On Remembering

A Veteran's Musings on 9/11

On Remembering
Smiling in berthing aboard the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70)

I have a lot of thoughts about yesterday- the anniversary of 9/11- and about how that day shaped my life. I was eleven years old, walking between classes in middle school, feeling that something was off, on my way to math class. The TV was on when I got there, which was completely out of the ordinary. None of us in the class knew where the Twin Towers were, so our teacher, Mr. Myers, showed us on the map. People were falling or jumping from the towers on TV as we watched. I cried. I was afraid. On the way home from school on the bus, the armory parking lot next to the Weis grocery store was dotted with military vehicles like something out of a movie. When I got home, mom cried in front of the TV, and we all held each other. I kept a journal of the details from the news, because I didn't know what else to do. There were no planes in the sky that week, and I remember Dad saying I'd never see that happen again- he was right.

And then, by some twist of fate, or maybe because I was shaped by that single day, I joined the Navy as a mass communication specialist. I spent a lot of time hating Osama bin Laden and what he did to all of us that day, and then I was watching the news as my shift began as a brig guard on the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) the morning (for me) President Obama announced bin Laden's death at the hands of our military. I had spent years wishing for this moment, and when it arrived.... I was numb. I had grown up enough to know he was only a figurehead for a larger organization, that he would be replaced. Later, when the comms on the ship were cut, and we were ordered to stay in our workcenters, I tried to write how I felt, but I didn't feel anything. I wasn't happy. I didn't feel like anything had really been accomplished- the idea of bin Laden's death had seemed like a victory to my preteen self. My adult self didn't share in that belief.

Now, decades later, I think we all were so absorbed in our horror and outrage at 9/11 that we supported a war that has claimed the lives countless innocent people and has stoked the fires of prejudice against millions more. I hope, as time goes on, we all examine what this day meant for us on a personal level, and endeavor to see what our blind desire for justice meant for the people we have killed to make it happen. I think this war was, and is, an attempt to bandage our wounds with blood, but.... hurting others is not the way to healing.

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Shentel Downes
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