I wasn’t going to do this, but 9/11 is our shared terror, and I believe it’s a useful wound to wring. It should hurt, and keep hurting, so we will, in an oft-used phrase, never forget.
I had just turned 20 about 2 weeks prior. My hardcore band had broken up, I lost my crappy job, and things weren’t going anywhere with the girl I was seeing. I knew I would never grow up if I didn’t leave Hawaii.
I woke up early, about 4:15. I’ve never been a morning person, so I allow myself extra time to wake up and bump in to furniture. My roommate, who I’d met yesterday, was still drunk from the last-chance revelry the night before. I did not partake, being underage and principled.
I turned the tv on in the crappy motel room for background noise as we got dressed and washed. A building was on fire.
I got down to the restaurant, still dim. I ordered off a card. Coffee, raisin bran with soy milk, orange juice, a banana. Everyone else had apparently also seen it. There were about 20 of us going to the Military Entry Processing Station to be examined and have our paperwork done to ship off to our respective service’s Basic Training facilities. We ate in silence, got our bags, and waited at the curb.
I called my mom from the lobby pay phone. She was crying-she begged me: “Don’t get on that bus. It’s okay, I’ll come and get you.” I said “No, I think I have to do this.”
Pearl Harbor was on lockdown. Traffic was backed up for miles. We sat for hours in the sun. There were Samoans on board who took their lavalava from their bags and fashioned curtains from them. It gave us a reprieve from the harsh rays.
We passed an Arab man in a kufi at a bus stop. I said to no one in particular “He needs to get off the streets, it’s not going to be safe for him”.
On the 9th of September, as a last hurrah with my friends, we recorded a lot of songs, to include a humorous rap song about Osama Bin Laden waging jihad against inanimate objects, insane with rage. Al Qaeda’s 1993 attack on the World Trade Center had really shaken me up, and I read everything I could about it. Without the news telling me, I knew this was the act of terroists, OBL in particular.
On the 11th, that song was no longer funny. I haven’t listened to it since.
We never got to Pearl Harbor that day. Our flight was cancelled. I ended up leaving for Basic on the 18th of September, which is also the Air Force’s anniversary.
I didn’t plan on being a lifer. I was going to do my four years and go to school, but the adventures, connections, and the lifestyle keep drawing me back, and I re-up time and again.
Next week marks my 13th year in the military. I am headed to my 6th base, and have seen five countries, to include a deployment with the Army to Baghdad, which I loved. I am not unreasonably far from retiring, and many of the friends I’ve made have separated from the service, but we are all connected. We have all shared our Basic Training stories, our 9/11 stories.
9/11 is a part of our shared mythology, our national narrative. Regardless of gender, age,color, religion, or political affiliation, we were collectively victimized, and as a nation we decided that we were not going to tolerate it. We share our stories because we shared the experience.
And for the record, I’d love to go back to Iraq and help support those airstrikes against ISIS.