September 8, 2010

9/11 Hits Me Like a Ton of Bricks

My wife and I were going to meet in Charlottesville that day for lunch. It was a quiet morning, up until my co-worker Wayne walked past in the hallway. “Hey, a plane hit the World Trade Center” and I said “yeah, right” and headed upstairs. A moment into the test department and I noticed Stacy was busy trying to hook up a portable tv set. “John, can you help me with this? Do we have cable?” “Yeah, hang on a sec,” as I pointed her to a coax outlet. A few moments and we were all watching the tower billowing black smoke. Just then, another plane hit – we all saw it. It was too surreal….”this is no accident, we’re under attack,” I blurted out. Mind you, I had retired from the Navy 18 months earlier. I just knew something was up. I could only imagine what was happening at the Navy Yard comm. Center and TOPHAND over at the Pentagon. Sheer pandemonium, I imagined. So here we were, two thirds of the company now in Test Department, watching this unfold before our very eyes.

Shortly later, my wife calls. “Are we at war? The Pentagon just blew up,” she said, in tears over the phone. I couldn’t believe this. The Pentagon? At least my former crew were safely tucked into the inner ring. TOPHAND was the voice of the fleet. This was the comm center where we’d relay message traffic to ships and talk to them via narrow band secure voice over a satellite hop. I wished I was there helping them out, I thought to myself. So anyway, Jen and I went for a slice of pizza. It was news everywhere on all televisions; everyone was busy watching this nightmare unfold. Little did any of us know that day. And then we learned of the hijackings. But it was not over for me yet.

Less than a week…around two days later, I get a call from my former Senior Chief, who sent me off in an awesome retirement ceremony at the Navy Yard’s chapel. “Hey man. I have got names,” he said to me. He was breaking down. “Got a pen?” I said “hang on, go ahead” and the names he read to me fired back like a big gun. Eight of my shipmates were murdered….one walked my mother down the aisle at my retirement ceremony. One sat at my desk one day and shot up as I walked into the room. “Sorry Rudy,” he said. “Not a problem, sit back down there, shipmate,” I told him. One of the gals used to make cookies for all of us. She was a single mom….I can feel it coming on…..”but they were at the inner ring, Mike,” I told him. “No,” he retorted. They moved to the outer ring after renovations….”

And then came the criticisms for Bush flying out toward Offutt AFB, the press saying he was trying to avoid it….worried about getting hit. No, he was on his way to Offutt to prepare a command post and to possibly make a preemptive strike with nukes….at the time, we had no idea who attacked us.

Needless for me to ramble on about this, but seeing their shadow boxes lined up with purple hearts inside, seeing and meeting their parents, some coming up to me and saying “Oh, he mentioned you all the time….” it was all too surreal to me. And seeing grown men burst into tears. But I should’ve been there to help…. my former CO, she met and grabbed me in the hallway before we went inside. “I really miss having you around….” With a big hug. “Well, I’m back home….”

So, this 9/11 stuff really hits me like a ton of bricks. It’s supposed to help me move on, but it keeps on coming back. Each year, around this time, if I even see a symbol of the Pentagon, I break down. Each time I see an American flag, it hits me. One year my family couldn’t get over when I saw that big flag being shown at the American History Museum at the Smithsonian, my son realized for the first time the impact this has held on me. My biggest guilt was not being there to assist, and then being sent to a shrink and being diagnosed with PTSD….therapy ensued, but it hasn’t helped much. But my hatred against Islam and its followers must be fully understood before anyone can criticize me for being the way that I am. That will never change as long as I am alive. Anyway, that’s what went on with me on 9/11. Right now I am contemplating going to DC for the 9/12 protests. Who knows? I hope I can.

Steve H.

Never Forget. Where were You on 9.11.2001 and what were you doing? What were you thinking? How has 9.11.2001 impacted your life?

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