Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Do Not Forget

Seven years, do not forget.

It is incredible how much time has passed since 11 September 2001. It is incredible how much has transpired in the life of our country in that time. There is much I remember of that day as it was close to home. I was a senior at the United States Military Academy. I had started my last year on my journey to a commission as an Army Officer. I was in my Constitutional Law class with then CPT Patrick Murphy (now a PA Congressman) when the first plane hit. None of us knew, but class let out moments later. Everyone in the hallways were talking about “something” that had happened to the World Trade Center. I remember saying something to my friend Emily, and then heading to my next class, The Politics of Defense Policy (sadly ironic in retrospect). We all were hearing a buzz, and we immediately turned on the TV. Then, in horror, we watched as the 2nd plane hit the 2nd tower. We heard the reports of another plane hitting the Pentagon, and possible rumors of other attacks. We were silent. Some sobbed. Our professor, a retired Army COL and veteran of the Vietnam War watched with us. We were all in utter shock at the horror...and we knew OUR lives and future had just drastically changed. Eventually, he just let us go. I think someone said “this changes everything.” I was cadet battalion commander. I knew we would have reactions, I knew things were going to change at West Point. In fact, they already had. MPs were checking everyone’s IDs. I immediately checked in with the Major I worked with and my cadet regimental commander. We had tasks we had to do, to include determine which cadets might possibly have family members caught in the disaster. We also had to find out what restrictions were going to happen. Everything was changing. Amazingly, we still had lunch formation and lunch in the mess hall. Many were worried, and with good reason, one of those planes had just used the Hudson River to navigate to New York—it had flown right over us. For the next few days, maybe couple of weeks, no one left post. We held a Taps Vigil, something typically reserved for the death of a fellow cadet, to honor those we lost. Rumors of early graduation so we could go to war flew throughout the cadet grapevine. Rumors of classmates wanting to resign and go enlisted so they “didn’t miss the war” abounded as well. We sat spell bound to the news. We wanted more than anything to go to NYC and help. Surely there was something we could do, but apparently at the time the best thing we could do was continue our preparation to become officers. We did take up a sock drive because we were told that those working at Ground Zero needed more socks as they were wearing through them. We sent thousands of socks. Just a week prior we had conducted one of the most successful blood drives ever, so we really couldn’t hold another. We knew that some of our classmates had lost family and friends, especially those that hailed from NYC and New Jersey or had family in the Pentagon. Most of all, we knew that our world had changed. Those that did this WOULD answer to America. Off post, flags flew from every house and from every car. In the midst of terror and grief American Patriotism rose. On Columbus Day weekend we went into Afghanistan. Officers we knew, recent graduates, would be part of that push. My class wanted to graduate RIGHT THEN, but we didn’t. We finished up the year, all the while knowing that the Kosovo Peace Keeping mission was no longer the “major task” we would face. No, my class graduated into war. By the time the majority of us had completed our Officer’s Basic Course and arrived at our new units the battlefield of Iraq was real. Some of my friends crossed that berm in March 2003. Some of them never came home. Nearly all of us have been to war since, many more than once. Some have just been to Iraq, some to Afghanistan, and some to both.

Would I change my choices? Would I take a different path knowing what I know? No. I have wondered whether to stay, but never regretted where I have been or what I have had to do. I was interviewed, as a cadet, just a month or so post-9/11 and made the comment that “we are whole lot prouder to wear the uniform.” Little did I know how true that would be for me. I have had to lead some of the best Soldiers. We have and are doing our job, politics aside. We, the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines, have not forgotten 9/11. Those flags that flew from every house and every car are literally on our shoulder every day we put on our uniform. The enemy is real and is out there. It is our hope and mission that we can foil any plans he has to strike again. But, we must not forget. To forget is to invite evil back into our country. Patriotism should spur us daily because we have freedoms that many in the world cannot even imagine. We have the freedom to argue with each other. We have the freedom to worship as we wish. That freedom isn’t free. I’m not asking for thanks for me, I do this because I’ve been called to do it, but I have felt the cost. I have lost friends. I have seen the horrors caused by NOT having the freedom that America enjoys. This is my generation's Pearl Harbor...we must remember. Even when it hurts, we must remember.

Do not forget. Do not forget. Do not forget.

Fly your flag. Sing the National Anthem. Love your country. Thank a veteran, old or young. Thank a veteran's family--it's a tough job these days. Volunteer to help those who have lost someone guarding your freedom. Be proud to be an American, but do not take it for granted.

Do not forget. Do not forget. Do not forget.

God Bless America.