10 years ago I was a college freshman at the University of Pittsburgh. Having just completed a 4-year enlistment in the Army, I was enjoying the freedom of these first weeks in school. My husband and I had created a home in a little apartment in Brookline (a neighborhood in Pittsburgh) and I certainly felt like a city girl, riding the bus or trolley to school everyday.
Between classes I was relaxing on the Cathedral lawn, soaking in the September light, when I heard an emergency alert sound from speakers I never before noticed. Students were then directed to evacuate the campus, students living in dormitories were given further instructions, but I was numbly packing my bag, wondering what could possibly be wrong.
Waiting at a bus stop, rumors were flying. Some waiting passengers were passing mixed messages of explosions in New York, bombs heading for Pittsburgh and attacks across the US. Speculation and exaggeration were rampant until I simply stated “If bombs were truly heading here, the university wouldn’t have us standing at a bus stop corner.” A few nods and then silence.
A bus came along and we all squeezed in. I’ve never experienced a quieter bus ride. Riders were captivated by the simple facts the driver passed on. It all seemed so insane. The Pentagon? New York? I then doubted Pittsburgh was under real threat, but the evacuation was still very real.
Stuck in a standstill, I asked to get off the bus and walked towards downtown. I tried to stop at every single payphone, but there were lines I wasn’t willing to wait in. I just felt this need to get home. Eventually I came to a downtown trolley station, piling into a car to get out of the city. On the longest ride of my life, I heard pieces of news and practically ran the 1.5 miles to our apartment.
I opened the door to a ringing phone. Tom wanting to know if I made it home, family from Arizona wanting to know how close we were to the Flight 93 crash, local family wondering if Tom and I would be called back to the Army or if Tom’s National Guard unit had been activated.
I had no answers. All I knew was that this moment was devastating for my country. I thought of all my friends still serving and I cried for what this might mean. For days I watched the news, but returned to school once the University reopened (cell phone in my bag, since Tom felt it was a necessity now).
The impact of those four planes on my life has been ongoing and amazing. Tom has now safely deployed four times (except for an IED incident, thankfully while in a tank). He reenlisted in the Army as a tank gunner and was accepted to Officer Candidate School in 2005. We now find ourselves in Spain, trying to find our way, but thankful for each other and our two little girls. As I sit in our Madrid apartment, watching the memorial services on CNN International, I realize how this event was a marker in history and I wonder how the future will continue to play out.
Currently, the national unity sparked by the terrorist attacks on 9/11/01 is just a memory. Our military is still at war. My own child even told me “I will choose to believe this when I am a grown-up.” Tom and I were dumbstruck. Despite our assurance that it did happen, that this was why her father and so many soldiers have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, she continued with this horrifying assertion. I finally asked her why. She said “It’s too sad and too bad. I can’t believe it.”
I understand the desire to forget, but remembrance is required and necessary for our country. I truly hope this day never disappears into future American History books, no matter how horrifying or transforming the results of this day become.