For many, September 11th 2001 marks that moment in their life when they’ll never forget what they were wearing, where they were, how they felt. My parents’ generation remembers the assassination of John F. Kennedy this way, and I didn’t have a moment that caused such great impact until that day.
I was working at a telemarketing agency making cold calls (and getting yelled at when I forgot the time difference and called people at 6 a.m.), and that particular morning I was late for work (hmm…not much has changed in 10 years) and heard the whole thing go down on the radio. When the first plane hit, everyone was in shock, but when the second plane hit, all I could think was, They’re trying to take us out. I didn’t know who “they” were or why they might be attacking us, but I had no doubt that’s what was happening.
I ran into my office and told everyone to go to cnn.com, but they were all busy calling people and generally thought I was a lunatic, so no one paid any attention to me. When the people on the other end of the lines began asking my coworkers if they knew what was going on, the brevity of the situation still didn’t sink in. But when our boss told us all to go home and be with our families, well, people cheered. It kind of made me sick, and I didn’t work there much longer after that.
I spent the next six hours or so watching the news, the replays of the videos of the planes hitting the Twin Towers over and over. I’d never felt unsafe in America until then.
This past Sunday night I was watching “Army Wives” with The Roomie when she suddenly reached out her hand to me, tears in her eyes, and said, “Hold my hand!”
“What?!” I said, alarmed. I noticed she was reading something on her phone, and because she rarely cries I worried someone close to her was hurt.
“Osama. Bin Laden. Is dead.”
I grabbed the remote and changed the channel to CNN. And there was Wolf Blitzer, telling us to stand by, that The President had an announcement to make.
We waited, as did many anxious Americans that night, for The President to make the announcement we’d waited so long for. In the hour or so that followed, droves of people ran, biked and drove to the White House to celebrate (where did all those American flags come from?). The Roomie and I considered going, and I put out a Facebook post “Should I go to the White House?” to which several people responded with a robust “YES!”
I didn’t go. As exciting as the moment was, I just couldn’t bring myself to get caught up in the moment in that way. It was difficult to explain what I was feeling. I was – well, happy isn’t the right word – relieved, I guess, that Osama bin Laden was eliminated from our world. But was justice truly served? Can one man’s death make up for those who lost their loved ones on 9/11? Or for the thousands of America’s sons and daughters who have given their lives since to protect us from Al Qaeda’s terrorism? (And by “given their lives,” I don’t just mean through death.) I just wasn’t sure, and I’m still not.
The next day I had an amazing opportunity, and Sunday night’s announcement made the event even more unique – I was invited to a Medal of Honor Ceremony at the White House.
(By the way, a proper invitation to the White House has been on my DC Bucket List since the Salahis crashed the State Dinner, so the day was altogether surreal.)
The other attendees and I met at a hotel in the morning to go through initial security then we got into buses that formed a motorcade, complete with police escort, and drove to the White House. After some more security checkpoints we were ushered into the East Wing of the White House for the ceremony.
Bo was frolicking! I shoulda brought Noli, huh?
The Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, was there (last saw him with my mother when we were wandering the halls of the Pentagon and ended up on his floor – I froze; she smiled and said, “hi!” with an extra dose of Southern charm, and he smiled and said hi back), as was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen (who I called “Mike” once to his face when I passed him on the way to CVS – we’d been jokingly referring to him as Mike in my office all morning and it just slipped out, because I am the most awkwardly starstruck person alive).
Those two were enough to send me into a tizzy, but when Obama and Michelle came in the room, I CAN’T EVEN TELL YOU how blown away I was. He was *RIGHT THERE* y’all.
In reality he was *right OVER there*
Halfway through the ceremony I got a text from my mother, apparently the first time she’s ever attempted texting: “SR.U.N.FRONT.OF.A.WINDOW?I.SEE.U”
(Still not sure why there were so many periods.)
Turns out the camera kept showing me on CNN. I haven’t seen the clip, but my parents, sister and nephews were able to see me for a couple of reasons: 1) Even sitting, I was taller than everyone around me; 2) Instead of sitting nicely in my seat like a normal person, I was taking pictures of The President the whole time.
*The things I do for this dang blog.*
Look! I was really there!
My new profile picture for EVERYTHING.
She was wearing Balenciaga!
Previous Medal of Honor Recipient Senator Daniel Inouye.
Read his story here, it's unbelievable and I can't believe no one's made a movie about it yet.
In spite of my starstruckedness, I did hear a little of what The President was saying. Two Korean War veterans were being honored posthumously, and one, who threw himself on a grenade in order to save his Soldiers, was never brought home. “We must never forget those who didn’t make it home, and we must never stop trying to bring them home,” President Obama said.
The President speaking, just in case you didn't believe me.
(You can tell I took this photo because it's out of focus and crooked.)
As I listened to him speak, tell these stories, thank the family members who waited 60 years for recognition, I was reminded of the Warrior Ethos:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team. I serve the people of the United States and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
It was then that I understood how I felt. There was no rejoicing in my heart for the death of Osama bin Laden. Instead there was pride for my country, for our service members and for the values that we as a Nation have upheld through tragedies, recessions, uncertainty and hardships.
And I realized, even if another attack like 9/11 should occur, I will always be safe in America.