HARLINGEN — Eleven-year-old Cambrye Perea felt the sorrow of so many as she watched the 9/11 memorial ceremony unfold before her.
“I liked the speeches and it made me emotional when they talked about how so many people lost their lives,” said Cambrye.
Cambrye had come with her fellow Girl Scouts from Troop 1057 for the “We Will Never Forget” ceremony Saturday at Valley International Airport. About 400 people, including police officers, Boy Scouts, local dignitaries, and airport officials gathered for the City of Harlingen’s 20th Anniversary of Patriot Day Ceremony.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, Bishop Daniel Flores and Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. were among those in attendance. Flores gave the invocation and a pre-recorded speech from former President George W. Bush was played. Taps, a 21-gun salute, a firefighter bell ceremony and missing man flyover paid homage to those who died.
The Guest of Honor was Jorge Bustilloz, who was at the Pentagon when the plane struck the mammoth structure 20 years ago. In fact, he and a co-worker were on an elliptical machine at the Pentagon Officer’s Athletic Club. CNN was playing on the TV in front of them.
“At that point the first plane had already hit,” said Bustilloz, who was in the U.S. Air Force at the time.
“They were saying maybe a small plane had hit there,” he recalled. “Well, we could tell by the wingspan and the damage on the tower that it was actually a large plane, and we knew it wasn’t an accident.”
And while they watched the news, the second plane hit the other tower, and there was no doubt this was a deliberate attack. He and his co-worker quickly dressed and went to their office. And it was about this time the third plane hit the Pentagon — and they didn’t know it at first.
“The Pentagon is so big and so stout that we had no idea it had happened,” he said. “It wasn’t until three or four minutes later that an alarm went off telling everybody to evacuate to the westsouthwest exit of the Pentagon.”
He remembers everyone walking calmly, but as he neared the exit he saw black smoke.
“I asked a Pentagon police officer who was there directing people, I told him I was a bomb tech,” he said. “I told him maybe I should go over to where the incident site was, to see if there was more than just a plane there.”
He spent the next three or four hours assisting first responders and helping evacuate the wounded.
Bustilloz went on to retire from the U.S. Air Force and then go to work for the newly-created Transportation Security Administration as a transportation security specialist. In that capacity the California native is now assigned to Valley International Airport. He also supports McAllen-Miller International Airport and the Brownsville South Padre International Airport.
He, like many in recent days, spoke about the loss of innocence and the importance of unwavering vigilance.
“We can’t forget,” he said. “We must always stay vigilant.”
Boswell spoke about the heroism of that day and so many days after, how the nation came together.
“We really came together as a community, from the largest cities throughout our country to the smallest towns,” he said “We really came together as one single family, one community, one nation in a way that I haven’t seen in my lifetime.”
The attacks 20 years ago changed the course of many people’s lives. Lupita Perez was 40 years old the day of the attack. She was preparing to start her day at Valley Baptist Medical Center when she heard the news. She immediately felt a patriotic duty to go back into the military — she’d served a six-year hitch right after high school — and she signed up.
“I was deployed to Iraq for 15 months,” she said. “I was a crane operator. I was injured by an IED.”
She was sent home and received 100 percent disability from the VA, but she expressed no regrets for her service. The ceremony Saturday morning touched her.
“I loved it,” she said. “It took me back to that day when I was at Valley Baptist.”