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  How September 11th Affected me  

My telephone was ringing when I arrived home early on 9-11. The caller was a friend of mine from Michigan. We had served together in Vietnam. Gary urgently asked me if I was OK. Puzzled by his unusual demeanor and question, I followed his instructions and turned on my TV. I immediately learned that just minutes earlier, a plane had crashed into the WTC. As I was about to speak, the second plane collided into the WTC. Phone lines to NYC were still open but it was now apparent that America was under attack. I was devastated by what had just happened! I tried to relate to Gary the anger and confusion I was feeling but my thoughts were too scattered. We ended our conversation but I remained in front of my TV. At 10:29 am I watched the two towering infernos collapse to the ground. The magnitude of what I'd just witnessed left me feeling insignificant, helpless and overcome with an anger that bordered on rage!

I believed that the anger I was feeling would be short lived though. I also believed that anger would be the only emotion I'd experience during the days and months to follow. I was so wrong. The full impact of September 11th hadn't surfaced yet. The hours slowly passed as if time itself had slowed. The intense despair that was so clear in the hollow eyes of those waiting for loved ones to call was haunting. Long sleepless nights that allowed me brief periods of rest were filled with terror. Each new day for me began with the same familiar emptiness I'd experienced decades earlier. The turmoil immediately after September 11th had hurled my mind backward in time. Faces and memories from 35 years past while in Vietnam were again part of each day.

My horrific memory of a tank on fire after hitting a landmine seemed like it was happening yesterday. Remembering this explosion that threw a friend of mine 10 feet into the air, his body engulfed in flames as he cried out for help was so terribly unbearable. I hadn't thought about this Marine; his legs ripped from his torso during the explosion in such a very long time. I mourned with the rest of the country for the thousands of lives lost during this cowardly WTC attack but I again found myself crying out for those lost friends of mine that arrived home in a box. The memories of another war in a small remote country 10,000 miles from home along with this disaster felt like a firefight of thoughts crushing my mind.

I was aware of the stress and pain that watching these TV broadcasts was causing, yet I seemed unable to tear myself away from them. I watched the tears and agony on faces of those who lost loved ones and I felt myself growing weaker and feeling more helpless. I knew that I was far less in control of my life as their pain and anguish echoed not only mine from Vietnam but the horror resulting from 9-11.

On May 4th I celebrated my 55th birthday. Eight months after the attack on America, I sat in a restaurant on Broadway with my mom whom had taken a bus into NYC to spend the day with me. We ended the day with a walk through Central Park, thoroughly enjoying each other's company. I knew that mom would not be around forever and I was so grateful for the time we were able to spend with each other. Even though America was at war and many lives had been lost because of this tragedy, I knew in my heart that I was so very lucky to still have my mom in my life.

Has my life been the same after September 11th? Like so many other Americans, no it hasn't! I find myself looking more closely at people who fit that "terrorist profile." I'm suspicious of those same people. I listen to the reports on TV and I'm aware today that at any moment friends of mine or myself could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I allow my thoughts to run free, I even begin to wonder if that next corner I turn will be my last. "Will I be in the wrong place at the wrong time?"

September 11th has forever changed the United States of America. 9-11 will personally be synonymous with pain, terror and the glaring reminder that I am not completely in control of my destiny. However, I am in control of my thoughts and that's where I win! I am able to remind myself that life does go on and the chances of my turning that corner for the last time because of a terrorist act is about as likely as getting hit by lightening. No, it's probably less likely!

God Bless the many who didn't survive September 11th and my prayers go out to their families and loved ones.

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Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003   Roy E. Stanford.

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