Sunday, September 11, 2011

What I remember...

When I was a kid I was always amazed at how people seemed to remember exactly where they where during JFK assassination's.  I used to think how could they remember exactly what and where you were on a single day decades ago.  And then 9-11 happened it changed me forever.

Below is my memory of that day... no pictures, no food, no jokes... just my memory of day that I will never forget.

It was a sunny Tuesday and I was a senior at Mass Maritime Academy.  I was getting ready for class and I was watching the morning news.  As I was collecting my notes, I remember them pausing the news to state how a plane had struck a tower of the World Trade Center.  It seemed like a horrible accident but I admit I wasn't overly concerned.  My friend and dorm neighbor Liz came down the hall and grabbed me for class.  We spoke about how tragic it was as we walked to class.

Once in class we all started talking about the one plane hitting and how sad it was.  Moments later another student came in and said that a 2nd plane had struck.  We thought for sure there must be some mistake and that they were confusing the story of the incident we had saw before coming to class.  However, just seconds later our professor came in and confirmed the horror that indeed 2 planes had hit the towers.  MMA immediately cancelled classes and directed all students to return to the dorms.

Let me clarify first that MMA is a para-military college that is just miles from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod.  All students wear uniforms similar to the Navy and we live in a regimental culture.  Because of that,  nobody knowing why the towers were hit and the fact that the fighter jets responding where coming from Otis it was understandable that the school was locking us down.

With nowhere to go and no idea what was going on we all went back to the dorms.

Another side note, only juniors and seniors are allowed TVs in their rooms and usually upperclassmen are not allowed to have underclassmen in their rooms.  All of those rules went out the window that morning. All of the 1st Class Cadets (ie Seniors) opened their rooms to anyone and everyone.  We gathered around the TVs in a horrified somber silence.  Still in disbelief of what was going on...

The entire day seems like a hazed nightmare even 10 years later.  I remember exactly what room I went to and sitting there for hours just watching the news....  The only time we spoke was to help kids who couldn't contact their relatives and needed to get off campus (seniors act as super RA's/staff at the school).  I don't remember going back to my room or even eating that day.... just sitting and never wanting to turn off the TV.

Up until that point I was a typical 20 year old who was only concerned with my course schedule and even more selfishly my upcoming 21st birthday that was just 4 days away.  My 21st bday was going to be the same day as Homecoming at school. For weeks we all planned to spend the day celebrating with past and present classmates at the football game and then head to Boston for a typical Fanuiel Hall pub crawl.  After that day we were not even sure the school would be hosting homecoming, never mind the thinking about heading into the city with friends to celebrate my little birthday.

I spent that week going through the same emotions every else in our country was going through.  Shock that something this extreme happened on our soil.  Guilt that I and my family were safe and not directly impacted by the event. Confused and afraid to think about going out to public places and returning to some sort of normal routine in my life.

The school did end up hosting homecoming and we did go to Boston even though I am sure none of us told our parents we were going till the next day.  We had fun but there was a dark cloud that hung over the whole weekend that I think every American keeps with them even now.  I like to think that by us going out that weekend we were showing terrorists that Americans would not let something so awful bring our nation to a standstill.  We all had to find a new normal and that weekend was the first step towards it.

What I didn't know back then as a naive 20 year old was that 9-11-01 would change the person I would become over these past 10 years.  I fell into a profession that would keep me a part of the war indirectly until 2008.  Whether I was working as a civilian for the Coast Guard, or working with a Military Contractor that transported our armed services to and from the gulf I would be a part of this new normal.

I would have friends join the armed services.  Some went into the reserves, some active duty... A few did one tour, others did 4-5 tours and some would lose their life fighting for our country (that fact is something I still can't talk about.  No 20something should have to lose a friend to a war...it is just not how you are told your 20s will play out)  That one day changed all of us whether we knew it or not.  Even has I type this I well up at the thought of how happy and stupidly naive we all where before that sunny morning in September.

I have found a new normal after all these years but as we all say "I will never forget".  I will never forget all those who innocently died that day, those who ran into the falling towers to save strangers, those who fought back on a plane, those who ran to a recruitment office instead of college, those who gave their lives overseas to fight this war (no matter what their political stance was), those who stay home and wait for love ones who are fighting and those who carry on their way of life here proving that by committing this awful unthinkable act has only made America a stronger unified country.

Wherever you were that day and however it has impacted your life since then never forget that we must continue to be a unified nation that promotes strength, unity, growth and a equality for ALL who call America home or wish to call it home!