It’s September 11th today, and it has occurred to me that, although this day holds significance for quite a number of us, there are many of you who either weren’t born (and that hurts, ow, I’m not old but dang it) or were too young to remember it or just how it changed things. I think it’s important to remember these things, so I thought I would take the time to speak of them.
A lot of you might not remember how it changed things. I do. It changed quite a lot for me. You see, I’m an Army Brat. When I was born my dad was in the Army. He retired when I was eighteen. I literally spent my entire childhood in the Army. And if you think that a few things weren’t majorly changed after the 9/11 attacks then you are wrong.
The first home that I remember was on an Army base in Alabama. I remember how easy it was to get on and off of the base. Sure, there was usually an MP (Military Police) stationed at the gate, but I don’t remember anyone being stopped ever, unless they didn’t have a sticker on their car. Our cars always had stickers on them, unless they were new, so we were never stopped, just glanced at and waved through easy as that. My grandparents came on base to visit us quite often and all they had to do was tell the MP where they were going. It was simple and easy.
When I was ten I had to get my first military ID card. It was a horrible picture, but that’s not the point. I didn’t really have to use it. Sometimes there would be someone standing outside or the PX (the shopping store, basically) who would check, but not often. I didn’t really use it, which was good because I often forgot it at first. But it really wasn’t too big of a deal, looking back at it. No one was overly concerned with it at that point.
We lived not far from the Canadian boarder when I was about ten to twelve years old. It was not unusual for us to go over the boarder for a day trip. It didn’t take much. Just an ID check of the driver and there we went, on our way. If I’m remembering correctly, sometimes there wasn’t even that. I don’t know if it was because of the military sticker on our car, or if things were just that loose for everyone, but it was never a problem. We’d go across and whenever anyone came up to visit we’d take them too. None of us had passports and only once were we pulled over for our car to be looked at, and they did that every so often. Heck, things were so easy that one time we had one too many people in our van and, before we got to the boarder, my parents had me crawl into the trunk area and hide among some long clothes we had hanging up back. After we got across the boarder I came back out and it was all fine. They had me go back there again when we crossed back over. That right there should tell you how loose it was.
When I was about thirteen we moved to Hawaii. We were met at the gate nearly by a couple assigned to help us get settled. When people came to visit us (because when you have family/friends in Hawaii it’s like a free hotel) we’d often just meet them right at the gate. My sister and I had fun watching and waiting to see them get off of the extendable tunnel thing. We didn’t have to go through metal detectors, scanners or searches. The only armed people I saw there was the occasional security guard and even then they either were few and far between or not very noticeable.
That’s what it was like before. That’s what my childhood was. Safe, secure, loose, no worries, no consideration of America ever being attacked, no concern about war. The only war I remembered was Operation Desert Storm, and even then, all I really remember was how tense all the adults were, how the news was always on, and Daddy’s rucksack in a closet I wasn’t allowed to play in anymore. And then I remember it all vanishing one day and everything went back to what was then normal—safe, secure, loose, no worries, no consideration of America ever being attacked, no concern about war.
Then 9/11 happened.
I was fourteen/fifteen. We were living in Hawaii. Things were going well. My mother had been sick the previous year, but had gotten a kidney transplant that April. She was better, I was doing well with my homeschooling (except Algebra but that’s another story), I had solid friends, my sister was a happy little six year old, Daddy’s was enjoying his job seeing soldiers’ families at the clinic on base (he was part of the Army Nurse Corps). It was all good.
And then, at about four or five that morning, my mom woke me up. She was looking for the family phone book, where we kept the numbers of family and friends. I had had it the previous day, calling back to Alabama to talk to a cousin. I remember her saying “Katie, we’ve been attacked, I have to call back home,” but it didn’t make sense to my sleep addled brain. Attacked? Who was attacked? America? What, no. That wasn’t possible. Why would be be attacked? Who would attack us? I mumbled out where the phone book was and went back to sleep.
I got up at six, and everything had changed. Daddy was gone. He had been gone for a while, called up and told to report immediately to Schofield Barracks, the Army base. Mama was calling back to Alabama, trying to see if one of my great aunts had been in New York that day and where, exactly, she worked there, because she knew it was somewhere close by to the World Trade Center. She told me to get to work on my homeschooling. I used a video program, one where I watched lessons in a classroom that had been taped. I kept turning off the tape to watch the news that day. The VCR made this noise, like it was powering down, if a tape hadn’t been played in so many minutes. I don’t know how many times it made that noise that day, but my mother never called me on it.
I can clearly remember watching in horror as they replayed and replayed footage of the planes crashing into the towers. I remember the panic in people’s voices, even the carefully controlled panic of the news anchors when it came out that the Pentagon had been hit too. The towers were bad enough, but the nerve center of our military? That hit me pretty hard. It wasn’t unlikely that my family knew people there, and what would this mean for my dad and all of us military personal? What would happen next? Then to hear about flight 93, yet another flight, crashed, although they weren’t sure what had happened yet. It was one thing after another, and then I remember watching the footage of the towers falling, collapsing and, while I knew it was real, it all seemed so unreal too. It was like we were all waiting for the next thing to happen. Surely, surely this couldn’t be happening, but it was. What would happen next? What would the next target be? What would be our response? What was going to happen next? I don’t think I got any of my lessons done that day. I think all I did was watch the news. I didn’t get in trouble for that either.
My dad didn’t come home until late that evening. He never made it onto base. They were stopping every car, searching them, using dogs, searching the drivers/passengers. The next day he got up really early to try to get onto base again. He left before six am. He didn’t make it on base until two or three that afternoon. The next day he managed to make it on by eleven in the morning.
I remember a sudden, rapid, series of changes happening. Suddenly, to get onto a military base—something I had been going on my entire life—a sticker wasn’t good enough. You had to drive through zigzaged barricades, stop, get out, let them do a brief search of your car and check your IDs. Once on the base, it wasn’t free running either. I had to show my ID to get into the PX, the Commissary (grocery store) to get anywhere. There were heavily armed soldier and MPs around and, while I had seen them before, I had never seen quite so many.
I remember wondering what this meant for my dad. Suddenly the military was mobilizing, solider were being called up to be sent to war. My dad was in the Army. I knew that it was unlikely at that point that he’d be called upon to go fight. He wasn’t attached to a division at this duty station, his job being the care of dependents (the soldiers’ families), and we were on the other side of the nation, on an island in the middle of the Pacific ocean, half a world away from where troops were being sent. It wouldn’t make sense to call up people that far out, unless it was to reassign them to the east coast to protect it while the soldiers from the east coast were being sent to fight. Someone had to stay home to protect the home front and since we were already here, why move us? I was right, and he didn’t get called up. But I also knew that we were going to be moving in about a year, and that could change everything.
It was a few months after that, I think, that I went to a youth camp with my church’s youth group. We had to fly over to Maui for this camp, which meant going to the airport. That was when I saw my first soldier guarding the airport, with many guns on him and ammo too. He was standing guard, watching everyone. I remember some of my friends trying to flirt with him, but, aside from not being the flirting type, I remember looking around and thinking that I didn’t think he was just going to go away. That from now on, that would probably be the norm in airports, and things would never be like they were. That trip was also the first time I was searched before going on a plane. I had to take off my shoes (slippers, they were called in Hawaii, flip-flops was what I had grown up calling them) and they waved a wand over them and me. No more, when someone came over, did we meet them at the gate. We couldn’t even meet them in baggage claim after a while. And everyday I heard of more security measures being put into place at airports.
It was about a year after 9/11 that we moved again, to Georgia. I knew, I had known since it happened, that we would be flying, likely on more then one plane. The Army would route us the cheapest way it could and a ship was not cheap. No, we would fly. I also knew that there were people who had completely flipped their lids about flying from the moment 9/11 happened. I had known from a just a day or so after 9/11 that I had a choice. I could give into hysteria, or I could not. I clearly remember thinking, what good would getting hysterical do me? Would it benefit anything? Would it help anything? No, it would just make something that I had to do that much harder. I was not going to be that person. I was not going to make something worse then it was. I remember thinking that the odds of it happening again were very low. They were low the first time—four planes out of how many that flew that day?—they were even lower now, with all the security in place. Besides, I figured, I knew where I was going when I died. I didn’t particularly want to die, but if I did, I would just be getting to Heaven a little sooner then I had planned.
I also decided that I wasn’t going to give in. The point of terrorists was to cause terror. To cause terror and to make people and things stop because they were too scared to go on. I was (am) an America. I was a Southerner, I was an Army Brat. I was not going to let them frighten me into submission. I refused to. They may have changed my America, but they weren’t going to keep her down, and I wasn’t going to back down either. They wanted to cause terror? I would not be cowed.
I was fourteen/fifteen years old. Everything had changed. It wasn’t going to stop me.
I’m twenty-eight now. I haven’t let it stop me. I flew back from Hawaii to Georgia at the age of fifteen, almost sixteen without any fear (just dread because omg long flight). When we were told that Daddy was now part of a division, I had trepidation for what that could mean, but I didn’t let that fear of the possible control me. When I was seventeen he was told he was going to Afghanistan, which was a hotbed at that time. We were worried, but I refused to let that fear control me then too. When he went for training in Louisiana before the deployment I stepped up and helped keep the house running and soothe my slightly-paranoid-about-the-glass-back-door-and-the-ceiling-to-floor-windows mother. When his deployment was canceled because of restructuring, I breathed a sigh of relief, but there was no fear to let go of. When I was twenty-five I went on a mission trip with my church to Brazil and the only fear I had was the fear of not getting on the right plane, or being stranded in a foreign country. But I had no fear of flying.
I haven’t let it stop me.
Many, many things have changed. I have to go through layers of security just to get on a plane. I have to carefully look at what I’m bringing on one. To get on a military base you always have to stop and show ID, everyone in the car. And, although I’ve not been to Canada since I was twelve, I’ve heard that you need a passport or another similar sort of ID to get through the boarder now.
Many things have changed because of 9/11, and there’s a new generation coming up that has no idea how much things have changed. Many of you reading this won’t either. I remember it clearly. I remember before and after. I consider it part of my duty to tell this, because if we let it fade, then we let the horror and significance of it fade too, and it just becomes about the numbers and the technical details, much like Pearl Harbor is to many of us today.
It’s important that we remember. Not just the people who died, not just what happened, but how it effected everything.
And it’s important to remember to not let fear stop us.