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Remembering 9/11: Jeannie Lam

Living in New York during the World Trade Center attacks, Jeannie Lam became the first in her family to join the military. Today, the Milpitas resident continues to volunteer for the 129th Rescue Wing Air National Guard based out of Moffett Field.

I was 19 years old at the time and worked as a group sales agent for Singapore Airlines.

It started out as a typical Tuesday morning for me; I took the train into work and was in a hurry since I didn’t want to be late. Our offices were located on East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenue (about four miles from the World Trade Center).

When I got to the office, everyone was crowded into the conference room. When I saw what was on the TV, I went numb. I couldn’t believe what my eyes were seeing. Black smoke was billowing out of one of the Twin Towers.

As I stood in the office, I watched the second plane strike the other building. I sat down and tried to call my sister, who worked a few blocks away from the World Trade Center. My phone just gave me a busy signal, as did our office phone. In a panic, I tried calling my mom and friends that worked in the financial district, but it was useless.

Feeling helpless, I kept watching the TV, but I couldn’t understand what the telecaster was saying. Then, the towers started to fall, and so did my composure. All my life, those buildings were part of the NYC skyline; now they were crumbling and falling. I kept trying to contact my mother and sister, but never got ahold of them.

Hours passed as we tried to figure out what to do with our diverted aircraft with 300-plus passengers on it. When I went downstairs for a much-needed break, I saw hundreds and thousands of people walking to the 59th Street Bridge (aka Queensborough Bridge). They had shut down the subway and the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridge so everyone was walking up our street to cross the 59th Street Bridge to get home.

At some point, I finally got a hold of my mother and sister and was relieved to hear that my sister only suffered from sore feet and a bad headache. 

For another year, I couldn’t bear to look at the NYC skyline. Even though they had the light ceremony, all I could see was a gaping hole in the sky. By June 2002, I was laid off. A friend who was interested in joining the Air Force encouraged me to look into it. After completing a lot of research, I went to visit a recruiter with her.

I’ve never been to a military installation before, but I was fascinated. Joining the military never crossed my mind, but I wanted to protect our country from being attacked again. Even at that young age, I had traveled to Third World countries and knew how fortunate I was for the opportunities and freedom that America provides.

After much thoughtful thinking, I enlisted with the New York Air National Guard's 106th Rescue Wing as an electronic counter-measures apprentice in August of 2002. My mother was proud of me, since I am the first and only person in our family to join the military. 

I was at basic training when (former) President Bush made his speech about starting the war on terrorism. I was excited and scared for what that meant. I spent four years with the 106th Rescue Wing and went on my first deployment to Africa with them.

Then I fell in love with a California man and moved to Milpitas to be with him. In 2006, I transferred to the California Air National Guard 129th Rescue Wing, stationed at Moffett Field, and re-trained as an Aviation Resource Manager.

I’ve never regretted my decision in joining the military. It has opened many doors for me, and I have been grateful for the experience it has given me. As a new mom and pregnant with another, I can’t wait to share the stories of search-and-rescue missions that I’ve participated in and our deployments to Africa and Afghanistan. I am proud to be part of the California Air National Guard and hope that my children will follow in my footsteps.  

Patch, through its parent company, AOL, is involved in a project called ActionAmerica. The project is a collaboration of several corporations, individuals and nonprofits organizations designed to honor those affected by the events of 9/11 and unify the country through positive action.

KW April 13, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Jeannie: YOU ROCK!!! I am so proud to be your friend. Karla

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