September 10 is my best friend's birthday, I've celebrated with her every year until she moved to Arizona (sadface). That year was no different. I was a freshman in college, it was my bff's birthday, so obviously I was skipping class the next day like any normal kid that is fresh out of their parents house and realizes they can do what they want. We had a bunch of friends from high school that lived in Ankeny so we headed that way for the night to celebrate. One of the guys was a trucker so he was on the road a lot, and I always claimed his bed when he was gone. It was clutch to have a bedroom to use when visiting people, to avoid the standard pranks like flour in the hand and the tickle to the face, or the hand in warm water trick. We were mature for our age.
Well, I awoke that morning to Bea (the birthday girl) yelling at me to get up, a plane ran into a building and I need to see this. I wasn't impressed. I didn't know anyone flying that day, the building wasn't near us, why did I need to get up?? An airplane accident had no bearing on my sleeping in. A terrorist attack didn't even cross my mind. I rolled over and covered my head with a pillow. She was persistent though, and the minute I saw the news coverage, I thanked her for getting me up. I knew this was a big deal. This was actually the biggest deal I had seen in my lifetime. America was attacked...on our own soil. While we watched the news coverage of the aftermath of the first plane, the second plane came into view. It was like watching a movie but you knew it was real life. It was the single craziest moment I've ever witnessed, to this day. The second plane hit, and as the day continued, the Pentagon was hit. It was a reality jolt that the world had just changed. Our America was being attacked. We were being attacked.
In the following days, more information came out, as well as the story of the heroic passengers of the 4th plane who actually took it down before it reached its target. It made me wonder what I would have done if I were in that situation. Would I have had the courage to act? I remember the week after 9/11 when a good friend of mine walked right into a recruiter's office and signed up for the military. After seeing the devastation these terrorists had caused on our homeland, he had to do something. I was scared for him, I couldn't understand how he would want to put himself in danger after seeing what had happened to others. And he couldn't understand how it wasn't the most obvious decision in the world. That's the American spirit, right there. That's what I think of when I think of the heart of this country.
In the years since 9/11, I have had a boyfriend in Iraq, a brother in Iraq and in Afghanistan, and I have personally known a handful of soldiers who have lost their lives overseas. The most recent and the one that hit home the most was a good friend from college, James Justice. "Juice" is survived by his wife and daughter, who live only a few miles from me. I can't really say why his death affected me like it did. Maybe because I could empathize with his wife, Amanda, and her struggle to keep it together for their daughter during the aftermath of his death. Maybe it was imagining his daughter, whose diapers I had changed and who I had watched grow from an infant to a young lady (mainly via her mom's facebook page), growing up without a real memory of her father, his sense of humor, and the personal knowledge of the kind of man he was (not just memories others told her about him). Maybe it was because it was a lesson in mortality, seeing him in his casket at his funeral, far too young to be going where he was headed. I hadn't seen him in a few years, and it made me regret not going to their Halloween party the year before or the football game we were invited over to go watch. It's hard not to connect these events in my mind like a dot to dot picture. When 9/11 happened, a lot of people's death warrants were signed, besides the ones that were taken that day. The thousands of future casualties of war were lined up, standing at attention, ready to fight to protect our soil and our people from having to worry about a travesty like that ever happening again. We don't have a draft these days...every single one of those men and women who have died in the fight since 9/11 made the choice to protect this nation. That's the type of men and women who are the backbone of this country. That's America.
Remember the sacrifice thousands of Americans have made, not just today, but every day you wake up to kiss your children or your spouse. Not once a year, but every morning you wake up to a crisp, sunny, Fall chill in the air...remember.