Sept. 11, a catalyst for change

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman J. Paul Croxon
  • 319th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
When I was in the sixth grade, I remember learning about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I went home that afternoon and asked my parents if they remembered it. They both could remember, in vivid detail, where they were and what they were doing that day.

I remember thinking it was strange how my parents were able to recall a memory and associate it with a specific date. After all, if you asked me what I was doing on July 6, 2001, April 14, 1984, or some other arbitrary date, I couldn't tell you where I was, let alone recall every detail from that day.

September 11, 2001, is the first memory I have annotated with a date. I can relive that day, and recall for the first time what I had for breakfast, what I was wearing and where I was when I first saw the devastation of the attack.

It was during the daily commute to college that I first heard the reports of the attack. It was sunny that morning, oddly crisp for that time of year in Michigan. The morning show funny guys were still soberly trying to make sense of the scattered reports when I turned off the ignition of my silver Dodge Neon and walked to class. Apparently, someone had flown an airplane into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"Fool, amateur pilot," I thought to myself, envisioning a tiny private plane crashing into the twin towers.

As I walked to physics class, I was thinking about the lab I had that afternoon, but also about the strange events the radio station reported earlier.

I went through my first two classes, got into my car and drove north to the sister campus for my final class of the day. When I arrived, it was like the set of a thriller movie. The campus was silent. The normally packed courtyard was devoid of students and the trappings of academia. Bewildered, I headed for the student pavilion for food before my English class started.

It was as I crested the gold and blue stairs to the pavilion, that the reality of the impossible buffeted my mind, causing me to join the ranks of disbelief around the pavilion's televisions.

I was just in time to witness the replaying of the video of second plane crash.

As I look back just six years ago, the fight against terrorism I now take for granted was absent from my mind. I, as did most of the students witnessing first-hand the deaths of my countrymen, thought it was some horrible accident, some instrument malfunction or medical tragedy that caused the pilots to crash. No one would attack thousands of civilians; it was too terrible an act to contemplate.

In the aftermath that followed, I learned the truth about the origin of the crashes. We were attacked. Innocents died at the hands of suicidal radicals.

For the first time, I felt a deep sense patriotism as an American and the pang of loss for people I didn't know. My path to reconciliation led me to the Air Force where I could answer the attack as part of the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.

No longer was I a student with French, German and English ancestry. I was and am an American; and I won't run from an attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, innocent people on Flight 93 and my homeland.

Prior to September 11, my memories were snapshots, glimpses of events that stuck in my mind for some unknown reason. Now, an entire day is captured in my memory. It's still there for me to recall at will.

I remember I had cereal for breakfast and wore an orange T-shirt and jeans. If my son asks me about that terrible day, I'll be able to give him the same amount of tragic details my father gave me.