Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Six years later

The flag which hung from the side of the Pentagon after the 9/11 attacks, as displayed in the American History Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. (May 2003)

I awoke today not really thinking about the day's date. Until I saw my father leaving for school. In his Class A uniform, with the jacket still on a hanger. I have only ever known him to wear his uniform to school (he's now a high school history teacher) for Veterans' Day observances. He had said nothing about what they might be doing to commemorate this date. I'll have to ask him about it when he gets home.

I had to get up for school, too. I was subbing again at the same school I was at yesterday. I got to thinking about it, and even the oldest students, the fifth graders, would have been but 4 years old when planes flew into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. With the sub assignment I had, I was not in the cafeteria this morning for the morning assembly, which normally includes the usual announcements, pep talk from the principal and the Pledge of Allegiance and the Texas Pledge, so I don't know what, if any, commemoration was made - most students would be too young to really have a grasp on the concept.

I, thankfully, was not directly affected by the attacks. No one I knew personally was in New York or at the Pentagon or flying that day. None of my family are still in the military. I've had pen pals since this all began, but for one person (now retired Navy), I've met none of them, and they have all come home safely (but shame on Major Pain for not informing his pen pals from his deployment to Afghanistan that he was shipping off to Iraq before he went - he just showed back up on AnySoldier.com). I don't live in a military town anymore, although I'm not unreasonably far from some. I was surprised this morning to see a man in the new digitized camo bringing his little one to school, especially given the neighborhood the school was located in (I confess I was very curious of his rank, but with the rank being in located in the middle of the chest instead of on the collar like they used to be, I couldn't see what with the child in the way; I did say "good morning",though).

Here's what I had to say about 9/11 in response to a post about that day a friend of mine wrote back in May 2006:

9/11/01 was the last morning I just listened to the radio in the morning while getting ready to go to work. That morning, I was going into work late because I had to take my car in to get payment for repairs arranged after I had been rear-ended in my new car. I always just had the radio on as part of my alarm clock, and it would turn off an hour after my alarm. The radio had turned off before I left for the insurance office.

When I arrived at the insurance office, the agent I was dealing with (the agent for the guy who rear-ended me) asked if I had been watching or listening to the news. I told him no, and he informed me that a jet had hit the World Trade Center. At first, I thought small jet, not commercial airliner. While he was looking at the damage on my car, the Pentagon had been hit. I immediately thought Bin Laden. I went home before going into the office. I called in to see if they knew yet - yes, they did. I had turned the TV on when I got home, and I watched as the first tower collapsed. I knew that about 50,000 people worked in the towers, and I anticipated a death toll far more horrifying than it was, although nearly 3000 dead is horrifying enough.

At the time, I was part of a small church group at my parish in Fayetteville, and we had our regular weekly meeting that night. Instead of what we originally had scheduled, we went into the church and prayed the Rosary.

Since that day, I am even more of a news-junkie than I was before. I kept the TV on all the time when I was home, even overnight, watching nothing but news for days on end. I kept hoping for survivors. To this day, I often sleep with the TV on FoxNews channel.

Sadly, the deaths resulting from that attack didn't all occur on that day, or as a result of physical injuries received that day. Another friend of mine has a boyfriend who had a brother who had recently moved to Virginia and worked at the Pentagon. Stephen was a helicopter pilot. He had been part off Dust-Off during the Vietnam War. I'm not sure what Dust-Off was - I'd have to do a bit of research [ed. - DUSTOFF is "Dedicated Unhesitating Service To Our Fighting Forces". They are the Army aeromedical evacuation people.]. Anyway, Stephen was at the Pentagon that day. Apparently, he was often in the part of the building that was hit and he lost people he knew. I'm not sure, but I think he was involved in either rescuing or dealing with the people who were pulled from the building that first day. Stephen later commited suicide. My friend and I surmised that what Stephen saw that day brought back the traumatic memories of the Vietnam War, and did not seek help in dealing with what he was going through. Stephen in buried at Arlington National Cemetry. My friend accompanied her boyfriend to the funeral. Stephen's wife moved away from there - I think she had been home when Stephen killed himself there. I happened to have a business trip to DC in May 2003, after Stephen's funeral over the winter. I was able to find Stephen's grave and photograph the headstone, since it was not in place yet at the time of the funeral. I'm sure Stephen's wife was still visiting - there were small stones placed on the top of the headstone. I don't remember the significance of that gesture.

We will never know the true toll of people whose lives will end as a direct result of the attacks. I'm sure Stephen's was not the only suicide of a survivor or a family member of those killed, and there are also those who are now getting sick and dying from illnesses connected to working at Ground Zero....

How I wish I could snap my fingers and make this all go away - to make al Qaeda not be a threat, to make it so our fighting men and women no longer have to risk life and limb in foreign lands, far from loved ones, in order to keep us safe. Alas, the world does not work that way, and I fear we will be fighting this war against those who wish our submission to their radical religious ideology or our complete and utter destruction. I may not be at the point end of the spear, but I try to do my own tiny part in this war from here at home. I will not submit.

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