Veteran Stories

Veterans Share 9/11 Stories + How Attacks Changed Their Lives

More than two decades ago on Sept. 11, 2001, our attackers aimed to devastate a nation. Instead, in the wake of a dark day in history, thousands of men and women stepped up to serve.

A handful of our most engaged Spartans volunteered their reflections of that day and how it impacted the trajectory of their lives. Some were already serving, some were inspired to answer the call, but for all it was the beginning of a new dedication to service.

Chris Story, USMC Veteran

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On September 11, 2001, I was working in my first real job after college in business management and was trying to knock out some routine dentist/doctors appointments and get back to business world domination. Before I left my house for the first appointment, I was watching the Today Show and saw a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Like many, this moment burned into my memory; everything was different after that. 

At 27 years old, I had gotten to a point in my personal and professional life where I was thinking, “so this is it huh?” I was curious if I still could/should serve in the military and get a little piece of what made my father so special to so many. Just prior to September 11, 2001, I had already begun the process to see if I would qualify to become an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps, but I hadn't given notice to my employer and hadn't done the final contract paperwork to "ship" to Quantico. At that moment, on September 11, 2001, on the way to a routine appointment, I made the decision that joining the Marine Corps is what I HAD to do. 

The following days, weeks, months and years became a blur. My fiancé and I went from a plan of staying in our hometown, getting married, and continuing our safe, quaint existence to something that looked VERY different. I ended up being part of the first Marine Corps Officer Candidate School class after September 11, 2001. It began on October 7, 2001, the exact day we started Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. The next 10 weeks in Quantico were life changing and paradigm altering. I had never been average at anything in my life – sports, school, business, but that changed. The group of individuals I was surrounded by were truly the most exceptional people I had ever been around – Ivy League lawyers, Division I college athletes, people getting calls from their agents about joining NFL teams, Wall Street investors who left $500k+ per year jobs, farmers who left their family farms. The most incredible thing was, none of that really mattered at the time. Everyone was there to serve.

Now, over 20 years, three kids, and 10 moves later, I am a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps preparing to see what the next chapter in our lives looks like. My final reflection is similar to what I think about being involved with TMF: most people talk, complain, and get angry about problems and tragedies, while others dedicate all or part of their life toward doing something about it. “If Not Me, Then Who…”

Gabriela Ryan, Army Veteran

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Before Sept. 11, 2001, it never occurred to me that having a Muslim family was “unique.” As immigrants to America from Afghanistan and Pakistan, my family was made up of some of the most grateful people I knew for the privileges of freedom and safety afforded us here. At 11 years old, 9/11 made me keenly aware for the first time of what supposedly separated us from “normal Americans.” But more importantly, the 21 years since then have taught me what unites us all. 

Immediately after 9/11, my family attended prayer services to grieve the 10,000+ souls lost, just like most American families - except while some were at church, my family was at a mosque. I watched my family cry the same tears and feel the same horror as other Americans. I can honestly say neither I nor my family were EVER treated negatively for their religion or our ethnicity by fellow Americans. Instead I was inspired in the following years by how Americans of all colors and faiths joined together to pray and fight for freedom and unity.

Seven years later, at age 18, I enlisted in the Army. At the time, I was nervous about what my grandfather would say. He’s what you would call a “traditional” man with deeply held cultural and religious views. But when I said goodbye to the family before flying out for basic training he shook my hand and in his wonderfully broken English he said, “I’m proud of you. Go America.” 

I, with my ENTIRE FAMILY, recognize and honor the great Americans who have fought since 9/11 for a better America and a better Afghanistan. We thank God for the heroism of so many Americans. Each year on 9/11 we remember the sadness and horror, but every Memorial Day and Veterans Day and Independence Day we wave one flag in honor - the Stars and Stripes.

Zach Boguslawski, Navy Veteran

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On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a young, 19-year-old sophomore at the U.S. Naval Academy, fresh off of his summer training and feeling close to invincible. That morning, our physics lab was underway when our professor, a Korean War veteran, called for our attention in a voice reserved only for dreadful news. “Ladies and gentlemen, your lab is over, please return directly to the hall (Bancroft Hall, our dormitory). Don’t take any detours, more information will be delivered by your company officers.” I (along with several classmates), “detoured” to a nearby television and watched in horror as the second plane crashed into the other tower.  We scurried back to our respective company areas and awaited what would be a very long and life-altering evening for every member of the brigade.

To say that my mind changed that night would be an understatement. I came to the Naval Academy with the intention of completing the minimum number of years of service then returning to the civilian world. Those intentions were slowly deteriorating as fear, uncertainty, and a strange sense of curiosity about the world started to emerge.  

Twenty-one years later, I can faithfully say that September 11, 2001, was a seminal moment for my career and my perception of service. Going into the Naval Academy, I looked at service as a means to an end, trading years of my life for a college degree and great prospects on the outside. After 9/11, that notion lost its luster and I started to realize—albeit gradually—that service was a noble profession and not merely a price to pay. To me, today, service is not a debt owed, nor is it a way to repay a debt to our fair country. Service is demonstrable action taken by those individuals who understand that leadership is not about how you are perceived in the eyes of those who “matter,” but rather addressing the needs of others who can do little to nothing for one’s own gain because, simply, it’s the right thing to do.

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