Kent Cockson


Kent Cockson

Military Affiliations
  • Veteran Child

  • Military Child

MY connection to 9/11
  • I had a family member serving in the military on 9/11

Where were you when you first heard about or saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when Muslim terrorists flew fuel-laden commuter jets into several targets in the homeland, I had just rolled out of bed early. At the time, I was executive news editor at the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal. As such, I was one of the key individuals who “put the paper to bed” five nights a week and then checked the first of the PNJ’s a.m. editions as the newspapers came off the press. On the night of September 10, after clearing off my desk back in the newsroom, I commuted 45 minutes by car to get home to my family. I usually didn’t crawl into bed before 2am. So, the morning of 9/11, after about five hours of sleep, I was sitting at the island in our kitchen, chowing down on a bowl of cereal as I watched host Bryant Gumbel ham it up on “The Early Show” on TV. On the wall behind him, we viewers could see something we could not process. And in a nano-second, Gumbel changed from his affable self to something as serious as a heart attack. What we were seeing on the wall was a steady replay of a small jetliner flying into one of the two World Trade Center towers in New York City. Gumbel was keeping us up-to-the-minute with a staccato, even-keeled delivery, despite the horror of the visuals. At first glance, I figured it was just a wayward airplane with pilots who were asleep at the stick. But then, a second commuter jet plowed into the other Trade Center tower. And Bryant Gumbel was telling us that certain officials were telling him the United States was under attack. I bolted out of the kitchen. I took a quick shower and yanked on some clean clothes. And then I was out the door, blue-lighting it to downtown Pensacola and my desk at the Pensacola News Journal. My wife, Sylvia, already had left the house to drive a school bus before she began her classroom day as an elementary school teacher. I felt she was safe for the time being. But the rest of my thoughts were on our four sons. All of them were in uniform, serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. Aaron, 29, was a U.S. Army Staff Sergeant at Fort Myer, Virginia, a stone’s throw from the Pentagon in suburban Washington. He was a performer on French horn with the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band. Two days after the terrorist attacks, he volunteered to be a computer operator down the road a bit at the Pentagon for a couple of days. In the wake of 9/11, Aaron made a career of performing with the U.S. Army Band and, as of this writing, is looking forward to an honorable discharge with more than 20 years of service. Jonas, 26, was a corporal in the United States Marine Corps, serving as a cook in Okinawa, Japan, with the 1st Marine Air Wing. I had no idea how the catastrophic events in New York and Washington would impact him. As it turned out, he served as a USMC cook in Kuwait for several months. Then, when he got his honorable discharge, he went to work for several months as a civilian contractor, cooking in U.S. mess halls in Iraq. Zak, 23, despite a fractured foot that he managed to hide a from his drill sergeant, had just completed basic training at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia. Given that he was an infantry soldier, Zak was uppermost on my mind. On 9/11, wearing his U.S. Army private stripe, he was on sick leave, waiting to start Airborne School at Benning so he could learn how to jump out of perfectly good airplanes. (He eventually did complete “jump school.” Sylvia and I were there to witness Zak’s “turning blue” ceremony, at which the parachuter trainees graduate and are rewarded with light-blue shoulder cords to designate that they are airborne infantry soldiers.) Zak went on to serve two tours in Afghanistan, along with seven months in the so-called “Triangle of Death” in Iraq. He earned two Army Commendation Medals for action under fire. When he earned his honorable discharge, he then went to work as a civilian contractor in diplomatic security, returning to the Mideast. Jon, 20, was serving on 9/11 as a USMC heavy equipment mechanic at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He wound up serving several months in Kuwait as part of a vehicle-recovery team that drove into Iraq to retrieve damaged war machines. After he earned his honorable discharge, Jon became a hospital Emergency Room nurse. I noted later in my calendar book: “May God keep them out of harm’s way. Yet not my will, but God’s will be done!” I am ever thankful that God honored my skimpy prayer. As it was the morning of 9/11, I wasn’t the only one on the Pensacola News Journal newsroom staff to recognize the enormity of the situation. More than a dozen of my fellow newsroom staff members had rallied to show up for work hours before they were due. We put an “extra” on the street within a couple of hours after the terrorist attacks. And the rest is history.

How did the events of that day shape your life and inspire your service to this country?

I fly the American flag daily at our family home. I support the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wounded Warriors Project. I continue to advocate for serving in the US Armed Forces when I get the opportunity to work with high-school-age youngsters.

What are you excited to contribute to your community, however you define it, for the next 20 years?

I'm 74 years old, with a 60-percent disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs. I doubt there is very much more that I could contribute beyond the red-white-and-blue essays I post on my blog site, and by attending public events on Veterans Day and the Fourth of July.