Watching the events unfold on Sept. 11, 2001, inspired an Excelsior native to return to the military to do his part in protecting his country.

Danny Howerton received his U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class rank pin Tuesday evening at the Excelsior Springs High School Commons.

The chance to celebrate the achievement while surrounded by his family was not lost on Howerton.

“My grandparents still be around to actually see this accomplishment is everything to me,” he said. “Having my parents to be actually able to put the rank on me is amazing.”

Howerton’s road to the Army began in a unique place. In 1997, only four days after his graduation from ESHS, he joined the United States Marines. After two years of service, Howerton took a break from the military until that eventful day 18 years ago.

“I’ve always had pride for the country, I guess,” he said. “When that happened, and we got attacked, it was kind of like ... I’m doing my part for the nation and put my life on the line ... to go fight over there instead of letting that happen here again.”

THAT FATEFUL DAY

On September 11, 2001, many in the nation awoke to news of an American Airlines Boeing 767 crashing into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The force killed hundreds on impact and kept hundreds more from exiting the burning building. A few minutes later, a second Boeing 767 crashed into the Center’s south towner. Approximately 15 minutes later, the south tower collapsed followed later by the north tower. 

Reports said only six people still in the towers at the time of their collapse survived. Later, officials determined Islamic terrorists hijacked the planes after being financed by Osama bin Laden and the terrorist organization al-Qaida.

The terrorists also hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and crashed it into the west side of the Pentagon in Washington D.C. 

Later the same morning, reports came of a fourth hijacked plane. The passengers of this plane, however, planned an attack after learning of the events in New York and Washington D.C.

“One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone that ‘I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey,’” the History Channel said. “Another passenger—Todd Beamer—was heard saying ‘Are you guys ready? Let’s roll’ over an open line. Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband and explained that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were ‘Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.’”

Although it remains unclear where the hijackers expected to attack with this plane, it crashed in a rural field near Shanksville in western Pennsylvania.

The attack killed 2,977 people and the 19 terrorist hijackers. Residents of 78 countries died that day.

After the attacks, patriotism rose in the country and many, like Howerton, chose to join the military’s fight against terror. Military statistics show 79,585 people joined the Army in 2002, the first full recruit year after the attacks.

ONE MAN'S STORY

The military also provided Howerton a chance to leave what he said could have trapped him into another life. He wasn’t a bad kid, he said, but some of his friends became involved in things that would have had a negative impact on his life. 

Howerton said the military can still get kids out of such situations.

“If they can get away and actually from those friends and bad influences ... there’s a better life out there,” he said.

After 19 years of active duty, he said he’s matured. He got to see the world and experience new things and places.

The military sent him all over, including multiple overseas tours and stationing him on bases throughout the United States. He works as a transportation management coordinator, which plans and coordinated all movements of personnel and equipment. He currently works with the historic 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

The experience contained some downsides though. The stress of being away from his family, for example. 

He described himself as mostly a single parent for his 17-year-old Devin. However, Howerton and his son was able to experience living in some amazing places and have adventures many others have not been able to experience.

He said his family is everything to him. Describing having so much around him Tuesday night as amazing, he said many do not have grandparents still around when they achieve his new rank. Both of his sets of grandparents attended his pinning.  His grandparents, Roy and Mildred Howerton and Francis and Jean Baker still live in Excelsior, as do his parents Dan and Linda Howerton. Devin’s half-sister, 19-year-old Desiree, whom Howerton is still close to, also attended and brought her 9-month-old daughter Iris. 

The entire evening encompassed two of Howerton’s greatest qualities, love for his family and love for his country.

“(I joined because of) pride for the nation,” he said. “(I was) willing to go fight my enemies overseas, rather than let them come here and mess with my friends and family.”

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