NEWINGTON — Before the roar of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds thrilled the crowd of spectators gathered Saturday at Pease Air National Guard Base, many paused to reflect on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Some even carried large American flags over their shoulders in memory of the thousands lost and the 13 service members killed in a recent attack outside the airport in Afghanistan.

“America needs to get back to how it was after it happened when we were all family. Now we’re tearing each other apart,” said Bryon Neveu of Claremont.

The Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show opened Saturday with a ceremony marking the somber anniversary.

Tech. Sgt. Kayla McWalter of the 157th Air Refueling Wing led the ceremony and was involved in an effort to create a 20th anniversary 9/11 memorial with a replica of the twin towers made by members in the sheet metal shop.

The memorial will be placed on the base with beams of light that will allow it to be illuminated at night.

“In the face of unspeakable horror, we saw Americans at their best, rushing toward danger with their dedication, courage and bravery saving many lives that day. Those images are engraved in our memory,” said New Hampshire National Guard Adjutant General, Major Gen. David Mikolaities.

McWalter said grief is not the true legacy of 9/11.

“We are not defined by what happens to us, but by how we respond when faced with adversity. Sept. 11 did not cripple us as a nation. Instead. It brought out the best in all of us. Our story is how we responded in the face of this attack, with courage, resolve, and unity,” she said.

Major Michelle Mastrobattista, a 157th medical administrative officer, recalled how she was a student at Dover High School and watched with another student as the second plane hit on live TV.

She reflected on the strength of the American spirit in the aftermath and how it inspired people to act.

“Following the attacks on our great nation, people did not cower from service. The opposite happened. Members of our society volunteered and chose still to become firefighters, police officers, pilots, EMTs and soldiers who would inevitably retaliate against those who tried to harm our American spirit,” she said.

A New Hampshire State Police helicopter flew over during the ceremony.

A bald eagle was also spotted above the trees.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds are headlining the two-day event in their first New Hampshire show in 10 years. (Note: The air show continues Sunday, but all parking passes have already been reserved. All vehicles attending must present a parking pass to enter. For more information: https://thunderovernewhampshire.com)

Jon Aditays of Worcester, Mass., attended a show at Pease in 2010 and didn’t want to miss it this year.

He’s a big fan of the fighter jets.

“Seeing them in person, you can’t put it into words,” he said.

Neveu saw the U.S. Navy Blue Angels perform in 2010 and was excited to watch the Thunderbirds this time around. It was a new experience for his girlfriend, Mia Clough, who had never been to an air show.

Clough said they work for a company that builds bearings for the Boeing planes.

“It’s nice to see what our bearings turn into,” she said.

Clough, who carried American flags with her boyfriend, was just a year old on 9/11, but she has firefighters and others in the medical field in her family and was inspired by them and the attack to become a firefighter.

Exeter resident Randall Sisson has attended many shows over the years, but this year he brought his 11-year-old niece, Nitalia Bigelow, and her brother, Dante Grassie, 16, both of Hampton.

After taking a peek inside the cockpit of the T-1A Jayhawk from Laughlin Air Force Base in Texas, Nitalia said she was impressed with all the buttons and gears and “how many things those people have to learn to fly the plane.”

On Sunday, the 157th Air Refueling Wing will name its 12 new KC-46A Pegasus aerial refueler jets for the 10 New Hampshire counties. Two will also be named for the town of Newington and city of Portsmouth.

Craig Wadsworth is director of maintenance and pilots the “Whiskey 7” C-47, which was originally flown by the 37th Troop Carrier Squadron during WWII and dropped troops over Normandy, the Netherlands and during the allied invasion of Germany.

The aircraft, which is now at the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, N.Y., later flew cargo, evacuated the wounded, and towed gliders.

“Our mission is to introduce people to their country’s history, talk about the men and women that served, and talk about the sacrifices they made as a way to illustrate the kind of country that we have,” he said.

Wadsworth called the “Whiskey 7” an “amazing aircraft.”

“It’s very stable and easy to fly, but there’s a lot going on. It’s a very forgiving airplane. It doesn’t have any bad habits. There’s no way that it’s going to bite you. It’s a fabulous aircraft to fly,” he said.

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