Do you remember? That is a question everyone is asking today. Do you know what happened eight years ago today at 8:46 am EDT? If you are an American citizen over the age of 10 you should have this date indelibly etched in your memory. Eight years ago today, at 8:46 am EDT, a hijacked airliner crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City.
I was stationed at Special Boat Unit 22 then; that morning we had just finished our morning PT. I was just getting out of the shower, putting on my BDUs and getting ready for the rest of my day. I was thinking about the Smoky Mountain vacation my wife and I were taking in a few weeks and what to get her for our first wedding anniversary on the 22nd.
That’s when it happened to me. As I was getting dressed one of the guys ran into the locker room yelling about a jet hitting the World Trade Center. Shocked, I hurried and finished and ran to the compound thinking, “Oh my God what a terrible accident!” As I crossed the quarterdeck, I stopped to look at the TV behind the watch station just in time to see the second jet hit the other tower. Right at that instant I thought, “We are going to war.” We all listened and watched in disbelief as the towers burned, horrified when we watched them collapse and shuddered when we heard the continuing news reports; a jet hit the Pentagon and another crashed in Pennsylvania. And just like that, we were transported away from the cozy little world that was life in the United States of America.
Now we were in a new world; a world of fear and mistrust, suspicion and dread. Everything we knew was gone. Numb in disbelief we went through our day as we went to Threat Condition Delta, the worst of the four; condition Delta is when an attack has happened and we are on full alert, ready for another imminent attack. If you don’t understand that part, just ask a veteran, they will know all too well what that means to us.
Fast-forward to this morning; I was driving to work, listening to NPR when Steve Inskeep, the host of Morning Edition, announced that through the day we would hear stories from survivors of that terrible and tragic day. John Vigliano related his story over the radio; he told us about his two sons, Joe and John Jr., one a member of NYPD and the other FDNY. He told the story of how, on the afternoon of September 10th, he spoke with John Jr. on the phone, their conversation ending with, “I love you.” then, on September 11th, receiving a call from Joe who was on his way to the Trade Center, “…this is a big one…” he told his father. This conversation too ended with, “I love you.”…and that was the last time John Vigliano ever heard from his sons, both perished in the response to the World Trade Center attacks.
As I sat in my truck waiting for traffic to thin so I could turn on to the highway, I started to cry. Every memory I had of that terrible day came flooding back and I started to cry, eventually finding myself sobbing uncontrollably; I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest all over again. As sad as I was at that moment, I could only imagine the pain and heartache Mr. and Mrs. Vigliano are feeling every day, much less this day. I recovered and composed myself and thought, “Good…it is a good thing I feel this way. Every single American today should feel this way.” I know that sounds callous and unfeeling but today I hope you cry; I hope today you feel like your heart has been ripped out of your chest all over again. I hope you feel that way today because that means you didn’t forget. As you remember today, please, please, please, stop, take a moment and remember the 2,752 souls lost on that day. Then go out and thank every veteran you see for fighting for our freedom and remember the brave men and women in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting to protect us. They are the true heroes, not the professional athletes, musicians, actors or politicians. Remember that, ok? I will.