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Remembering 9/11: Airman reflects on childhood memories of Twin Towers

The Tribute in Light memorial is in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in honor of the citizens who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks. The two towers of light are composed of two banks of high wattage spotlights that point straight up from a lot next to Ground Zero. The Tribute in Light memorial was first held in March 2002. This photo was taken from Liberty State Park, New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2006, the five year anniversary of 9/11. (U.S. Air Force photo by Denise Gould)

The Tribute in Light memorial is in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in honor of the citizens who lost their lives in the World Trade Center attacks. The two towers of light are composed of two banks of high wattage spotlights that point straight up from a lot next to Ground Zero. The Tribute in Light memorial was first held in March 2002. This photo was taken from Liberty State Park, New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2006, the five year anniversary of 9/11. (U.S. Air Force photo by Denise Gould)

JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va -- Two iconic giants pierced the New York sky for nearly 30 years, enticing millions of travelers from across the globe who marveled at their beauty. They were hailed as the symbol of "man's dedication to world peace" and a source of pride for those who called New York home.

At 8:46 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001, that testament of harmony turned to discord as hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.

Mayhem ensued.

First responders rushed to the scene, weaving between people who were attempting to escape the madness. It was not until 17 minutes later, when the south tower was hit, did anyone comprehend what had happened was deliberate. The United States was under attack, and within hours, the peaks of the New York skyline sunk, along with the hearts of admirers throughout the world.

For U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jasmine Walker, 1st Maintenance Group aircraft maintenance scheduler, the memory of the Twin Towers is a bittersweet reminder of her childhood.

"I was in the fifth grade," the Queens, New York, native recalled of the day of the attack. "I remember our principal walking into our classroom, talking to our teacher and [the teacher] left the classroom crying. Our principal explained to us what was going on and that our parents would come to get us. I remember my mom picking me up and she was crying. I didn't fully process what was going on. I wasn't mature enough to understand fully that we were being attacked."

At home, Walker and her younger brother played as her mother frantically called relatives and loved ones who spent their days in Manhattan. Images of the ravaged towers, the wrecked Pentagon and the thousands of destitute victims replayed on the television.

"I had been to the World Trade Center; my mom used to take me when I was a little girl," Walker said. "I remember distinctively the Disney store was my favorite, and there was a restaurant on the top of one tower that would spin. I have those memories, so seeing that a plane hit it -- and that it's no longer there was like ..."

The memories nearly rendered her speechless, and all she said she could think was, "How does that happen?"

Not until Walker got older did she think to look back on the day's events. She said one day she found herself searching the Internet for videos of the attacks and asking her mother questions about what happened.

"When I watched the replays, I just felt disbelief," she recalled. "You don't see that every day and it hits close to home when you live there, you realize that could happen anytime, any day."

"I take pride in being a New Yorker," Walker declared with a gleaming smile across her face. "I feel pride in being an American, which ties into feeling proud to be an Airman because now I feel like I have a sense of responsibility. Reflecting back on 9/11, this could happen again, and I feel like in a way, this happened to my city, and I wasn't old enough to do anything yet. Now that I'm old enough, if this were to happen again, I'll have something to do with [defending the nation] -- even if it's just a small part, and that part makes me proud."

Now, every time she returns home to New York, Walker said the drive into the city evokes a different emotion than what she felt as a child spotting the twin towers.

"That was New York; [the towers] symbolized our city. You just get goose bumps driving back and [them] not being there anymore. It's weird."

Walker has visited the new One World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial and Museum, and she said she appreciates the commemoration but will always remember the experiences she had with her family at the twin towers before Sept. 11, 2001.