a plan into action and it’s getting it done that makes us the greatest nation on this planet.”
Following her remarks, Maher laid a wreath in honor of Patriot’s Day and the lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001.