Post by Capt Ian Brown, USMC, '03
December 12, 2011
It's been ten years since I woke up late that Tuesday morning, ready for an easy day with only one class in the afternoon, to find my roommates glued to the television, newscasters almost unable to comprehend what they were reporting on, and, apparently, the whole world on fire. By the time I finally tuned in, both towers of the World Trade Center were burning and the Pentagon had a hole in it; reports were just beginning to come in about a plane crash in Pennsylvania; and rumors were flying wild, including one of a bomb set off on the Washington Mall. We sat there, watching reruns of the planes striking each building, watching smoke pour out of the gaping wounds in the Twin Towers, watching people hanging their heads out the windows for air and, in some cases, flinging themselves down into the streets below, preferring to plummet to their ends rather than be consumed by the flames.
I remember the first person I called that morning was my Marine selection officer: I wanted to know if there was anything I had to do, if we officer candidates might get called up for some task (a silly question, of course, since I had all of 12 weeks of extremely basic training and would be lucky if all I did was shoot one of my fingers off without hurting anyone else). The second person was my mother. I come from a dual-citizenship family – my father is Canadian, my mother American – and I wanted to know what she made of all of this. She was the first American in my life, and I thought maybe she'd have some insight from all her years here about who, what, why this was happening. My parents still lived in Canada, and I also wanted to know whether it was being reported up there, if perhaps Canadian news had some outside tidbits of information we lacked. Yet she, and the Canadian media outlets, had no additional insights. Few people knew anything that morning, other than the fact that we were under attack. So all I could do was watch.
The first Tower fell. Clouds of smoke, dust, and ash billowed through the streets of downtown New York as people tried to outrun it. At the Pentagon, flames roiled up out of the gash that had been cut to the very center of the building. Rumors of a fourth plane wreck were confirmed, and we got our first look at the gaping scar of earth where Flight 93 had come to grief. The second Tower fell. Manhattan was now obscured by sheets of haze and smoke as the debris spread and fires burned. I don't remember what my roommates and I said to each other, if anything. It was all so unexpected, so unbelievable. It was supposed to be a Tuesday like any other. What was it now?
My one class for the day was cancelled, but I still had to go to cross-country practice. I was a co-captain of nine or ten guys who also thought that today was going to be like any other day. I tried to think of something to say to them; I think what I came up with was something about our country getting hit hard, but that we still had to press forward and not let this interrupt our lives. Whatever I said, it wasn't memorable. Someone else on the team said something far better in far fewer words as we practiced. We were running laps around the track, and our workout was almost done when Chris Ambrose (’03), crossing the start line, yelled out, "Let's do it for New York and DC!" The guys jumped across the line, and I thought I would lose my last vestiges of self-control from that day right there.
The rest of the week was turned upside down. Classes were cancelled the next day, as I recall, and we had a memorial service instead. I remember Father Jonathan trying to hold back tears as he told us that he'd learned of an alumnus who'd died in the World Trade Center. I heard from my parents that the father of several kids who attended my old high school had also died there. That morning of rapid destruction was starting to ripple across the country and across borders.
At some point that week we learned that Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were taking credit for the attacks. I think my first reaction was, "What the heck is al Qaeda?" I'd heard of bin Laden a few times, in connection with the USS Cole bombing and the attacks on American embassies in Africa; but he certainly wasn't a topic of daily conversation in the news. Now, his face was everywhere, and eventually a video tape emerged of him gloating as he learned how successful his plans had been.
By then I really didn't care who was behind it. All I knew was that these attacks had given my rather general decision to join the Marine Corps a focus that it previously lacked. Before 9/11, I'd wanted to join up out of a fascination with the American military tradition, a general desire to serve my country, and go with the Marines because they had a bad-ass reputation and the coolest uniforms. Now there was a specific purpose: I would make it my personal responsibility to make sure that no one I loved would ever have to see what we saw that morning ever again, or be threatened by the kind of men who perpetrated it.
9/11 gave focus to something else too. It made me realize that my fun little fling with this big old sea-to-shining-sea country had, over the last couple of years, developed into a full-fledged love affair. I was born and raised in Canada, but spent a lot of time visiting America as my mom’s side of the family lived there. Often I joked that I had one foot North of the 49th parallel and one foot South. When the Towers fell, I knew that both feet would be forever here. Because what I saw that morning hurt me more than anything I could remember in the twenty-odd years of my life. This wonderful country where I'd found an incredible school, even more incredible friends (and ultimately, in the months to come, the remarkable woman who would become my wife), a way of life that was energetic, freewheeling, and boisterous, neighbors and acquaintances who challenged me and made me think about who I was and what I believed – this place that had given me so much was now reeling under a blow from petty, angry little men who couldn't even begin to understand what they were attacking. I hadn't felt so stung by any single event before or since. Hurricane Katrina has come pretty close, but Katrina was a natural event, one beyond our power to control. It was a force without guidance or malice. 9/11 was committed with malice aforethought. It was the purposeful decision by a group of men to kill as many of their fellow human beings as possible.
The rage and pain that this barbaric act generated were indescribable, and though the years have dulled these feelings, they've never subsided. Sometimes those feelings lingered below the surface, remembered more at the intellectual than emotional level, and I would force myself to remember them to help me through the difficult times of deployments in Iraq and the Pacific. Sometimes they exploded to the forefront, as when I learned that one of my roommates in basic training had been shot down in Iraq by the same type of murderers who executed 9/11, or when the headlines announced that Capt Kyle Van De Giesen (’02) – the first fellow candidate I met in the officer selection program, a proud product of Anselmian education, and a loving husband and father awaiting the birth of his second child – was killed in action in Afghanistan shortly before he was due to return home. They come flooding back to me now as I write this, and I'm actually a little surprised that they're still this strong. That's a good thing, though: it means that I still haven't forgotten what it felt like that Tuesday morning, on what was supposed to be an easy, relaxing day. I hope I never forget, and that the rest of America doesn’t either.
I forget why but we had an alternate schedule that day. Otherwise, I probably would have been in bed when everything happened. It was my junior year and I lived off campus at Squire. I came home from class just before 9:00. My roommate Jeff was sitting on the couch watching TV and said a plane hit the world trade center. I figured it was a small cessna and thought that it was terrible loss for a few people with no idea of the magnitude of what was happening. He said it was a 767. Shortly thereafter that the second plane crashed. I froze, my heart sank. I sat down in complete shock. America had been attacked. The news soon showed Boston being evacuated. My first thoughts were to try to get in touch with my brother and sister who lived and worked there, except there was no cell service. I was terrified. I'll never forget that feeling. God Bless all who were lost that day, the families they left behind and the servicemen and women who went to fight for our country in the following years.
Post by Will Tattan '03
I have tried so many times to write about that Tuesday morning in September 2001 that began with a cerulean sky and the optimism that accompanies the perfect fall day, and ended with anguish, profound tragedy and a sense of fear so overwhelming and raw none of us had the words for it yet. Every time I try to write about September 11, I get as far as “I cannot grasp it—the ‘there-then-not,’”—before I have to stop.
Because, really, how can I capture on paper what we felt that day? What we still feel, 10 years later, as tribute shows replay the unthinkable—the planes crashing, impossibly, into the towers; the towers collapsing (even now, I can’t get over how slowly they seemed to fall); the dazed men in their suits, covered in ash so thick and gray you wonder how they’ll ever get clean; the women clutching their high heels and crawling through panic-filled streets; the incomprehensible, pin-wheeling silhouettes of those who jumped out of offices to escape the flames and smoke and terror; the police officers and firefighters wiping away sweat and grime and tears as they headed doggedly towards what everyone else was running from. And I certainly couldn’t write about the overwhelming grief I felt in the days to follow, as newscasts showed disbelieving moms, dads, sisters, brothers, cousins, daughters, sons, fiancées, coworkers, friends, lovers—holding up photos of Sara, Riley, Marcus, Nathaniel, Ellie, Maria, Beth, David, Sam, Karen, Josh, and asking someone, anyone to please help find their loved ones because they missed them and just wanted them home.
I didn’t lose anyone on September 11. But I think one of the reasons I was—and still am—so deeply affected is the realization that I easily could have. The terrorist attacks were exquisitely targeted, yet so brutally random. Those directly impacted by that morning’s tragic events began their days doing the heartbreakingly ordinary—dropping kids off at daycare, grabbing one last cup of coffee before a 9am meeting, kissing husbands goodbye before leaving for a conference, hitting snooze on their alarm clocks three times like they always did, cramming for a Physics test they really should have studied for the night before, yelling at little sisters for borrowing a favorite sweater again without asking.
And me? I was home bracing for another long day of job hunting. I had graduated with an English degree from St. A’s four months earlier and naively believed I would immediately become a writer. Never had I felt so lost, so adrift. And never had I yearned more for the comfort of my St. A’s community than I did when the second plane hit. What I wouldn’t have given to be within walking distance of all of my friends, who in four years, had become my family. I craved my St. A’s “bubble”—a safe haven where I had always been able to laugh, talk, share, vent, grieve—and a place I now desperately needed to help me make sense of the inexplicable. How I longed to be sitting in the Abbey church, finding the deep quiet and peace I only seemed to achieve there. Maybe then I wouldn’t be so bewildered by God.
In the years since September 11, I have found a job writing. I have gotten married and given birth to a beautiful, perfect daughter. I have celebrated triumphs and tragedies with my brothers and sisters from St. A’s. I have made peace with God and tried to be grateful every day for all the blessings He has given me—my family, my friends, my health, and of course my St. A’s roots. But never have I forgotten that crisp fall morning in September when everything changed. And never have I taken the ordinary, the miraculous, and the everything-in-between moments for granted again. Be good to each other. Breathe. Love. Rejoice. Forgive. This life is all we have.
Posted by Tracy (Duwart) Jordan ’01
Thanks for this opportunity to express my thoughts. The attacks on 9/11 and the response by the 343 FDNY men who ran TOWARDS the flames and lost their lives should remind us all of our obligation to service. By looking for "What [we] can do for [our] country, not what [our] country can do for [us]…" we'll continue to be the "shining light on the hill." A former POW once said that one of the greatest things about coming home to America was "waking up to a door knob on his side of the door"…let's work hard to make sure that is NEVER an issue for people desiring to live in freedom. I implore all of you students to serve, and make a difference. Go Hawks!
Posted by Joseph O'Brien
Great job to all who shared their thoughts and posted them regarding September 11th. We all were in different places and of different ages and backgrounds. We all realize how precious life is. I enjoyed reading all of the posts.
Posted by Mike Delury
I was sitting at my desk in room 3C257 of the Pentagon when the plane hit the building.
Friday following 9/11 the crime scene tape that had been keeping us out of our office was taken down. We were back to work.
It seemed like only days later that the anthrax letters were in the postal system. Anthrax spores found their way to the Pentagon post office.
A short distance to the left of my desk was the site of the plane crash. And even closer on my right was the post office.
And there were the Washington snipers. One poor soul was shot just across the street from where I would get my bagel and coffee every morning. There seemed to be no escaping the senseless acts of violence.
And yet, out of the destructive violence brought upon us by the terrorist acts that shook our world on 9/11, there emerged an abundance of brotherly love, hope and charity. The resilience of the human spirit is remarkable. This is what I witnessed post 9/11. This is what I learned. Good does conquer evil.
Posted by Joe Corriveau '81