Incline resident recalls September 11, 2001

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A decade has elapsed since terrorists under the banner of al-Qaida perpetrated the single worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor.

Incline Village is thousands of miles removed from the scene of those horrific developments; nevertheless, one resident carries haunting memories of the confusion, fear, valor and resolve that emerged in himself and his compatriots in reaction to the four coordinated suicide missions that resulted in the collapse of the World Trade Center's twin towers, severe damage and loss of life at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., and the crash of United Airlines Flight 93.

Michael Durand, an Incline Village resident for nearly two years, has served in the U.S. military with distinction for more than 30 years. Joining the U.S. Army just shy of his 25th birthday, Durand flew with the famed 82nd Airborne, his duties including repeatedly jumping out of airplanes hurling through the atmosphere above the earth's surface.

After training exercises in Panama and Montana, Durand joined Officer Candidate School with the intention of establishing a full and rewarding Army career, which is exactly what he accomplished - and then some, as he successfully endured the qualification course for U.S. Army Special Forces and became a Green Beret.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Durand was working in the Crystal City office building - used as satellite offices for the Pentagon - in Arlington, Va.

"It was a day just like any other," he said. "I lived a couple of miles from where I worked, so I would ride my bicycle to work."

Durand was not working as a member of Special Forces in 2001; instead, he was working under a colonel in the regular core. He was filing paperwork at about 8:50 a.m., when a subordinate poked his head in the doorway and said, "You had better come to the conference room."

Durand said he could tell by the inflection in the man's voice that something was wrong. He walked down the hall, entered the room and like most Americans that morning, settled in front of the television to watch the events unfold.

However, Durand's special forces training immediately alerted him to the fact something was amiss. While many Americans who watched the first tower burning may have surmised the incident was a terrible mistake by an errant pilot, Durand said he knew the World Trade Center was not on any flight path that involved New York area airports.

"I thought it was intentional," he said. "Then when the second tower was hit, I knew we were under attack."

Durand said he and others in the building then heard an explosion at roughly 9:37 a.m. at the nearby Pentagon. Rushing over to the side of the building where the Department of Defense was visible, Durand and others could see billows of black smoke emerging from the badly damaged building.

"I immediately went to see my superior officer and asked him to send everybody home," Durand said. "We were on the 11th floor of a building that is entirely encased in glass. Should something have happened we would have been cut to ribbons - all of us."

Durand's superior hesitated, wondering if he was vested with enough authority to send hundreds of employees home; Durand didn't demur, however, immediately telling the eight people serving under his command to go home.

"I was not married and had no kids, so I stayed to answer phones and help out any way that I could," he said.

Durand commended his fellow compatriots for their steely resolve and aplomb in the hours that followed.

"I didn't see any panic," he said. "There was a lot of experienced Army men and women in that building, and they were as calm as you would expect from career Army people."

The world has changed irrevocably since that day, Durand said. It's changed the way people travel, obviously, but more importantly, the way they view the world and its multiple and varied dangers.

"The world is a scarier place now," he said. "It's even a scarier place than when the (Berlin Wall) was up in 1989. At least then, we knew who the enemy was, and the Army spent much of its efforts to prepare for a Russian invasion. But these extremists now, they don't believe in the sanctity of life. They believe that blowing themselves up is a path to salvation. I just don't know how you fight an enemy like that."

Despite, Durand's reservations, he believes the U.S. military has continued to fight the good fight.

"If I had a new pair of knees, I'd sign up for another 30 years," he said. "Our soldiers are so focused, so well-trained. They put comrades and country above themselves and they are serious about it. They believe in the ethic of subjugating themselves for the greater good."


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