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It has been 21 years since terrorist attacks in New York City, the Pentagon and Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001 killed 2,996 people. Debra Burlingame lost her “heroic” big brother – a pilot who was killed when terrorists hijacked American Airlines 77 and crashed it into the Pentagon.
“On September 11th we found ourselves in completely shocking and unfamiliar territory. Our hero brother who is unbreakable was hijacked with his plane and crashed into the Pentagon. And so it was surreal. And now here’s our big brother, a Navy fighter pilot, tough guy, gone,” said Burlingame, younger sister of Charles ‘Chic’ Burlingame, in a recent interview with Fox News Digital.
Her brother’s plane crashed into the Pentagon at around 9:37 a.m. on September 11, 21 years ago. The former Navy fighter pilot died a day before his fifty-second birthday.
The crash killed all 64 passengers on board, including six crew members and the five men linked to al-Qaeda who hijacked the plane. The crash also killed another 125 people who were at the Pentagon during the attack.
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Burlingame said her sister-in-law called her around 6:30 a.m. LA time and asked her to turn on her TV.
“When I turned it on, the North Tower was smoking and she had called me when the second plane hit. And now they showed a replay of the second plane’s impact, it’s a very vivid memory,” she said. “I got calls from people asking me if Chic could be a part of it, and I was like, ‘No, no, no Chic is flying out of Dulles. He’s never in New York airspace.’”
Then her brother Brad called her screaming.
“He was just screaming and I couldn’t understand what he was saying,” she said. “And he kept saying, ‘It’s chic. It’s Chic’… I’ve never heard him in this emotional state. And I said, ‘What do you mean, what do you mean?’ I didn’t think he was talking about what we were watching on TV in front of us. Because I didn’t want to believe that.”
Burlingame said she grew up in a military family and lived in “different places” due to her father’s career in the Air Force. Chic followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the military as well. He graduated from the Naval Academy in 1971, flew F-4 Phantoms aboard the USS Saratoga and served with the Pentagon during the Gulf War. He received the Defense Superior Service Medal and retired from the Navy in 1996 after 25 years of service with the rank of captain.
“He was very patriotic. He drew USA on the wings of an airplane he built from scrap metal in one of our old houses. He didn’t just want to be a pilot. He wanted to be a military pilot. And he’s been aviation all his life,” his sister recalled.
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Burlingame said her big brother “loved America just like our family did.”
“My father was a great patriot, and he was a World War II veteran and served 20 years in the Air Force. And that was our life. America was a country that we simply considered the greatest place on earth. And we were just very patriotic living in Washington, DC. My father loved this country. And he taught us to love this country and why it is so special. And that’s why Chic was so excited not just to be a pilot, but to be a military pilot and serve his country,” she said.
She said that 21 years after the “surreal nightmare” of 9/11, she still thinks of Chic and cherishes her travels with American Airlines, where his former crews told her stories of his time on the air.
“I can’t tell you how many great stories I’ve heard about my brother that I’ve never heard before. I had to fly a lot American. I was constantly flying back and forth between LA and Washington. But I flew with all the crews that he flew with and they would sit with me and tell me stories about him. And it was wonderful. He was a very good pilot. He had a lot of respect for the crew, everyone including the guys in the back. ” She said.
Burlingame told Fox News Digital that she and her other brothers always looked up to Chic, even into adulthood asking, “What would Chic do? What would Chic think? Go get Chic, he’ll know what to do.”
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Burlingame, who serves as the 9/11 Community Leader on the board of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation, lamented the current political state of the country and that a generation will never understand how Americans have united after the horrific day of more than two years ago decades.
“What I see politically now is sad because I see that the country is so torn on so many different levels, not only politically but also theologically on so many issues. And it’s sad for me when I think of young people who were either not born or too young to remember 9/11 or have any memories. They’re growing up in a country where they have no idea what it’s like for Americans to stand shoulder to shoulder and hug and be kind to one another,” she said.
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“It’s just angry, divisive and even brutal. And that’s very sad for me. It’s very, very sad because I’ve told people over and over in interviews that 9/11 was a triumph of human decency over human depravity. And that’s really what has saved me and many family members from utter despair. Our American compatriots were great. They really were. And they saved us from collapse.”