WASHINGTON -- According to the "experts," anyone older than 10 will remember traumatic events for the rest of their lives. That's certainly true of the thousands of World War II veterans and family members I have met doing interviews for our "War Stories" series on Fox News Channel. All of them can recall where they were when they learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor, whom they were with and what was said. It should be the same for the terror attack nine years ago on Sept. 11.
My friend Tom Kilgannon, president of Freedom Alliance, and I clearly remember all those things and more about that terrible day. At 8:30 a.m., we boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 238 in Detroit, headed for Reagan National Airport. Fifteen minutes later, the aircraft lifted off on time, and we headed south toward our nation's capital in a cloudless blue sky. We never arrived at our intended destination.
Shortly before we were due to land at Reagan Airport, the captain announced over the public address system that the aircraft was being diverted to land at nearby Dulles International Airport -- but offered no explanation as to why. Tom, who was sitting across the aisle from me, soon gave us the answer.
"As we began our descent into Dulles International Airport, I checked my pager," he recalled. "Young people today forget this was before BlackBerrys and iPhones were available. The screen on my pager was full of breaking news alerts:
"'Plane Crashes into World Trade Center.'
"'Second Plane Crashes into World Trade Center.'
"'Fireball Reported at Pentagon.'
"'Car Bombs Reported at State Department and Capitol Hill.'
"These and other headlines flashed across my pager. We now know that in the haste to report the horrible events of that morning, some of those initial accounts turned out to be inaccurate, but when I showed you my pager, I said, 'Oh, dear God, I think America is under attack.' Other passengers -- having recognized you at the boarding gate and aboard the flight -- inquired what was going on. That's how we -- and most of them -- learned what had happened."
Shortly after Tom showed me the electronic messages, the captain addressed the passengers from the cockpit. He informed us that multiple terror attacks had taken place while we were en route to Washington and that when we landed at Dulles, we were to immediately exit the aircraft and be escorted out of the closed airport terminal.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.