A trip to Washington, D.C., saved Jeff Hathaway's life on Sept. 11, 2001. A rear admiral for the U.S. Coast Guard, he reported to the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., as usual that morning, where he was director of worldwide U.S. Navy Anti-Terrorism and Force Protection. He was out of his office when terrorists flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the building, killing 27 people who worked directly with him in his role of overseeing the Navy's Command Center in the Pentagon. Of the 50 personnel on watch, only eight survived.
Hathaway, who is now retired, will talk about that day at the 10th patriotic musical tribute hosted by Simpson-Temple United Parish.
"Freedom's Holy Light" will be held at 3 p.m. Sept. 11 at Altoona Area Junior High School.
"It flew right through my office," Hathaway said of the plane. "It was happenstance that I was not among them."
Ironically, he had been in his anti-terrorism leadership role for only four months, and he was working with the FBI and other agencies to find those responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole that killed 17 sailors in October 2000.
He said it was rather ironic that he was investigating the attack on the boat when the Pentagon was hit.
The attacks destroyed the entire watch section of the Navy's Command Center, which kept track of fleet movements for the Navy.
In the hours after the attack, he worked to put the U.S. Navy worldwide in a force protection mode.
He also set up secure video teleconference facilities for the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations. In addition to his duties with the Navy, Hathaway met with the families of the injured and dead for days after the attacks.
In the book, "Rogue Wave, The U.S. Coast Guard On and After 9/11" author Chief Petty Officer P.J. Capelotti summarizes Hathaway's life after 9/11: "Perhaps no flag officer in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard has had to cope with such an overwhelming combination of responsibilities and losses."
Hathaway said he will speak about those who lost their lives that day and some insights into how the attacks changed the country forever.
"Pearl Harbor was a defining, significant, emotional event for the Greatest Generation. Sept. 11, 2001, was a defining, significant, emotional event for this generation," he said.
The tribute will be the last one hosted by the parish, which has held an annual observance every year since 2002.
The Rev. Denise Arpino, pastor of the church, said Simpson-Temple United Parish continued its annual tributes because "we felt called to gather together. The events of 9/11 awakened within us a need to remember what America stands for and not to take freedom for granted."
Arpino said it was important to remember Sept. 11, 2001, and the lives that were lost that day.
The remembrance is not a day to mourn tragedy but a day to pause and consider what makes America great, she said.
The patriotic theme will be carried out by a combined adult choir, a community children's choir, Christian artist Jim Worthing, Men of Zion, Gregg Brandt, Ryan Matthew, the PBR Dance Team and the Hollidaysburg Alumni Community Band.
Blair County Judge Dan Milliron will welcome the crowd and military personnel and first responders will be in attendance.
Among those to be recognized will be Lt. Col. Robert Darling, who was responsible for getting Vice President Dick Cheney into an underground security area during the attacks, Jeff Niklaus, a helicopter pilot in Somalia during "Black Hawk Down" and Mal Fuller, watch supervisor at Pittsburgh International Airport on 9/11.
Arpino said the event creates a sense of community, patriotism and respect.
"It's an incredible experience," she said.