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Gone way too soon

Bernard “Curtis” Brown II, was killed on American Airlines Flight 77 – the flight that hit the Pentagon where his father usually worked. He was one of nearly 3,000 people killed that day. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tommie Horton)

Bernard “Curtis” Brown II, was killed on American Airlines Flight 77 – the flight that hit the Pentagon where his father usually worked. He was one of nearly 3,000 people killed that day. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Tommie Horton)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

A few years ago a couple of ID bracelets came in the mail. Those bracelets took me back instantly to 9/11.
 
My 9/11 started out like most other Americans. But during that day my family had gone from worry to hope to relief.

At day's end, however, there was only despair.

It started with a phone call from my mom. She told my wife, Cathy, that my cousin, Bernard Brown Sr. who was then a Navy chief petty officer, was missing. Attempts to reach him at the Pentagon had been met with silence.

Hours went by and I left my job at the 93rd Air Control Wing at Robins to go home to no news.

They say that no news is good news. It was - at first.

Around 5 p.m. my family got great news. Bernard didn't work on 9/11 - instead he was at a golf outing - unknown to us at the time.

Bernard was safe; he was OK. We were all relieved, ecstatic for our blessing. Then my mom called again crying inconsolably just a few hours later.

In an ironic and cruel twist of fate, we were told that my 11-year-old cousin, Bernard "Curtis" Brown II, was killed on American Airlines Flight 77 - the flight that hit the Pentagon where his father usually worked.

Curtis was one of three exceptional middle school students headed to the Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary off the coast of California. He was known for his spelling, drawing and how much he enjoyed life.

Curtis loved going to school, and he was rewarded with the trip.

Curtis lost his life that day. He was one of nearly 3,000 people killed on 9/11 by cowardly terrorists.

Looking back, our two families somewhat mimicked each other. They had two children - a boy and a girl. We did too. 

Curtis was born the same year as my son. I often wonder in my interactions with him what Curtis' parents, Bernard and Sinita, were missing by not being able to raise their only son. 

I also think of Courtney, Curtis' older sister, and all she had to endure in the weeks, months and years following the tragedy in losing a younger brother and all the wave of emotions that come with that horrible situation. 

Repeatedly I sympathized with my cousins and wondered where they all derived their strength as they attended funerals, memorials and interviews - each bringing that terrible day back to their forefront.

And every year on that day...

But at the same time, I envied them as they were able to tell the world of their wonderful son and all that he had accomplished. Curtis' life was taken well before his time, a fact often spoken about each person whose life was cut short by the terroristic act on Sept. 11, 2001. 

And like each and every person who died that day, he and they will never be forgotten.

Two years later on a Joint STARS mission over Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom, I flew flags for my family and for Curtis. Ironically, the mission was in support of the Global War On Terrorism - which was the U.S. led response to 9/11.

When I retired on March 12, 2004, it was my chance to formally recognize Curtis, his young life and his sacrifice by presenting that flag to his grandmother.  

And today, our families in several states along the east coast from Florida to New York will be wearing black ID bracelets to honor my cousin Curtis, gone way too soon.