‘We cannot forget’: Naval Air Station Oceana Commanding Officer recounts events of 9/11

Remembering 9/11

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Where were you when the world changed 20 years ago today? The Commanding Officer of Naval Air Station Oceana remembers his phone ringing. 

“I had turned my phone off and put it in my cap,” says Captain Skip Zobel who was with baseball great Orel Hershiser at the Neptune Festival Community Prayer Breakfast that day. 

“And all of a sudden Bob Voogt turned around and said, ‘your phone is going off’ while Orel was speaking and Orel turned around and looked at me and said, ‘I hope it’s not a national emergency’ and everybody started laughing.” 

Of course, we now know the truth of what was going on in New York City.  

It was the last moment of innocence before they would know how the world had changed. 

“I got in the car and turned the news on, and it was Tony Macrini (WNIS-AM) and he was saying a plane had gone into the World Trade Center and I thought, oh boy.” 

The first moments after the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m. Those moments were filled with uncertainty. 

“My secretary called me and said, ‘you need to get in here right away.’ “  

 Zobel goes to his Office at Command Headquarters. 

“As I walk in, the second plane hits the South Tower, and you could see it on TV.” 

Langley Air Force Base jets would take off with Presidential Orders to shoot down any attacking plane even if innocent passengers die. 

Back at Oceana, Zobel got a call from Admiral Robert Natter who was Commander Fleet Forces Command at that time. 

“I got a call from Admiral Natter that day he said, ‘evidently you got some hick-ups on the flight line because they are worried about safety procedures loading missiles.’ He said ‘Skip we are at war. Get ’em loaded.’ ‘I said yes, sir. They are getting loaded so F-14s and F-18s were getting loaded up.” 

Zobel recalls only a few Oceana Jets took off. 

“The FAA shut everything down, and nobody was flying anymore.” 

Zobel had new worries about the base. 

“I was worried it would be truck bomb day the next day, and they were going to hit major installations, so I put extra security measures on the gates.” 

He was also worried about personal safety. 

“I remember asking security can you give me a 9mm for going back and forth because I was in uniform.” 

14 Naval Academy graduates perished in 9-11. Zobel knew three of them. 

“I look at my friend Ken Waldie, and he was in my company at the Naval Academy. He was a ’78 Graduate from the Naval Academy, and he was on the plane from Boston into one of the towers.”

Capt. Charles Frank ‘Chic’ Burlingame III was one of them. He was a pilot (American Airlines (AA) Flight 77) and he was killed going into the Pentagon. The third was Admiral Wilson Flagg who was a passenger on AA Flight 77 and I knew him over at Airlant when I was there.” 

After 9/11, Zobel asked his father Admiral Bill Zobel about that sneak attack that took us into World War Two. 

“I remember asking him how does 9/11 compare to the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. He said, ‘just as bad.’ The sneak attack. All the victims.” 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor America was awakened, and again so on 9-11, America called to action to defend herself and defend herself she did.  9/11, like Pearl Harbor, we will never forget. 

We cannot forget. 

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