In New York City, the beautiful morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was transformed instantly at 8:46 a.m., when a hijacked airliner crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. When a second airliner struck the South Tower 16 minutes later, what many assumed was a terrible accident was quickly shown to be a deliberate act of terrorism. Within an hour shock turned to horror as first one, then the other, of the Twin Towers collapsed. Together with a third plane that struck the Pentagon and a fourth that crashed into a Pennsylvania field as passengers struggled with the terrorists, nearly 3,000 Americans perished that morning.
Many members of the New York National Guard did not wait for a formal mobilization order, but rushed instantly to their armories. Closest were three battalions from the 3rd Brigade, 42nd Infantry Division: the 1st Battalion, 101st Cavalry from Staten Island; the 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery from Queens; and the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry, headquartered in Manhattan a little over two miles north of what would quickly become known as "Ground Zero." Also responding were B & C Companies of the 1st Battalion, 105th Infantry and New York's 2nd Civil Support Team (Weapons of Mass Destruction),
which sampled the air for chemical, biological, or radiological elements.
As Air Guard fighters circled above Manhattan, New York Guard members set to work, with generous assistance from neighboring states. Their most important mission was to cordon and secure much of lower Manhattan while others cleared Ground Zero, but in the first days and nights after the attack, it was common for Guard men and women to work in "bucket brigades," removing debris by hand while searching for survivors, as other Guard members provided transportation, engineering, and medical support and escorted residents to their homes. The 69th Infantry's armory was turned into an assistance center for thousands of family members seeking word of lost loved ones. Guard members on state active duty provided security at critical infrastructure sites-bridges, train stations, power plants-in some cases for years after the attacks.
By November 2001, most support functions had been handed back to other agencies. But when the headquarters of the 42nd Infantry Division deployed to Iraq in 2004, the image of 9/11 remained strong, and "Rainbow-Never Forget" became the division's unofficial motto, recalling their presence at the first battle in the Global War on Terrorism.