Reflections on 9-11-2001: How the Day Changed Me….

We are coming up on the 10th anniversary of a date that changed the country.  I wrote about it last year in an article entitled 9-11-2001: A Date that Will Live in Infamy 9 Years Later.  This year I am going to post a couple of short reflections leading up to the anniversary on how that event changed me.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was getting out of my office at Camp LeJeune after an early morning counseling case and some administrative duties I was getting ready to head to the French Creek gym.  I was about to close out my browser when I saw a little note on the Yahoo.com homepage: “Airplane crashes into World Trade Center.” It was about 0900 that tragic morning.  I thought to myself, “some dumb ass just crashed his Cessna into the building.

The day was clear and absolutely gorgeous, a slight north wind and low humidity, a well deserved break from what had been a hot and humid summer.  Not that I had seen much of the Carolina summer having returned from a deployment to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and Korea in late July. When I got to my car the local talk radio station was broadcasting a second or third tier national talk radio host and he was screaming “oh my God another plane just flew into the towers!”

I drove over to the gym where I joined a large crowd of Marines and Sailors transfixed as we watched the towers burn.  I went back to my office showered and went over to my battalion headquarters and was there when theSouthTowerwent down at 0959.

Since then a lot has changed.  I have made two deployments and traveled to the Middle East many more times.  I came back from my deployment to Iraq with a serious case of PTSD and a health distrust of the media, politicians, preachers and especially the talk radio hosts that I used to listen to as often as I could.  I remember being in Iraq in between missions to the far reaches of Al Anbar Province and watching the news on the televisions at the dining facility and wondering just what war that they were covering.

Before Iraq I could be considered a pretty solid “conservative” but now I really don’t know what I am.  Some call me “liberal” and in fact I was told to leave my old church last year because I had become “liberal.”  However, despite what some of the talk pundits and right wing preachers say just because a person is “liberal” does not mean that they are unpatriotic or do not care about our country or freedom.  After serving in Iraq and seeing how certain people have equated patriotism with adherence to their political agenda I wholeheartedly believe that a person’s patriotism has nothing to do with their politics or their religious beliefs.

Before IraqI was jaded by what happened to my dad’s generation after Vietnamwhen liberals called returning Veterans “baby killers” or “Nazis.”  In fact I had a Sunday school teacher tell me that my dad was a “baby killer” in 1972 and in 1981 had some ass at UCLA call me a “ROTC Nazi.”  As a result I had little love for the Left.  After September 11th I followed the “conservative” talk radio crowd and Fox News more than I had ever before.  The emotions that they stirred up were primal.  But experience and reflection caused me to get beyond the pain of my past and the emotion of the present.  Just as I detest those that characterized my dad’s service or my service as being criminal I also detest those that say one cannot be critical of those that advocate for war regardless of the human and economic cost or actual strategic benefit.

I rejoiced when our SEALS killed Osama Bin Laden and every Al Qaeda leader that we have ushered into the arms of Allah.  They have caused unmitigated suffering around the world, not just to us but to their own Islamic neighbors and deserve no pity and since they refuse to give quarter should be shown none. If that sounds harsh I can’t help it. The attacks of 9-11 and the wars that have followed are personal.

At the same time I question the strategic purpose and value of the campaign in Afghanistan.  I see it as a potential disaster on the order of Stalingrad or Dien Bien Phu should the Pakistanis shut off the supply routes that constitute the major support to our troops there, especially if they did so in the winter months.

At the ten year mark I grieve for those that have lost their lives as well as loved ones in the attacks or in the wars that have followed.  On September 11th 2001 2977 people were killed at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon or on United Flight 93 which went down inPennsylvania.  One of those killed at the Pentagon was Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner was a classmate of my in 1983 at the Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course.

Since then 4474 American military personnel have given their lives in Iraqand 1760 in Afghanistan.  NATO or coalition allies, excluding the Iraqi and Afghani military or police forces have lost another 1270 military personnel.  Another 45,170 Americans have been wounded.  I know a decent number of those wounded and some of those that have died.  The losses are intensely personal and to think that we have lost well over twice the number killed on September 11th 2001 in two wars, many that were children aged 8-12 years old on that tragic September day.  Of course the numbers do not count those that died by their own hand after they returned from the war, a number that grows daily.

I have been changed by that tragic event. I still shudder when I see the video of United Air Lines Flight 175 crashing into the South Tower or see the videos of the towers crashing down.  They are hard to watch and while I will observe the anniversary with prayers and a lot of reflection I do not know how much of the continuous media coverage of the anniversary that I will be able to watch.

The events of that tragic day changed me, and changed countless numbers of other Americans as well as others around the world.  While we yearn to return to the days before9-11-2001 that is impossible, there is too much water and too much blood that has passed under the bridge.   I know I can’t go back.  Maybe that is good.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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6 Comments

Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, national security, traumatic national events

6 responses to “Reflections on 9-11-2001: How the Day Changed Me….

  1. Pinky

    You said _I came back from my deployment to Iraq with a serious case of PTSD and a health distrust of the media, politicians, preachers and especially the talk radio hosts that I used to listen to as often as I could. I remember being in Iraq in between missions to the far reaches of Al Anbar Province and watching the news on the televisions at the dining facility and wondering just what war that they were covering.
    I am in NYC was here during 911 have had personal loss and was personally involved in volunteering after 911 so was my husband who has WTC lung now. So I ahev personal experience. But I wanted to say what you said is identical to what a life long freidn said who also want to Iraq. He came back not the same at all. I wont go into details. But he is a Navy Seal and the 6 months he was gone changed him forever. I think in general we all underestimate the sacrifice of our military!

  2. John Erickson

    I hate to disagree with you, Padre, but I don’t think it’s so much folks like you and I that have changed. I was a die-hard conservative, my first-ever vote going for Ronald Reagan. I helped local campaigns for Republicans and against Democrats. And I was VERY much a hawk, joining like-minded individuals shouting down anti-military protesters in the late 70s and early 80s.
    Maybe my health crash did change me, but I feel more like the world has changed around me. Extremist views, especially on the far-right, have come to dominate the media. Racial intolerance has skyrocketed. Common sense has vanished from Washington (not that they had the market cornered to begin with). And the immediate post-9/11 “show patriotism” has vanished – there are four flags on the mainstreet of our town, and one of those is on the Post Office 24 hours a day.
    Maybe my headaches and my subsequent loss of home, job, and canine “son” changed me. Maybe your PTSD transformed your way of thinking.
    But the country has changed, too, and definitely not for the better.
    p.s. If you do a “day after” post, I’ve got an interesting little personal story. Nothing has “heavy” and serious as what you’ve gone through, but definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

    • padresteve

      John
      We’ve all been changed as the world seems to go crazy around us. A health crash and the losses that you went through are substantial, and just because they didn’t happen at war doesn’t mean that they are less than others, only different.
      Blessings as always my friend,
      Steve+

  3. Shell Bush

    Hello Steve.

    I was directed to your blog as a response to a post I made on another blog concerning my 9/11 experience. I was working in Bldg 5 at the time and was outside when the second plane hit Tower 2. Based on the comments I made in that post another reader suggested I might be dealing with unresolved PTSD. In light of my mood over the past several years, I feel he might have a point. As my first child was born 9 days after the attack, I never really focused on that day since I was happily distracted by my daughter and in struggling to restore to solvency a sister store (I was a manager at the Borders in the WTC) my company transferred me to the following month.

    The new store was a pit of negative morale; high turnover coupled with a general manager who it turned out had been fired from all his previous jobs and who would ultimately be fired from this one – for sexual harassment – quickly eroded away my ambitions of working up through the company. I was already in training to manage my own store, but the growing sense of what I lost when the WTC store was torn down and the atmosphere in the new one made me decide to jump ship. I enjoyed interacting with customers and using my areas of knowledge to help them find items of interest, so it is no surprise that a place like the Twin Towers supplied me with a multitude of different and interesting opportunity to serve folks from all over. There was no way a small suburban store in a mini-mall across from a pizza place and a McDonald’s was going to match that. Ever.

    My wife talked me into teaching, which I did for about a year and a half before quitting. I found myself becoming so stressed that each morning when I woke I was sick to me stomach, and actually been sick in my classroom – fortunately when I was alone. Doctors found nothing physical, and indeed to me it seemed more mental than physical because only certain situations triggered it. Going to parties, or really any kind of large social gathering became daunting to me. I didn’t want to go out and do as much anymore, and it was easy to use my child as an excuse to avoid committing to any social events.

    I went into IT after the teaching, and actually worked at the new Borders that had opened near the WTC site while attending classes for certification. Upon graduating, we took a relative’s offer to buy their house in Georgia, and as we had just taken on a second child we needed space and NYC Metro area prices were outside our budget. Plus family would be closer. However, I arrived just in time for the market to turn south and I was excessed from my job. Student loans bit us in the butt and we filed bankruptcy. From then on it just seemed everything became a case of “2-steps forward, 1-step back” with a random “5-steps back” thrown in for giggles.

    The feelings of malaise continued, and I found myself feeling apprehensive whenever September approached. My wife convinced me to speak before her students at the local high school about the day, since many of them had family over in the ME because of that day’s events. I did this a couple of times, and it did seem to alleviate a little stress talking about it. Meanwhile, it still seemed as though whatever could go wrong was doing so and we were struggling to break even each month. Looking for work while part-time at a day care near my home (Whoa! Teaching again?) , I was rapidly losing self-confidence as a string of rejections left me wondering what I was doing wrong.

    Things hit home during September 2010, when I gave my 9/11 presentation before an assembly of 2000 students. Previously I had been in a normal-size classroom in front of maybe 30 kids, passing around a photo album. Now I was in a performing arts auditorium with my Powerpoint show running on a huge screen. I had really been anxious about the whole thing and I know people get stagefright, but as you might know this was somehow different – it was a visceral thing that defied logic when you thought about it. There was no real reason for me to be that nervous but I just was.

    And when I turned around and looked up at the screen and saw the pictures and the videos I had cleverly embedded, I went back as close to that day as I ever had since it happened. Looking up at everything placed me almost in the same position as I was on Church Street in front of the Millennium Hotel. My voice became noticeably choked at several points, especially when I was discussing the jumpers, as I had witnessed several and now it was all replaying in my head. Since then I’ve felt generally ill at ease about life in general, and the current state of world affairs has done nothing to assuage it. This year I gave no presentation, although my wife and I were interviewed for a local paper as the “live witnesses” element of a multi-part perspective of the tragedy. By this point I had to turn away from every video on the tube concerning 9/11, as the sight of any footage from Ground Zero seemed to burst a bubble of emotion that threatened to overwhelm me and make me sob aloud. While my wife and kids watched the retrospectives and she told them about what happened to me and how she reacted, I would face away at the dinner table or move to another room while they sat in the den. All I could think about were the people I saw fall, the customers I never saw again, the empty seats on the downtown 6 train that I knew were once occupied by the lost (It’s actually threatening to overcome me now as I write this; just typing takes effort to focus on), the complete and utter change of what until then I had considered my life’s plans.

    I mean, I know I didn’t suffer as greatly as some. I survived uninjured physically, although it seems putting off my feelings for nearly a decade wasn’t the best of moves. But I want the guy I was before 9/11 back. I’m tired of feeling depressed, worthless, and defeated. I’m not looking to go running down the street like some modern day George Bailey, I just want to feel positive going forward – not feel as if every day is bringing the world closer to the end of something.

    Is that unreasonable?

    • John Erickson

      Shell- I just want to pop in and say one thing.
      Your request is not in the least unreasonable. You should have your life back, and I hope that the Padre can steer you to people who will help you. While my story is far different, and far less severe, I can tell you that things won’t “just get better”. You need help, and you are NOT less of a person or a man for seeking it.
      Good luck, I truly hope the Padre can steer you to the help you need. If I can be of any service, call on me anytime. Take care!

    • padresteve

      Shell

      Thank you for sharing your story. I had to ready it several times and found that I was crying as I read it. I could sense the immense pain and frustration that you feel and what you are going through is absolutely normal. . You have discovered an important truth that while it is possible for a time to divert yourself that many things will take you back to that terrible day. It took me time before I could talk about how I was doing. In a way I was lucky that the wheels came off within a few months of returning from Iraq, otherwise I would have sought to bury the images because it forced me to get help sooner rather than later. I’ve written a lot about it on this site and many times when writing I would be taken back to Iraq, In fact I have a series that I started about my time there that I have not competed because I was not able to do it. I am getting to the point that I think I can but haven’t. It has only been recently that I have been able to share my story in a less controlled environment than this site where I have the final say as to what goes in. I’ve been interviewed a couple of times and though they were good experiences they were also emotionally exhausting.

      One thing I do know is that there is no going back to what you were before. The challenge is trying to live in the new “normal.” I wrote about that in an article called “The Tapestry of Life: How PTSD and Combat Stress is a Part of Who and What We Are” back in August. As bad as things were and are they are part of the tapestry that make us uniquely us now. This doesn’t mean that things don’t get better, after three years I am doing better than I was, I still have my issues and problems, one being sleep.

      What I don’t want to do is sound preachy or that somehow I have the answers. I just want to say that what you are going through is a normal response to a terrible event that took so many people that you knew. That is an unfathomable loss and there is a certain amount of grief that goes along with this. I can only encourage you to seek help and begin to unpack all of this. You may need to limit your exposure to events that recall that day as you do this as the repeated exposure and re-traumatize you. That happens to most of us.

      If I can do anything let me know.

      Blessings and peace

      Padre Steve+

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