It’s been eighteen years since the War on Terrorism began. So much has changed about the way we live. Yet it seems like yesterday–one of those days that is embedded in our memory forever. May we never forget!
Hanover County will be holding A Day of Remembrance on Wednesday, September 11that 0900. I will go and join my friends at the Sheriff’s Office to be where I sat that fateful morning. Here is an exert from my memoir. After you read it, please leave a comment and tell me where you were that ill-fated morning.
The twelve-inch television sat in the far corner of the Hanover County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Office. It was set on the CBS Early Show at 0852 hours on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. I was alone while my partner, Deputy Jim McLaughlin, was out working on Hanover County Sheriff’s Office state certification. I didn’t pay much attention to what was happening until I heard Bryan Gumbel’s voice. ‘Sports!’ I thought to myself. ‘I hate sports and that arrogant sports reporter!’ Before I could get up and change the channel, though, I realized he wasn’t talking about sports; he was talking about a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.
Smoke was ascending from one of the two tallest buildings in New York City. I watched as the newscaster discussed the possibilities. The plane was invisible. Black smoke surrounded the top of the massive structure.
My first thought, an accidental plane crash, was immediately wiped away. Brian interviewed witnesses by phone, at 0902 hours. I analyzed what was being said, along with countless other Americans, as a second plane plowed into the second tower.
“Oh, my god! This is no accident.” I blurted out loud to myself. The sight of what just happened made me leap to my feet, yet I felt paralyzed and unable to move at the same time. Holding on to the corner of the desk still staring at the TV, I got my bearings and ran out the door and across the hall barging into the investigators’ office. It startled the four investigators who were sitting at their computer screens finishing up reports. They all looked up at me as I burst out with, “Two planes just flew into the twin towers in New York City!”
“Geeze!” One investigator leaped to his feet. “The sheriff’s friend is there and is supposed to be visiting someone in one of the towers!” He ran passed me out the door and made a beeline to the front office. Everyone else followed me back to my office where we sat and watched the horror unfold on the little TV, taking turns, making phone calls to family and friends.
Words like ‘a possible terrorist attack’ immediately began flooding the airwaves. My thoughts quickly went to the Marines. If this were a terrorist attack, I would be recalled to active duty. It’s what Marines train for and the purpose of having a strong reserve force. I felt the need to be there. National defense seemed much more critical now than giving neighborhood watch and crime prevention presentations.
I loved being a deputy sheriff but was not especially thrilled when I was persuaded to take the Crime Prevention position back in January. The excitement of law enforcement work was out on the road, taking calls, stopping vehicles, and making arrests. However, when you work for a sheriff, ‘the good old boys’ club,’ you do what you’re asked. I was always told, the sheriff can fire you at any time for no cause. What I wanted was to become the sex crimes investigator and take the sergeants test, but first I had to put my time in here. My time in the Marine Corps was almost over. I had only two more years until mandatory retirement. Serving even part of that time on active duty would be challenging, to say the least, but also exciting and financially beneficial.
By 0940 hours, a third plane had flown into the Pentagon. I knew Rick, the Marine I was dating, was on his way from Quantico to Bethesda Naval Hospital for a doctor’s appointment. Bethesda was close to the Pentagon. What must I-495 look like? I frantically tried to reach him by cell phone, but the line continued to buzz a busy signal.
By noon all work had ceased. Everyone was either glued to a T.V. set or listening to the news on the radio. A fourth plane had crashed in Summerset County, Pennsylvania. When would this stop? All commercial airliners were grounded, and military F-15s were filling the skies. What was happening in the news looked like we were already at war. Terrorist attacks were finally declared. My partner Jim was back in the office now, watching it with me.
“What does this mean for you?” he asked, knowing full well I would volunteer myself if not involuntarily recalled.
“Probably active duty,” I answered. Being on active duty almost guaranteed I would remain at the unit I drilled at, Security Battalion at MCB Quantico. Rick was there, although he could deploy. As an IMA Reservist (Individual Mobilization Augmentee), I was attached to a unit in support of the active-duty Marines and take their place if they deploy.
At 1500 hours it was time to call my friend Dale McNeil, Liaison at Quantico’s Reserve Affairs. “How soon am I going back on active duty?” I asked her.
“Headquarters is already working on orders. Advise your employer. I’ll keep you posted once I have dates.”
“Okay. I’ll be ready whenever the orders are!” I answered. Dale knew how much I loved being on active duty. She had worked out plenty of work assignments for me in the past when I wasn’t working, but now with a full-time job, I could only drill two days a month and two weeks ATD required of all reservists. When Sheriff Cook hired me, I had just gotten off two months of voluntary active duty. During my final interview, he asked, “Are you planning on leaving us and going back on active duty any time soon?”
“No, Sir,” I assured him. “Other than drill weekends and two weeks each year. The only way I would go back is if there was a war.”
The phones started working again. Word filtered down the sheriff’s friend was okay. He hadn’t been in the building when the plane hit.
Rick called me once he arrived back at Quantico; “I heard the explosion while I was on the beltway! Got to Bethesda and the gates were closed. They weren’t allowing anyone in. We were told to turn around and go back home. I-495 was a nightmare! How about you? Any word?”
“I called Dale. She said I should expect orders, but she wasn’t sure how long it would take. She promised to keep me posted. Will you deploy?”
“Highly unlikely, since my position here would require the logistics for support,” he reassured me.
I was going back on active duty; to my life as a Marine. Out of one uniform and into another.