I was barely 17 years old on September 11, 2001. My senior year at Gar-Field High School in Woodbridge, Virginia had just begun. I lived in a town about 30 minutes from Washington, DC. My dad, a former Army paratrooper, worked in intel and spent many of his work days at the Pentagon. My friends, schoolmates, neighbors; their parents all had jobs in DC... many for the government and many at the Pentagon.
At 8:46am I was in my Theory of Knowledge class. We turned on the TV when we heard a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. We tuned in, bewildered and chatting about how a pilot could somehow lose his bearing enough to crash into a building so big.
We watched, speechless, when the second plane hit the second tower on live television. A coordinated terrorist attack. What did this mean? We prayed for the people in the planes, trying to imagine what must have been happening in that aircraft as they approached the building, and how many people had been on the floors that had been hit.
The bell rung. We switched classes. I sat down in biology but we didn't open our books. We turned on the TV again, wondering what the scene in New York meant for our country.
At 9:37am, the news anchor on the TV we were watching paused... He said they were getting information from Washington, DC that there had been an attack on the Pentagon.
Our teacher told us to stay calm, that it may be just a rumor. This was a hectic situation and a lot of information was coming in to the news live, and some of it may not be true. Five minutes later, our principal came onto the intercom and told us that a plane had, indeed, struck the Pentagon.
My dad was supposed to be at the Pentagon for a meeting that morning. I didn't have a cell phone. No one in my family had a cell phone, not that it would matter at that point; with so many people trying to reach their loved ones, the lines were overwhelmed. Another reporter in DC came on TV and said a policeman had told him that another plane had been hijacked and, it too, was heading for Washington.
In class, students were either speechless or hysterical. Teachers tried to find the right words but there were none. We saw a man jump from the World Trade Center. He worked on one of the top floors and the plane had hit below his office. He could either jump or burn to death. We wondered if his family were watching... if his wife had recognized the tie she had picked out for him to wear that morning. A reporter had just recapped a phone conversation where he had spoken with one of those top floor workers. On the other end of the phone he heard "We're dying here!". He lost the call... and never heard back. Not 20 minutes later, we watched as one of the towers collapsed. About 30 minutes after that, around 10:30am, the second building fell and we prayed against all odds that everyone had been evacuated and saved while we all tried to stay calm with thoughts of the scene just 30 minutes away in DC running through our heads.
The pictures on the TV screen flashed back and forth between NYC and DC. As information was relayed, ring by ring, calls were coming into the school and being transferred straight to our classrooms with news about individual student's moms and dads. The phone rang and my teacher said it was for me. I walked up to the desk, terrified, as all of my friends waited silently for what information would come from the other end of the line. It was my mom. She told me my dad's meeting at the Pentagon had been postponed that morning because of a traffic accident that caused a major backup. He was not there when the plane hit. She said a bunch of other things about my hockey practice being canceled and the highway being shut down but I barely paid attention. My dad was OK and I went back to my seat.
As the day went on, we found out that the other plane that the reporter had said was also heading to DC had crashed in Pennsylvania. The passengers had gotten wind of the attacks in NYC and DC and had tried to overtake the terrorists. They gave their lives to save countless others.
When I finally got home from school that day, I sat on the couch with my family, glued to the news and thinking about how much our world had changed since I had gotten on the school bus that morning. It sounds silly, but my favorite show at the time was "Total Request Live" , a countdown of the days top music videos on MTV held in Times Square. I wondered if that show would ever air again. I didn't sleep that night. School was canceled the next day. I spent time with my family, grateful that they were safe and with me.
Over 2,700 people died in New York City. Over 250 lost their lives in Washington, DC.
In the weeks following the attack, we heard personal stories of fate... many telling of situations where loved ones had stayed an extra night to spend time with their favorite people... They had rescheduled their flights for the following morning... and boarded a doomed plane. To this day, I have anxiety when I ask someone to spend more time with me... worried that my wants may change their fate and put them in danger. Every time I visit my family, I tear up when I drive away because I've seen how quickly and unexpectedly life can change and be taken away.
Every American has been affected by this tragedy. My dad has been away from our family in Iraq and Afghanistan more times than I can count and my high school friend gave his life fighting to make sure no terrorist gets close to our country again. After 9/11, I knew I would follow my father's footsteps and join the military to serve and protect my country. I spent 4 years in the Air Force Reserves, honorably discharged in 2006 with a back injury before I could commission into active duty. I will never forget September 11th, 2001, the people who died and lost loved ones that day, and the people who have sacrificed to protect us from another attack. I will spend this day praying for America, and our values, and praying that God gives us the strength to always stand against evil and champion for good.