“It Can All Change in One Day”
One day in America, we all woke up and began our day like the one before—losing our car keys on the way out the door, getting our coffee from Starbucks (making us late again), dropping our science projects in the hallway three minutes before the bell rings for science class, and cursing all the red traffic lights you keep hitting. The day seemed almost too normal, too typical. Children in public schools all across America rose from their chairs, placed their hands over their hearts, and pledged allegiance to the US flag before starting their daily studies. Little did we all know, by the end of the day, our allegiance to that flag would grow stronger, and our bond to the country we all share would be tested in unimaginable ways.
Sept. 11th was an act meant to break our spirit as a country. To break apart the very unity that lies within our name, The United States of America. By attacking the symbols of American prosperity and capitalism, terrorists attempted to rip the fabrics of our society. But, really, the 9/11 attacks only made us more passionately bonded with our neighbors. We started the day pledging to a flag with 50 stars, and people across the country ended the day praying for one single nation—our nation. E Pluribus Unum, or “Out of many, one”, can be found on American currency. The September 11th attacks failed to break our spirit, but they did remind us all; we are one nation, and we are all worth fighting for.
We were forever changed the moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower. Then, the world was forever changed as the second hijacked plane exploded into the South Tower, slicing down the second tallest building of NYC’s iconic skyline. Aside from being the tallest building in New York City at the time, 911memorial.org also states they were the two tallest buildings in the world until 1973. In total, 2,977 people lost their lives that day—2,606 at the Twin Towers, 125 at the Pentagon, and 246 passengers and crew aboard the four hijacked commercial airplane jets.
We were all turning to our television sets to find out what was going on, and what we should be doing; then, the third plane hits the Pentagon Building. American intuition and ingenuity took over among the members aboard the fourth hijacked airplane. It is now speculated that the nose of the last plane was aimed towards the United States Capitol Building in Washington D.C. Passengers aboard the doomed flight overtook the terrorists, crashing into a field before reaching the fourth landmark intended for destruction. The plane was hijacked in mid-air, but the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 made sure the terrorists would not be controlling where it landed.
Born June 5, 1963, in Enid, OK, Dale Hornberger is a 1981 graduate of Enid High School. He has been married to his sweetheart, Susan, for 39 years, this year. The couple has two children, Mason Hornberger and Codi Harding, as well as numerous grandchildren. If you’ve lived in the Enid area for very long, and have made the trip to OKC via Highway 81, there’s a very good chance you’ve met Dale. Well, that is—if you were breaking the law and speeding through the Waukomis speed zone! Officer Hornberger has been a full-time Waukomis Police Officer since June 1st, 2021; and, the notability of this fact may be confusing to some, just as Dale’s calm personality is confusing to anyone who truly knows the extent of his heroic service to our community.
Dale has been serving our country in more ways than just serving up speeding tickets to pesky speeders on the highway. Particularly in an age that is constantly battling negative police encounters and “bad apples” among police forces, you can still always find videos of police officers being true peace officers to the community they serve. Those who swore an oath to serve others on the frontline—whether that frontline is overseas, or on the domestic home-front—have a special strength in their soul to put their bodies in harm’s way to protect us.
Cynicism can easily get the best of us, and gaining an appreciation for the ups and downs of life is the nature of living. In Darwinism, “learn to adapt; survive”. In Dale-ism, “Life’s a joke; it’s how you take it.” His career in public service resembles more of an action movie hero, but he’s the hometown hero you probably had no clue lived right next door. Being a full-time Police Officer may be his current title, but his bravery to put on the uniform in a call to duty has led to him wearing one for almost every possible public service. He’s seen humans at their worst, but he’s still always been compelled to believe in the good.
In the late 80s, he was working at the Bowling Center on Vance Air Force Base. When I asked why he wanted to become a firefighter, he snickered, and said, “Oh, it’s a stupid reason—I thought it sounded cool! Local firemen would come in to bowl, and they’d be laughing and joking and having the best time. They’d talk about their job, and I wanted to do that stuff to!”
After receiving the proper training and certification, Dale was a Firefighter for Vance Air Force Base from 1988 until June 2021—totaling 34 years. He also served for 30 years as a Volunteer Firefighter for Waukomis Fire Department. Fire and Police work led him to seek his EMT certification, completed in 1989. Since then, he’s also been the Reserve Deputy Sheriff of Garfield Co., where he served for 18 years, and a Reserve Police Officer for Waukomis Police Department beginning in 1991 for a total of 23 years. (Before his recent full-time employment with the same department.)
Still, not yet satisfied with his careers in Fire, Police, and EMT, Dale enlisted in the United States Coast Guard Reserves in 2000. “They’ll never call the Coast Guard,” he and his wife joked back-and-forth…until one year later on September 11, 2001. The moment the first plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11, Dale knew that a call would be coming soon.
After the second plane hit WTC South Tower, he began initiating the protocols he was trained for in the USCG Reserves after enlisting barely 12 months prior. Fighting back the emotions of that day, Dale recalls through a cracked voice his initial thoughts as the Twin Towers were burning to the ground, “As soon as the second one hit the tower, everyone was told to go call and find out where to go…they were grounding all the airplanes…” After a brief pause he continues on saying, “…my unit, of course, we’re standing there, asking, ‘what do you want me to do, Commander?’ It was life-changing, to say the least; because, you just knew we’re going to war.” One month later the phone rang, and it was the call they’d been waiting for; he was to report to New Orleans. After his time in NOLA, he was recalled for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Born August 19th, 1987, in Waukomis, OK, Mason Hornberger is a 2006 graduate of Waukomis High School and the son of Dale Hornberger. After graduating in ’06, Mason lived in Enid while attending Autry Technology Center with the “13th Year Scholarship.” This scholarship is available to any graduating senior in the Autry district, who has lived in the district during Senior year of High School and meets enrollment requirements. Graduates have up to three years to utilize this opportunity at Autry, but Mason decided to immediately sign up for his beginning Fire Training Course in the Summer of 2006. Since then, he has gone on to complete certification in every possible training course from Firefighting 1 & 2 and Hazmat Awareness to Emergency Medical Technician and Police training. He is married to Shelly, and they have one son named Aaron who is almost 5-years-old.
Mason knew he wanted to be a firefighter for most of his life. Watching his dad and growing up around it fed his passions, and he knew that was the only career for him. Receiving his initial certifications for fire training in 2007, he went on to become a Firefighter for Vance Air Force Base and Waukomis Fire Department—just like his dad. He has also received all the additional certifications to become an EMT, and surprisingly enough, he also went through Police Training in 2010, becoming an officer for Waukomis Police Department. He was on patrol for approximately 2 years before being promoted to Waukomis Police Chief. Mason was Chief for about the same length of time that he was a patrol officer. This stint as chief-of-police was during the time his father was a patrol officer for Waukomis PD, and Dale’s giggle is infectious as he recounts the fun he would have reporting to work each morning since he technically had to ask his son what to do. Although it was a memorable time for them both, Mason missed his time working for the fire department. He went back to being a Fireman/EMT at Vance Air Force Base, Waukomis Fire Department, and is an adjunct instructor for Fire Training at Autry Technology.
“Don’t Let the Day Change You”
At the moment those planes crashed, all of America’s hearts stopped for a second. The destruction on that day was visible, yet it didn’t make a crack in the foundation of the United States’ ability to unify in a time of crisis. The towers tumbled down into a pile of rubble, but the people of this country rose up together, and our hearts started to beat as one, in collective unity.
As Americans, we remain hopeful by utilizing our ability to overcome and seek justice. A Phoenix rises from the ash, but an Eagle hunts down its prey. On May 2, 2011, U.S. forces raided the compound housing Osama bin Laden, killing the mastermind responsible for the 9/11 Terror Attacks on US soil in 2001. Two decades after the 9/11 attacks, we still look back on those two towers falling, with a pit in our stomach and a tear in our eye. We have a shared appreciation for the brave First Responders and Military who ran into those buildings on 9/11, trying to save peoples’ lives. This September, two decades later—let’s overwhelm our local First Responders and Military Members with appreciation, and remind them we are still grateful!