I woke up insanely early that morning because I had practice for the Army 10-miler team and we were meeting at 0530, as in 5:30 AM. I was stationed with 3rd Army at Fort McPherson, just south of Atlanta, and my wife Kathleen and I had moved from Savannah only weeks before.
After the run, I cleaned up and was walking to my office when one of my teammates stopped me in the hall and said, “The World Trade Center in New York has been hit by a plane.” I didn’t fully appreciate what this meant at the time.
We then went into the office of a lieutenant colonel who had a television in his office. We were shocked as the second plane hit. The lieutenant colonel didn’t flinch and said, “Pack your bags – we’re going to war.” No-one said anything, but we all knew he was right.
My life, like so many others, was changed by that day. I would spend the majority of the next two years deployed overseas. My wife and I would not spend a Christmas together until 2003 even though we were married on June 2, 2001. An ornament that says, “Our first Christmas – 2003”, is one of many reminders of this day.
While I had to leave behind my family, I gained another one with the great Americans with whom I served on my two deployments after 9-11. And, I gained a stronger appreciation of what makes America so special. It is our people, and our values.
As I close, allow me to share with you a poem by Langston Hughes that I learned while I was in Bosnia, in the early part of 2001. It goes like this:
There are words like Freedom
Sweet and wonderful to say.
On my heart-strings freedom sings
All day every day.
There are words like Liberty
That almost make me cry.
If you had known what I knew
You would know why.
I didn’t fully appreciate what these words meant in early 2001. I do now.
On this day, let us remember all of those who died and pray for their families and let us thank all of those who work so hard to make America a shining city upon a hill, and to all who defend and protect her.
We will never forget. We will not falter. We will not fail.