The events of September 11 effected Americans everywhere. Some were event motivated to sign up to defend their country. Here are a few stories from veterans and service members about where they were on the day America will never forget.
Rocky, Vietnam veteran
Rocky Bleier does not have an extraordinary memory of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Like so many, the news came to him as he stood in his kitchen with his wife, watching the news. Thirty-two years after his service in Vietnam. Twenty-six years after his first Super Bowl ring. One year after adopting two daughters from Ukraine.
Now, standing with his wife in a different kitchen, he reflects, “Jan and I were watching the Today Show, and I remember I had just had a cup of coffee, and all of a sudden they announce, ‘We’re gonna cut to the Twin Towers’—and the Twin Towers are on fire.”
His reaction was not immediately that of a veteran, or even a patriot, but rather of one of the hundreds of thousands mesmerized viewers watching the same horrific footage. “You know, I didn’t have an immediate sense of anger or ‘We’re at war,’ or whatever it might be, it was just kind of like, ‘What’s happening here?’”
Naturally, Bleier thinks of his brother who heard, smelled and felt the crash from West 26th Street in Manhattan, or of his colleague who was stuck in the city traffic that could only move north toward Connecticut. Or of his friend and fellow veteran, Lt. Col. Curtis Nutbrown. “Curtis was in the Pentagon when the plane hit the Pentagon. I mean, let’s say he was here,” he says, gesturing to the space in front him. “And the plane hit there,” he points to a room too far to reach with his hand, but close enough to toss a football into. “They just heard this blast and, fortunately, they dropped, because a fireball went fwooop right over their heads.”
But Bleier watched the destruction from home, not leaving the TV all day. When he considers his reaction, it is within the context of every challenge he’s ever faced. “If I could make this comparison,” he pauses. “People always ask what it’s like in combat. They ask, ‘What happens when that moment of time comes when you’re attacked or you’re in a fire fight, how do you respond?’ And my answer usually is, it’s kind of the same way you respond in any crisis that happens. It depends on the kind of person you are. People panic, or they deal with it. All of a sudden, there’s an awareness of what needs to be done, and you do what needs to be done. It’s the same thing in combat, and it’s the same thing on 9/11. It’s that mindset of ‘what needs to be done.’”
Michael, Army (2010-present)
Fort Irwin, California
Michael was 9. He was sitting in elementary school when the attacks occurred.
“I was so young I didn’t know what was happening,” he said.
“Our teacher tried to explain to us what was happening, but it was hard to comprehend what was going on, but there was one thing she said that really stuck with me-‘there are men and women out there who will make sure justice is served and this never happens again’ and those words really stuck with me,” said Michael.
Ten years later, he joined the army.
I wanted to be one of those people who brought justice and made sure it never happened again, I’m not sure that my teacher knows, or will ever know, how much she changed my life.
Ryan, Marine Recruiter (1996-2007)
Wilmington, North Carolina
Ryan started working as a recruiter in 1996, he wanted to reach young people and tell them what the Marines could do for them including paying for college and teaching life skills. In all the years, that was the main focus of most young people signing up. They weren’t sure what to do after high school, they couldn’t afford college, or their family was in the service.
That all changed after September 11. For months after the events of that day there was an overwhelming amount of people who felt so patriotic that they wanted to defend their country.
“It was amazing to see just how many people were so inspired to do more for others. What happened that day was horrible and I’ll never forget it or those who stepped up to serve because of it.”