At precisely 9:59 AM Saturday, September 11, 2021, two fighter jets conducted a flyover in the skies above Joint Base Cape Cod.
The jets with the 104nd Fighter Wing out of Westfield, Massachusetts pierced the clear blue skies above the base in a scene eerily reminiscent of the morning of September 11, 2001.
At 8:46 AM on that fateful day, with skies an identical azure blue, and with reports coming in of the World Trade Center towers in New York City being attacked, two F-15A Eagles were scrambled from the base. In just six minutes, both planes were airborne and on their way to New York City.
On Saturday, the flyover was part of a commemorative ceremony conducted by the 102nd Intelligence Wing to honor the lives lost in the attacks on America 20 years ago. The 9:59 AM timeframe signified when the south tower of the World Trade Center fell that day.
Master Sergeant Paul H. Judge served for 36 years in the Massachusetts Air National Guard before his retirement in 2013. Sgt. Judge was at Joint Base Cape Cod on 9/11, where he worked in Avionics, the office focused on electronic systems and equipment specifically designed for use in aviation.
Sgt. Judge recalled that, back then, there were daily training flights that took off from the base. The morning of 9/11, pilots were getting ready for their training flights, when he said that he heard something out of the ordinary.
He said that he heard scramble orders come over the radio from NEADS, the Northeast Air Defense Sector. NEADS controls all the alerts in the country, Sgt. Judge said. He said his first thought was that NEADS was doing a practice scramble at the same time the base was launching its aircraft, “just to make sure both could be done at the same time.”
“That was my first thought,” he said, “and then when I heard it come back over the radio again, I could hear in their voice, something’s not right. I think this is serious.”
The details of September 11, 2001 are infamously known. Four commercial planes scheduled to fly from the East Coast to California were hijacked by 19 terrorists associated with Al-Qaeda. Two of the planes crashed into the twin towers, one plane crashed into the Pentagon building. The fourth was intended for a target in Washington, DC, but crashed into a field in Pennsylvania when plans were foiled by passengers on board.
Air Force Captain Bonnie Blakely served as Master of Ceremonies for the commemoration. Capt. Blakely recalled that a total of 2,977 people were killed in the attacks, “the single largest loss of life resulting from a foreign attack on American soil.” She also noted that 441 first responders died, “the greatest loss of emergency responders on a single day in American history.”
“Since that day, we have been at war against terrorism. Over the past 20 years, we have all made sacrifices. Some of us have lost good friends along the way. It is important that we keep our promise as a nation to never forget,” Capt. Blakely said.
Saturday’s ceremony took place inside one of the intelligence wing’s hangars on the base. A giant American flag stretched across a wall behind a grandstand festooned with flag bunting. Attendees included current officers and airmen, as well as invited guests and dignitaries.
One such retired dignitary was Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Mattera, who currently works for General Dynamics. Lt. Col. Mattera said that September 11 “will always a somber day of remembrance for me.”
He recounted arriving for work on the base that day, and that he and his wife were leaving the next day for vacation in Hawaii. He recalled the “scramble call” to send jets to New York City, the flurry of activity that happened throughout the remainder of the day, and arriving home at midnight to tell his wife that “we would not be going to Hawaii tomorrow…or anytime soon.”
The lieutenant colonel became emotional when speaking of a timeline of events that is posted at the 9-11 Memorial in New York City that includes the dispatch of the two jets from Otis Air Base that morning at 8:46 AM. He said that he recently toured the base and spoke with a number of the airmen with the 102nd Intelligence Wing.
“I came away highly impressed with your skills and professionalism,” he said. “This feels good in knowing that the 102nd Intelligence Wing continues a long and proud history of service to our nation.”
Colonel Sean D. Riley is commander of the 102nd Intelligence Wing. Col. Riley recalled being an airman 20 years ago, and how the 102nd Intelligence Wing became part of a contingent of 35,000 guardsmen who were mobilized for Operation Noble Eagle, military operations related to homeland security and support of federal, state, and local agencies.
“Please be assured that today the 102nd Intelligence Wing is as fully engaged in the fight as we were 20 years ago,” the Colonel said.