A Historic Moment for Freedom

Photo by Michelle Rattinger
Almost ten years ago on Sept 11, 2001 USS John C. Stennis was  conducting routine flight operations off the balmy coast of Southern California when our lives were instantly shattered.

On that gray September day, I woke up like any other, switched on the remote to see whether my Braves still remained on top of the Major Leagues and whether the Chargers would start Drew Brees or Doug Flutie as quarterback. 

Strange, I thought, as I started my morning ritual of shaving, brushing and dressing.  One of the twin towers was hit by an errant airplane.  What kind of idiot would do that?

In the wardroom, I polished up my eggs and bacon while participating in the obligatory morning gossip with friends.  How were the Padres doing?
Jubilant GWU students. By Michelle Rattinger

Then I grabbed a mug of steaming java and leisurely strolled across the hangar bay to my office on the second level to start the day's work.  Another normal day perhaps, or would there be some excitement? 

When I arrived, my entire division of three journalists and a Senior Chief were horrified by what was on the news.  The second tower was now ablaze and the sky all around southern Manhattan was filled with a huge plume of smoke.  For the first time in a while, I started to cry.  As expected, we would not be heading home that day.  Our ship was assigned to watch over the skies of Southern California as part of  Operation Noble Eagle. 

Less than two months later, the 5,000 plus Sailors and Marines as part of the USS Stennis, Carrier Air Wing 9 and the Destroyer Squadron battle group would be heading towards the epicenter to hunt for Bin Laden and to destroy the Taliban.

We came really close to getting him.  We believed that he was hiding in the rugged mountains of Tora Bora.  F-14 and F/A-18 jets from Carrier Air Wing 9 attacked the Taliban stronghold in Tora Bora -- the Taliban forces was obliterated, but Bin Laden was no where to be found -- he had gotten away.

That is why, when I got home tonight after studying hard with classmates at George Washington University, I was shocked beyond words.  What happened? Did DC finally win a professional championship?

It all started with jubilant students from George Washington, Georgetown, AU, George Mason, Maryland, Howard et al., who flocked to the White House to celebrate the good news.  Despite it being finals week, no exam was as significant as real world events happening literally in front of us. Broadcast TV aired the amazing footage and social media gave it the spark to go viral.

I was overjoyed by the fact that Americans and tourists from all over were out celebrating in front of the White House.  People had stormed Lafayette Square as if it was V-J day all over again.  

"USA, USA!" they chanted.  People had climbed trees, waving flags, singing the National Anthem.  Jubilant fans were hanging out windows, hollering "God Bless America."  Many were still in sports jerseys embracing perfect strangers. They had stepped out of a Washington Capitals playoff game loss and would be out here celebrating till the wee hours of the night.

I was proud to see so much patriotism and love for our country displayed by our younger generation -- the generation that were just kids a decade ago-- the generation that will be around holding our flag a lot longer than the rest of us during this tumultuous, event-filled century.
Despite having a busy day ahead of me, I had to physically be in front of the White House to witness history been made.  Everything else took second fiddle.  This was our version of the falling of the Berlin Wall.  Would it mark a pivotal moment in history where freedom would advance and al-Qaeda would be defeated? 

Dialogue with San Diego Union Tribune reporter who queried me re: the rally outside the White House.

                       Students from all over DC came to celebrate

About 1,000 people were out celebrating
Bin Laden's death puts closure to the last 10 years of fighting. The USS Stennis deployment to Afghanistan in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 was the first chapter. Tonight the story thankfully comes to an end.


  1. Dorie Shine PrioloMay 2, 2011 at 6:28 PM

    Great post, Chito. After your participation at the start, i'm grateful you could experience the closure. Thank you for your service

  2. I thought we were living in civilized times--This is no better than Osama and his gang celebrating american lives being killed in 9/11. Think about that, and think about what you are teaching your kids.

  3. if you read the bible then you know that there is an eye for an eye im not celebrating just hopeful that he been caught and that maybe this can bring closure to some of the people who lost their lives for a PIECE OF SHIT called OSAMA so if you wasnt there you need not to say one more word cause i was there and I WAS THERE RUNNING AWAY FROM BUILDING CRASHING DOWN ON ME MIXED WITH BODY PARTS SO YOU SHOULDNT TELL PEOPLE HOW TO FEEL ....

  4. Danielle Da SilvaMay 2, 2011 at 6:30 PM

    "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." -Mahatma Gandhi.
    Jesus Christ: "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth'. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

  5. I'm not really viewing it as a celebration, but a nation healing itself. Have you ever had any kind of close call... close enough to die and live? Well if you haven't, it's an occasion to toast to, and I think the people here are letting out that sigh of relief together.

    Are some people going overboard? Yes. If you keep your mind sharp and see this for what it is, it's simply victory and justice for many, and for many others like myself it's hope that one day this war will end.
    May 2, 2011 5:43 PM

  6. I hit 20 years of military service. I have been to so many different countries and seen so many cultures. Funny you mentioned London, England, and Canada. All the countries currently fighting in the war along side the Americans. Agreeing with us, and during with us. It is you that needs to travel, but when you travel, try and learn. I have, and I have seen and respect the many cultures that I have come across. Even if I don't agree, it is their way of life. So why don't you come from behind your lens, which you take great photos with, and see life with you eyes.