CBS4’s Michelle Griego had the opportunity to sit down and interview her cousin, USAF Col. Benjamin Conde, who told his story about 9/11.
DENVER (CBS4) – As the country and world remember 9/11 twenty years later, an Air Force colonel who grew up in Denver reflected on his work at the Pentagon that day.
“The life in the military is routine most of the time,” said Col. Benjamin Conde who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1997. “Most of the time it’s routine and every now and then, there’s moments of terror.”
That terror was seen firsthand on Sept. 11th, 2001.
Conde was assigned to the First Helicopter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland in 2001. The morning of 9/11, he had taken off for a routine flight from the Pentagon when he heard air traffic control at Dulles Airport say planes were grounded.
“I called back to Andrews and said do I need to go back? And they said no, not yet,” said Conde. “In my mind, I was thinking it was probably a Cessna or a helicopter hit the World Trade Center at that point and so we continued on.”
He headed to West Virginia but soon learned a second plane had hit the other tower. He immediately turned around and made his way back to Andrews.
“I knew that we had been attacked, I knew that something had happened,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what it was but it was significant enough that everybody was being grounded.”
While he was flying around the Beltway in Washington D.C., he could see a column of smoke coming from the center of the city but didn’t know what it was until he landed at the base.
“My legs were shaking from the adrenaline while I was landing at the airfield,” said Conde. “I went into my office area and that’s when they told us the World Trade Center had been hit by two airliners and the Pentagon had been hit as well.”
Conde fueled up his Huey and took off from the base towards the Pentagon.
He can’t talk about his work that day since his mission is classified, but news footage shows his squadron landing and taking off all day at the Pentagon following the attack.
“I remember a Marine in a huge helicopter, it carries a lot of people,” he said. “I remember it coming up next to us and calling us and saying ‘Hey, where are we going?’ We said just follow us and we’ll show you what to do and go from there.”
The Air Force website says the squadron evacuated senior Department of Defense leadership but Conde only says that he’s proud of his team that day.
“We worked really hard over the course of our careers to be ready when our country needed us and it was definitely a proud feeling knowing that we were there when the country needed us most,” Conde said.
9/11 was a main factor in Conde’s decision to stay in the Air Force. Now, 24 years in the military, having multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and 20 years after the attacks and a costly war, he says a common question he hears is “Was it all worth it?”
“I gave up the opportunity to decide when I go to war, where, for how long, and at what cost a long time ago and I was happy to do it,” he said. “It’s the citizen that needs to look back at these last 20 years and answer the question as to whether it’s worth it because the costs were pretty enormous.”
Conde is retiring in October and has since moved back to Denver with his wife and daughter.