Military veterans remember Sept. 11

Xavier Smith • Updated Sep 10, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the day the nation saw evil and two local military veterans reminisced on the historic Sept. 11 terror attacks. 

The attacks, often referred to as Sept. 11, resulted in more than 3,000 deaths – including more than 400 first responders – after 19 militants associated with al-Qaeda hijacked four airliners and executed suicide attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania after passengers fought off hijackers. 

“I was on my way to breakfast when I heard the news and I pulled over to listen,” said Wilson County Veterans Services director Bernie Ash. “When I got to the restaurant all eyes were glued to the TV and everyone was quiet and watching in sort of shock at what was going on.”

“I was 14 years old. I was at school and I remember we had a TV on in class after the first initial attack and I actually watched the second airplane hit the towers. I had no clue what was going on or why. It was almost like a movie,” said Corey Lawson, U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

Ash had already served in the military at the time and Lawson would later enlist, but both said the day had an impact on their lives. 

“I thought it meant we were at war and being a Vietnam veteran, my thoughts and prayers immediately went out to the military people around the world. I remembered being in combat and I knew what they were about to face,” Ash said. 

Lawson said the attack played a huge part in his enlistment, along with Pat Tillman, an NFL player who died after he left the league and enlisted in the U.S. Army in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. 

“If somebody can give up millions of dollars to fight for their country, why in the hell am I not?” Lawson asked. 

Both men said the nation’s patriotism grew after the attack. Locally, the patriotism grew, along with concerns for the country. 

About 160 people gathered at the old Lebanon High School the night of the attack for a prayer meeting. At the same time, rumors of a gas shortage after the attack caused some local gas stations to run out of gas. One station reported selling about 8,000 gallons of gas in the 24 hours following the attack, about 4,000-5,000 more than usual. 

The Lebanon Municipal Airport also felt that aftermath of the terrorist attacks. The airport joined every airport around the country and shut down all flights following the attacks. 

“For the first time in history, all the airport radars in the U.S. are blank. The only blips are military aircraft,” John Baugh, aviation enthusiast and former military pilot, said in 2001.

When the Lebanon City Council met the following week, then-Mayor Don Fox reported the airport only had three flights and sold 25 gallons of fuel for the month. The council agreed to waive the rent fee for the month for the airport. 

The good deeds did not stop with the council, as several efforts throughout Wilson County Schools highlighted the youth’s patriotism. 

Kayla Watson and sister, Brittany, Watertown Elementary School students at the time, organized a disaster relief fund to aid victims. They wanted to donate blood, but were too young. 

Their efforts led to $75 raised Wednesday without any adult assistance, but by the end of the day Thursday, the effort had raised more than $550.

Watertown Middle School students raised more than $400 for relief efforts, while Carroll Oakland students raised more than $1,200 for the American Red Cross. 

The former University Medical Center reported receiving more than 50 inquiries about blood donations and referred those people to the Nashville Red Cross. 

Wilson County Registrar of Deeds Bev Spickard, in the wake of the attacks, returned veteran honorable discharge papers and related items of more than 40 veterans. Some of the items dated back to World War I and were turned into the office to be recorded, but were never retrieved by the former servicemen. 

“What you saw after the attack was patriotism and now we’ve turned away from that and you have people who don’t want to stand up for the national anthem. We have to remember who our real enemies are. America is vulnerable and can be attacked at any time,” Ash said. 

“We can be hit in the face and get right back up. Everybody lent a hand. There were people risking their lives and even dying to save others. It didn’t matter what color. It didn’t matter what race. It didn’t matter what age,” said Lawson. “During that time we stood together as Americans. That day is the true example of the saying tomorrow is never promised. All those people that died had no clue that would be the last time they kiss their loved ones. America’s so fast paced. It’s really sad that so many people have forgot about that day.”

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