In the 15 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, two distinct generations of 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment Soldiers have developed.
The first being Old Guard Soldiers that have just grown old enough to enter the Army, and the second being Old Guard Soldiers from the Fife and Drum Corps (FDC) that were in The Old Guard at the time of the attacks.
The Old Guard is the military’s first responders to emergencies in the National Capital Region. FDC was directly involved in the response to the attack at the Pentagon.
In contrast, Pfc. Jesse L. Burkey, was five years old when the planes struck.
“I remember, I believe I was in kindergarten, I was sitting in class,” said Burkey. “The teacher started like, freaking out. My mom ended up coming to pick me up, but I had no idea what was going on.”
Sgt. Colin Z. Mantha, eight years old on 9/11, was living in Missoula, Montana at the time. He was trying to watch something his parents found offensive.
“I was trying to watch “South Park”, which my parents were not okay with,” said Mantha. “It was right in the middle of the “South Park” movie, mom comes running in from outside and she’s just not okay. Very upset, very frustrated, very flustered at me, very angry that I was watching “South Park” and she ended up changing the channel.”
Graphic images of the scene in New York eclipsed anything that could be imagined on “South Park”.
“All I saw was the World Trade Center,” said Mantha. “I didn’t know what was going on, I kept asking my mom what it meant.”
“I remember looking at the TV and the towers were falling,” said Burkey. “What movie is this?”
Sgt. Maj. William E. White Jr. was a sergeant first class in the FDC when he first saw the attacks on television.
“When September 11th happened we were prepping for “Spirit of America” at the time,” said White. “ FDC had a mission that day to go out and do some promotional performances.”
“When the World Trade Centers were struck, it was between that post PT (physical training) 0900 timeframe,” said White. “So everyone had been watching it on television. Because we had that mission going out, those of us on the mission went down to do our final rehearsal.”
Sergeant 1st Class James E. Monroe that morning was practicing at the time with his trumpet. He was called into the dayroom when someone let him know a plane had flown into a building.
“I was sitting there watching all of the coverage and that’s when they broke in and said the second tower had been hit,” said Monroe. “That is about the time that all of us stopped thinking accident and wondered what was going on.”
Events on television soon became much less removed.
We were in the middle of that final rehearsal when someone came into the room and interrupted the rehearsal to say the Pentagon had been struck,” said White. “Within 15 minutes there were a dozen of us who had changed uniform from colonials to the BDU’s (battle dress uniforms).”
In the immediate aftermath, FDC became the “utility player” for the Old Guard, filling in where needed said, White.
Master Sgt. Sandra J. Quaschnick recalls how Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall was locked down initially, but soon after she was sent into a parking area.
“We were listening for planes,” said Quaschnick. “If we heard anything to report it. At that point, there was still one plane unaccounted for.”
For Pfc. Matthew D. Mckinnon, 5 years old at the time, life went on as normal.
“I remember hearing about it when I came home, but that was it,” said Mckinnon.
For members of FDC, the next day was anything but normal. White had been assigned an overnight shift at a Joint Operations Center, where he acted as an Old Guard representative and relayed requests for equipment and manpower for the recovery operations.
“One instance specifically that I’ll never forget is when The Old Guard was returning a solution to a problem that had been asked,” said White “The Old Guard had been asked to provide a platoon of Soldiers to do remains recovery in the Pentagon.”
FDC was assigned the task of going to the crash site.
White described the moment he realized FDC was going to participate in the recovery effort as “surreal”.
The morning of the 12th, FDC was loaded onto busses and sent to the Pentagon.
Once there, several colleagues were dressed in biohazard suits and sent into the rubble, Monroe said.
“It was a situation where everyone of us was willing to do everything that was needed,” said Monroe. He said by the time he was finished putting on a biohazard suit to go into the building, structural engineers deemed the building unsafe and called off the effort at that point.
FDC instead helped secure the area and credential workers for the recovery effort.
Talking about the experience brought Quaschnick right back to those moments in 2001.
“I feel like I’m almost reliving it,” said Quaschnick. “You get that adrenaline going. It changes you in such a way you realize how important your job is.”
“Smelling the smoke, I’ll never forget that,” said Monroe.
For the generations that were children during 9/11, the attacks became a motivator to serve their country.
“I was joining because of terrorists,” said McKinnon. “That’s why I joined the infantry.”
“I’d say when I first started learning about what happened that was my initial thought maybe I want to serve my country,” said Burkey.
Monroe however found the experience initially gave him pause about staying in the military.
During the “Spirit of America” show FDC was preparing for, Monroe was scheduled to reenlist as part of the performance.
In the wake of the attack, “Spirit of America” was canceled and Monroe considered not reenlisting at all.
Monroe eventually did decide to remain in FDC and said he is proud to be a member of the unit after 17 years.
Burkey, Mantha, and Mckinnon, all said the biggest change in America after 9/11 has been the increased airline security.
Master Sgt. Josh E. Dukes of FDC thinks Americans are more vigilant.
Dukes said citizens are much more apt to question and be suspicious.
“Its put defense of terrorism from just to the authorities to every citizen of the United States,” said Dukes.
There is a one point both generations of Old Guard Soldiers unanimously responded to: they are extremely proud of the job they did and continue to do.
“Its an honor to be apart of something that does cemetery ceremonies,” said Burkey. “I feel honored to be apart of that.”
“We did a wreath laying at the Pentagon Memorial yesterday,” said Mantha. “Its not just military members who gave their lives. People that didn’t have to do it, but did.”
White called what FDC did at the Pentagon the corps’ “Finest Hour.”
From providing security, performing random searches or performing remains recovery, FDC met the tragedy with a dogged determination to accomplish the mission, said Quaschnick.
“Every one of the Soldier musicians of the Fife and Drum Corps took the task they were assigned, learned what they needed to do to succeed at that task and just did it,” said White. “The teamwork, the camaraderie, that the corps displayed after that its something I’ll never forget or probably ever experience anything quite like it.”
“Hopefully there’s never going to be another moment like 9/11,” said White. “I hope the corps is never in a position, the country is never in a position, to have another finest hour like we did after 9/11.”