by Courtney Luke
Nine years ago, an attack was executed against the United States of America with such efficiency and ferociousness that millions watched in amazement and horror at its destruction. On September 11, 2001, hijacked planes flew into structures and symbols of America's freedom and democracy. Many were murdered with such a violence that witnesses were rendered speechless. In the midst of the carnage and destruction, heroes arose from the ashes - everyday citizens who overpowered hijacked airplanes in order to save the lives of countless others and our nation's leaders, firemen who climbed into skyscrapers when others were running out, police officers, paramedics, emergency personnel, all risking and many sacrificing their own lives for the well being of others.
In an era of modern technology, the entire world watched. An overwhelming sense of doom entered our lives such as had not been felt for nearly sixty years. In the weeks and months that followed, little else was discussed. A genuine spirit of patriotism and camaraderie evolved from east coast to west coast and everywhere in between. Enlistment lines reached unprecedented levels and church attendance multiplied in mass quantities. In one tragic day, our lives changed from a peaceful, hum-drum existence to one of fear, but also of determination. We all now had a mission and everything was so much more important than it use to be.
But, as life must, it goes on. Those emotions have faded over the last nine years. Once again there are political squabbles amongst the same people who once stood united on the steps of Congress and sang "God Bless America", no longer do we see American flags hanging from every street corner, and that September, there would not have even been a discussion whether or not there could be a Mosque built in downtown Manhattan. Yes, life continues, but we don't have to forget.
In the City of Malden on this past September 11, a group of people gathered to remember, not just that day in 2001, but also the day in 1941 when we were attacked on the shores of Hawaii, and the many days since when brave, young Americans have trained and fought and sacrificed, days long ago when many of them were young and fighting for the cause of democracy.
For nearly 20 years, Malden was a location where pilots began their training. Generally, they were rookie cadets with stars in their eyes and adventure in their heart. They learned to hone their trade and skill, often trying the patience of their instructors. Rumors of fly-bys and looping under bridges swirled and reports of local cows being hit by their cars were frequent, but they learned and became great pilots. These young people began careers lasting up to 30 or 40 years at the relatively small air field in the middle of the blowing sands of southern Missouri.
Every other year, there is a reunion held for the instructors, cadets, families, community members and interested individuals. This year, they began their reunion on Thursday and continued on through Saturday night. Several events were planned and a general time of fellowship and sharing of "old war stories" filled the hours. Casual meals and business meetings occupied Thursday and Friday.
Saturday morning, September 11, they, along with many others, met at their old training area, the runway of the Malden Regional Airport where a fly-in/drive-in breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausage and biscuits was served.
A Salute to Veterans Ceremony commenced at 11:00 a.m. with Gene Cox, chairman of the Malden Army Airfield Preservation Society (MAAPS) welcoming the attendees. The Malden High School JROTC color guard presented colors, the National Anthem was led by Connie Cox of MAAPS, and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by the Malden JROTC. Local Gospel singer, Jennifer Krepps presented a patriotic melody. Vocal and trumpet renditions of taps were performed by Connie Cox and Danielle Reddick and the closing words were spoken by Gene Cox.
Saturday afternoon was open for personal time, but many chose to visit one of the local Malden museums or travel to Bloomfield and visit the Stars and Stripes Museum.
"The Last Hoorah" - Yet the Legacy Continues Banquet began Saturday night at the Malden Community Center with reunion coordinator, George Hagans from the class of 60-C greeting the guests. Mayor Ray Santie gave special recognition to Veryl Riddle in honor of his influence in bringing the Malden Army Airfield to the city during the 1940s and a certificate of appreciation was bestowed to Amy Green on his behalf.
The Replicas, a nostalgic women's harmony singing trio provided entertainment focusing on the songs of the hit sister act, The Andrew's Sisters, a WWII-era singing sensation.
Jim Granger from the class of 54-M gave a tribute to all flight instructors. The keynote speaker for the evening was Senior Chief, Leslie Kildow who shared his experiences on the battle field both in WWII and the Vietnam Conflict. With obvious emotion, Hagans gave his closing remarks and dismissed the gathering.
These young men and women who have in the past fought so bravely and trained so diligently grew to become successful men and women, NASA pilots, generals, businessmen, teachers and even mothers. The people of Malden were fortunate to have them as part of our history, even for just a short time.