Today, September 11, 2013, marks 12 years since the United States was attacked by Al Qaeda terrorists that left approximately a total of 3,000 people dead in New York City, at the Pentagon and in a remote field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
For those who survived and the families of the victims, their lives have forever been changed. Americans have forever been changed. For one young woman who now calls Johnson County home, her life will never be the same.
Every anniversary of September 11th has been difficult for Rachel, but especially so this year. I have known Rachel for several years, but this is the first time she sat down and talked with me at length about the death of her beloved uncle who died that day in the Pentagon. It was difficult for me to keep my emotions in check as Rachels eyes welled with tears she somehow managed to hold back. It was soon obvious to me that her Uncle Billie was indeed one special man who would always be in Rachels heart.
Growing up, Rachel and her brother would spend their summers at the home of their aunt and uncle where they learned to fish, garden and work on automobiles. Wherever Billie was, there was Rachel, right next to him. He was the only father figure I had growing up, she said. He loved me and my brother to death. She wistfully added that her uncle was the one who initiated them coming to visit each summer more so than her aunt. With a smile that reached her eyes, Rachel described her uncle as amazing, loving and funny. He always brought out the best in me, in everybody, she recalled. He was awesome.
Rachel and her brother were raised by a single mother. Their father was not a presence in their lives. She was 15 when her uncle died and his death has left a huge void in her heart. He was the only adult male I ever trusted because my dad wasnt around, she said. The only dad I ever had was my Uncle Billie.
We are fortunate if we are given special people who make a positive difference in our lives, who touch our heart and forever change who we are and who we become. Billie was that special someone for Rachel. Twelve years later, memories of the man who stole her heart as a child brings both smiles and tears to her eyes. The memory of how he died at the hands of terrorists continue to haunt her.
Billie served in the Army and was a paratrooper during Desert Storm. He retired from the military and at the time of his death was working as a civilian at the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense.
His office was located at the site where the hijacked plane struck, causing the western side of the building to partially collapse. He was 47 years old when he died on September 11.