‘We knew everything was going to change…’

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The F-16 fighters wait around the clock in a hanger near Atlantic City, armed and ready to rocket into the air at a moment’s notice on a mission born of a national tragedy. For decades, the 177th Fighter Wing of the New Jersey Air National Guard served as sentinels in the Cold War. Soon after the Soviet Union crumbled, however, the “Jersey Devils” — as they had long been known — stopped shadowing the Russian bombers probing U.S. air space in long-running cat-and-mouse incursions along the East Coast. Its job was no longer one of air defense. That meant that on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, th…

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