Updated: September 10, 2021 09:50 PM
Created: September 10, 2021 08:09 PM
The 20th anniversary of 9/11 will be hard on so many people.
Pat McKuen of Ashland chose to spend it in Washington, D.C., with some of the guys he served with in the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Regiment, also known as the Old Guard.
He was serving in the nation's capitol on Sept. 11, 2001.
"Our unit is literally across the highway from the Pentagon," McKuen said.
The Old Guard is one of the first lines of defense for Washington, D.C. So when the Pentagon was hit by a plane, McKuen and his unit were sent in.
"It's at this point just complete chaos. You can't even imagine. Nobody knew what was happening. We were under attack," he said.
They didn't know who the enemy was. But they did know who they would be fighting for.
"I remember this clearly as can be like it was yesterday, driving down streets in D.C., people are lined up as far as you can see with American flags and they're waving and they're like, 'Go get 'em! Go get 'em!'" McKuen said. "The way that country came together is something I'll never forget. Your differences with your neighbor at that point didn't matter. We were Americans, and our country was under attack, and we had to defend her. And it just stands -- I wish we could go back to that day."
Even on such a hard day, there was hope in unity. It sustained him as he went into the Pentagon, day after day, searching for remains and finding no survivors.
"I clearly remember a birthday card. It was a lady's handwriting," McKuen said. "I found the card, and it was unscathed. There was fire everywhere, and the card was perfect."
It was an unblemished moment in a saga that changed American history forever.
"I know it's changed me. It's made me so thankful for what we have and so thankful for this country," he said. "Like I said, it goes back to that day, driving to the Pentagon and seeing the country united. And today, we can't even unite our neighbors."
But we have this: We will never forget. And McKuen hopes the remembering will reunite us.
"Just be an American. Do that. Because there's a lot of folks who died for you to do that."
Copyright 2021 WDIO-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved