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‘Hi, baby. I love you. And we are at war.’

Sarah Cooke blinked twice to shake off the glare of the klieg lights, and when she looked back down, it was still there.

The object was small and round, and blackened by fire — save for one little  sliver of untouched metal that gave off just enough of a glint to make her dig back in.

“I think I know what this is,” she said to herself.

She scooped it up in her gloved hand and she was right.

Just as she thought, it was the back cover of a wristwatch, a man’s wristwatch from the size of it, and it carried some engraving she could still make out: “SD to JD 9-14-86.”

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks on America.

And Cooke, who is now a secretary at Westwood Middle School, was deep in the aftermath of its first answering salvo.

She was digging through what was left of Flight 93, in a cratered, smoking field in Somerset County, Pa.

Cooke is a first responder by her first profession, and she used to work with medical flight crews in the Pittsburgh area.

Her crew had actually been training in Morgantown that morning two decades ago.

The cloudless sky was lithograph-blue, the air carried the tang of autumn — and people were scurrying around, looking for televisions.

That was so they could watch the endless loops of two passenger planes crashing into the double towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

It became pretty clear, pretty quick, that it wasn’t an accident.

With another hijacked plane still in the air — Flight 93 — Cooke and crew were scrambled.

“We just knew we were going somewhere,” she said.

News from mom

The responders had three minutes to stow their equipment, get into the gear they needed to wear and to make one phone call.

Cooke called her mother, who didn’t even say hello.

The matriarch instead answered her daughter with a hurried haiku, reflecting an America forever changed.

“Hi, baby. I love you. And we are at war.”

No televisions will be on today in Cooke’s house, she said.

She’ll stay away from the newspaper, social media and the radio, too.

“This is always a quiet, reflective day for me,” she said. “I don’t do much.”

On this day 20 years ago, she couldn’t help but be struck by the contrast of her immediate surroundings in that Somerset County field.

There she was, on the outer bands of on angry, smoking crater — perched at the edge of a beautiful, lush forest.

That’s what you get, she said, when a 757 passenger plane, with enough fuel for a West Coast flight, slams into the earth upside down at more than 500 miles an hour.

What was left, wasn’t much. Bone fragments. Teeth.

And, seatbelts that were unbuckled.

The forensic last word on Flight 93, perhaps, since the twice-doomed plane, believed to be on a suicide course to the U.S. Capitol building, never got there.

Another victim

All these years later, Cooke still has a catch when she remembers those belts.

They weren’t buckled, she said, because passengers weren’t in their seats.

And they weren’t in their seats, she said, because they were rushing the cockpit.

Citizen-soldiers, they were, Cooke said, who went from flying coach — to saving their country.

Cooke held on to that watch cover, but not for herself.

She was eventually able to hand it back to “SD” —  Sandy Dahl, the wife of Jason Dahl, Flight 93’s captain. The watch was a gift to her husband on their wedding day of Sept. 14, 1986.

The first responder had no way of knowing she was talking to what would become another victim of Sept. 11.

Sandy Dahl died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose in 2012.

Her friends said she never fully got over the trauma of her husband’s death.

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