Staff Sergeant Maudlyn A. White, a Montserratian by birth, died in the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon back in 2001. She was the Mother of her only child Vielka White, a Daughter, a sister and my aunt.
Various persons, for varying reasons will remember just how 9/11 impacted their lives. Years on from the atrocities that rocked the United States and the world, there is a yearly mark of commemoration justifiably deserved for all those who lost their lives on that day.
I want to speak about 9/11, not from a position of geo-politics or military incursions - whether justifiably right or wrong; but I will speak about my immediate memories and experiences of that fateful day, and the loss of a family member.
My aunt, my Mom's sister Maudlyn A. White was a Staff Sergeant in the United States Army. Sadly, on the day that terrorists flew aircrafts into the side of the Pentagon building in Washington, she was one who was unfortunate to have lost her life out of the many who died. She was 38.
I remember 9/11 and the newscast of the attacks on the United States very vividly. I was amongst friends that day in London.
We were just about to leave my friend's house when the telephone rang with a frantic message to turn on the television now! Promptly, as the image from the television came into focus, what we saw were the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center blazing with fire and smoke. A monotoned news anchor relayed what had happened but I had already gotten that information from the subtext under the images.
My God! I thought.
Immediately following, news broke of attacks on the Pentagon and the screen flicked to a change of location showing the Pentagon, the central command of US military power, one section up in flames. At that point, I did not quite interpret the political severity of what was happening, but it was certain in my mind that the United States of America was under attack. We all stood there in the living room, silently watching the TV. I paused my gaze to make a call, returning to hear the then UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, speaking of standing 'shoulder to shoulder' with the United Sates after such a horrific attack.
Leaving my friend's house, the images of the Twin Towers tumbling to rubble and the Pentagon on fire were very vivid in my mind. Still, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that a family member would have been caught up in those images I just witnessed.
The call came from my grandmother who was then residing in the USVI, a few days after the day of the attacks. She rang to tell us that she was informed by U.S Military authorities that her daughter, Maudlyn, had died as a result of the attack on the Pentagon. I had just arrived to my Mom's house to pay her a visit when she broke the news to me of my grandmother's call.
My Aunt Maudlyn and I were not close, I cannot say that I knew her well, so therefore, I did not break into tears but what I felt was a huge sense of sadness, particularly for my Mom and my grandmother who would have had more active memories of her. My grandmother, of course, was devastated to have lost a child, especially to do so in such a sickening act of carnage. I remember thinking how crazy it seemed for the 9/11 attacks to have had such immediate significance to our family with the loss of such a close relative. There was no mistaking that my grandmother needed a support structure around her with haste. We all assembled in Maryland at my uncle's within a week of receiving news of Aunt Maudlyn's death.
The presence of the military quickly became accustomed once we arrived in the United States. We all were present; family members and friends from all over, all came down. Even though the occasion was sad, it was a great family gathering. It felt good to be in such heart-warming company. Stories, teasing and jokes were never far from earshot!
My aunt was buried to full military honours in Washington. She was awarded the Purple Heart Medal in recognition of her service. I remember continually looking in the direction of my grandmother to check she was keeping well. She was seated on a chair by the graveside. Her face solemn and reflective. The loss was all of our family's but more poignantly, it was hers on a personal level having lost a child. I watched as military personnel did the flag folding ceremony over my Aunt's coffin and delivered the flag of the United States of America to my grandmother in honour of her daughter's service. For some reason, that moment during the flag exchange filled me with pride.
Some family members cried. One of my cousins wailed incessantly. My uncles were stony eyed. My Mom stared behind the darkened tint of her sunglasses. Another cousin came over and stood quietly next to me. At that moment, it was a united grief and a shared loss. 9/11 would be a day we would all remember and reflect upon the memory of an aunt, a mother, a cousin, a sister and most of all a daughter; Maudlyn White.
See below a tribute to Staff Sergeant, Maudlyn A. White as posted on the Pentagon's National Memorial site:
Staff Sergeant (SSG) Maudlyn A. White was born on 20 February 1963 to the late James White and Mrs. Priscilla Irish on the island of Montserrat. At the age of 12, she moved to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, which she called her home. She graduated from St. Croix Central High School in 1982. Seeking higher education she attended Bennett College in North Carolina. Having the opportunity to take advantage of the Army College Fund, Maudlyn enlisted into the United States Army in July of 1985. A passionate seeker of knowledge, Maudlyn continued her education and earned a Bachelor’s degree from Strayer University in Computer Information Technology.
Maudlyn enjoyed running, reading, bowling and spending quality time with her daughter.
SSG White’s military career began at Fort Jackson, North Carolina where she completed her Basic and Advanced Individual Training as an Administrative Specialist. Her military assignments included two overseas tours (Frankfurt, Germany and Camp Casey, Korea); Chicago, Illinois; and Alexandria, Virginia. Her most recent assignment was with the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Programs.
SSG White’s awards include: the Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster (posthumously), the Army Commendation Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Army Achievement Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, and the National Defense Service Medal.
SSG White became a proud parent on 13 February 1995, giving birth to her daughter, Vielka White. Vielka quickly became her life and life was Vielka for SSG White. Vielka was not only a daughter to SSG White, but a best friend and playmate.
SSG Maudlyn White was strong, determined, independent, educated, responsible, strong willed, and always gave her best to everyone she came in contact with.