On 9/11 I had one question: Where’s my mom?

Senior Airman Katie Johnson
Air Combat Command

“Where’s my mom?”
Senior Airman Katie Johnson and her mother Carolyn Maricle pose for a photo at Dallas/Love Field Airport, Texas .

I struggled to gain my composure and rally the strength needed to dial the number to my home, where my mom should have been. A precocious 14 year old, I stood frantically waiting for a response, some hint that my mother was okay.

My mother was a flight attendant for American Airlines when two of their jets crashed into the World Trade Center, New York, as well as the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a day that will never be forgotten, not only for me and my family, but for our country as a whole.

The phone began to ring and I began to cry uncontrollably. My intensely frantic moments were spurred by the irrepressible and revolving questions traveling through my mind–did mom have a flight scheduled that day? Where’s my mom?

Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, a calm and reassuring sound echoed from the receiver. It was my mother’s voice answering from the other end.

My cries turned into sobs as I begged her to take me home. I wanted to be with her, to give her the hugs that she and I both needed so very much at the time. Everyone in America needed a hug that day.

Since that Tuesday morning 12 years ago in my freshman English class, I have asked that same question I had in those frightening and tense moments far too many times. Where’s my mom?

Many flight attendants suffered emotional trauma in the following weeks after the tragedy, my mother included. Children with the unenviable title of “Flight Attendant’s Kid” are tight-knit as a result of the trauma of 9-11 and the ongoing danger of the profession.

We struggled more and more with every incident involving any aircraft, not only on U.S soil but around the world. Our breaths would cease and hearts drop whenever we heard of any possibility that the jets carrying our mothers and fathers would take them away forever.

Several instances nearly made these worries become reality.

In 2005, London’s subway system was bombed by four home-grown terrorists. My mother was flying out of Gatwick airport roughly 28 miles away that day. A year later, a plot to carry liquid explosives on a plane in London was thwarted. My mom, once again in London, called me before news broke of the incident to ease my already anxious mind.

Through every event from a train crash in Madrid, earthquakes in Japan and every anniversary of September 11, I would continuously ask myself that same question–where’s my mom?

A flight attendant crew, in my eyes, is an unsung band of aeronautical heroes. Charged with their passengers’ safety, they are ready to protect all on board at a moment’s notice. Their commitment reminds me of my fellow brothers and sisters in arms.

The correlation was so apparent to me that it convinced me to serve my country.

My mother and her colleagues would take my fellow Service members where they needed to go, caring for every man and woman in uniform as if they were family. In turn we would work to ensure that no ill-fate or fear created by acts of terrorism come their way.

My mother is my hero. She continued to serve despite the fear in the hearts of many that tragedy could strike at any moment. I am proud to wear this uniform because of her. No matter where we are, I am not just an Airman, I am her daughter. That fact is what helps make me great.

She retires this month after 41 years of dedicated service to the skies and for the first time in five years only one of us will be in uniform as we reflect on that horrendous day.

Now when I ask “where’s my mom,” I know the answer. She’s safe at home in Texas and that grave question no longer has the power to overwhelm my thoughts, or potentially, break my heart.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Katie Johnson and her mother Carolyn Maricle pose for a photo in front of Air Force One at Dallas/Love Field Airport, Texas.

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On 9/11 I had one question: Where’s my mom?