MCAS BEAUFORT S.C. -- Twelve years have passed since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, enough time for the rising generation who were too young to remember the tragic events to enlist and serve.
That tragic day, planes crashed into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and in the fields of Virginia, killing nearly 3,000 people, mostly civilians. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed before reaching the terrorists target in Washington, D.C., because of the heroic actions of passengers aboard that plane.
Gunnery Sgt. Maurice Bease, the aviation operations and training chief for Headquarters and Headquarters Squadron, not only remembers the events, he remembers them firsthand.
Then a sergeant, Bease had been working at the Pentagon for several months as the Headquarters Marine Corps lead flight scheduler, coordinating airlift for executive personnel within the Marine Corps.
“On September 11, it was business as usual,” he recounted. “We found out about the plane that had crashed into the first tower over the phone. We were under the impression the crash was an accident. We heard about the second crash later, and we then realized it was not an accident but an actual terrorist attack. I wanted to go outside and get a breath of fresh air because it was a lot to take in.”
Shortly after exiting the building, he witnessed an event that would change the world.
“I could hear the buzz of an aircraft. It was loud like a fly-over. I looked up expecting to see a jet, but I knew there were no fly-overs scheduled for that day. I saw a white airliner streaking over Arlington National Cemetery toward the Pentagon. It appeared to come right where I was standing. I jumped onto the ground and the aircraft crashed into the building. There was a fireball coming out of the top of the building followed by black smoke. I ran inside and told everyone that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon and everyone immediately ran out.”
American Airlines Flight 77 was overtaken and crashed into the western side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., it was the third attack that day.
Bease met with his coworkers, all of whom escaped the building safely. As first responders arrived, Bease and his fellow service members returned to the rubble and took an active role assisting firefighters and paramedics.
Marines are renowned for their preparation for combat and camaraderie. Bease said such character traits are difficult to fully understand during peace-time military service. His personal involvement at the Pentagon enlightened him on how dedicated Marines are to each other.
“It made me have a strong love for the brotherhood that we have,” he said. “So many Marines in different locations did what they could to help. It showed me that Marines help each other in more than just combat. It goes beyond the Marine next to you in a fighting hole. Marines take care of each other regardless of the location or situation. It’s not something that can be taught. They were regular Marines who worked in a support capacity who stepped up and saved lives.”
Of the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day, only 125 perished at the Pentagon, 55 were military personnel, none were Marines. Many of the offices on the Western side, including Bease’s, were under renovation and their offices had been moved to other areas, taking them away from the point of impact.
“We had the angels of Marines and God watching over us. We had no Marine casualties at the Pentagon,” he said.
On the twelfth anniversary of the attacks, President Obama spoke at the Pentagon for a Sept. 11 memorial to comfort the nation and those most closely affected.
“Together we pause and we pray and we give humble thanks -- as families and as a nation -- for the strength and the grace that from the depths of our despair has brought us up again, has revived us again, has given us strength to keep on,” he said.
“We pray for all those who have stepped forward in those years of war -- diplomats who serve in dangerous posts, as we saw this day last year in Benghazi, intelligence professionals, often unseen and unheralded who protect us in every way -- our men and women in uniform who defend this country that we love.
“Today we remember not only those who died that September day. We pay solemn tribute to more than 6,700 patriots who have given their full measure since -- military and civilians,” he said. “We see their legacy in the friendships they forged, the attacks they prevented, the innocent lives they saved and in their comrades in Afghanistan who are completing the mission and who will have helped to end this war.”