VFD's memorial run observes 9/11

·2 min read

Sep. 12—VALDOSTA — Twenty years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Col. Danielle Willis of Moody Air Force Base remembered getting a call to report on Sept. 11, 2001.

Willis, commander of Moody's 93d Air Ground Operations Wing, was a guest speaker at a ceremony for the Valdosta Fire Department's 9/11 Memorial Run held Saturday in Downtown Valdosta.

The event was held in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the tragedy.

The VFD's Melissa Roe said of the total 2,996 people who died in the attacks, 343 of them were firefighters.

During her speech, Willis said she was a "young aviator" stationed in Idaho at the time of the attacks. She said her squad room called her and told her "to be ready to fly and defend our nation."

She added her husband was also called to duty as he was needed to prepare "aircraft for combat."

She spoke of people she knew who served during the attacks including Heather "Lucky" Penney, who was a fighter pilot at the time with then flight lead Marc "Sass" Sasseville.

"My friend, Heather 'Lucky' Penney, was an F-16 wingman about to fly a training mission out of D.C. when she and her flight lead were instructed to intercept Flight 93 and prevent it from hitting any targets," Willis said.

"They had no weapons aboard their aircraft, so they devised a plan to ram their jets into the airliner to stop the attacks. As we all know, the passengers on board took brave actions themselves. Lucky credits those passengers for saving her life and has dedicated herself to honoring their legacy."

Willis said America's heart, soul and unity were shown during that time.

"Sept. 11, 2001, was a defining moment in our nation's history and the significance of the tragedy will never be lost," she said in her speech.

Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson said Sept. 11 was a day of the "worst terrorist attack, worst loss of life on the globe."

While the department was expecting a couple hundred to participate in the memorial run, Roe said the event gathered 500 runners.

She noted they weren't solely honoring the first responders who died Sept. 11, 2001.

"We honor the World Trade Center employees who went to work that day thinking it was like any other day and didn't come home," she said. "We honor all the other American citizens who lost their lives, and we will never, ever forget."

Other speakers were Phil Youngblood of the American Legion Post 213 and Lloyd Green, chief of Lowndes County Fire Rescue.

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