That Changed His View of Service & the World Forever
Anxiously awaiting takeoff from St. Louis International for Marine Combat Training, the pilot’s announcement of a delay did not help. I craned my head from the aisle seat and stared out at nothing but open runway and a clear, blue sky. Distant storm? This seemed the only possibility… for about 10 minutes.
Shortly, the pilot informed us of a nation-wide ground down. “If you’ve seen the news in the last forty minutes, you understand why” was his only explanation. Seen the news? I hadn’t. But, being a somewhat intuitive and world-informed guy, I guessed: hijacking.
Yet the scope of my guess lay microscopic under the shadow of events unfolding in New York, Washington D.C., and Shanksville.
Tensions rose inside the MD-80’s cabin as our patience stretched with our wait on the tarmac. Military personnel, most of us en route to Camp Pendleton, made up eighty percent of the flight roster. Most us remained clueless, frustrated, and unsure of anything happening in the rest of the U.S.
Eventually, we deboarded to catch our first glimpses of the smoldering World Trade Center. The surrealism was undeniable. Die Hard. This looks like a scene from Die Hard not real life. Those first thoughts of those first images burned into my being.
I spent the next days with a fellow Marine also on his way to MCT, who happened to live nearby. We glued ourselves to the news and waited by the phone for some form of military orders on what to do, where to go, next. We came together with the community; the community came together with us. And, over the next few days, weeks, months and intervening years, I came to understand my country and my service to it in a completely different manner.
Initially, the changes manifested in realizations that we (I) would be going to war. With who, how, exactly when? No one could answer. But, the cold truth of it added an indescribable sense of responsibility and a string of unanswerable “what if” questions to my soul. The same rang true for all those wearing a uniform in the United States military.
More tangibly, I watched my civilian countrymen congeal in a seemingly impossible manner (then and now). Ever so briefly, societal barriers broke in a Kinkade-like picturesque beauty. “America the Beautiful” was such in every way.
Then, the deployments began. For others first. Finally for me. Different climbs for us all in support of different missions, yet we kept one eye ever fixed on the Middle East. Ever waiting our number to be called. Frothing for it in some cases. We never forgot. Still, we never have.
One year bled to two and on. Everywhere I turned thanks for my, and that of my brothers-and-sisters-in-arms, service abounded. Yet, the equanimity of my fellow Americans toward one another and the trials we faced at home began to falter. Our “oneness” blinkered and sputtered, until finally, its traces existed only in recollections like this.
Now, I struggle to comprehend such a repeat moment — pessimistically seeing those short weeks in 2001 as a one-off lightening strike. Still, the memory burns so brightly, I cannot help but hope.
Like millions, my view of the world changed on 9/11 and continues to morph as a result even 18 years later. My sense of place in it. My understanding of respectful multiculturalism. My desire for peace over blood. My willingness to continue sacrificing if it can help bring my countrymen together again.
Thus, I will always remember the victims and the heroes of 9/11. I will forever mourn the compatriots lost in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mostly, I will carry the memory of 9/12, 9/13, 9/14… — when we came together without care of color, creed, power, or anonymity — and strive to rekindle the spirit of those days.
Such represents the most lasting memorial to those lost and the most enduring representation of who we can truly be as citizens of the United States.