I'm sure all of you have an email inbox full of September 11th chain letters. I'm not here to add your typical "Remember our heroes" pass along. Those letters are not a bad thing, they just seem real cookie-cutter to me, written in the anonymous glow of a computer screen. I would assume that most of the people that read my blog know me personally (I don't pretend to have a growing legion of fans across America), and therefore most people know that I am pretty passionate about what I do and what I believe. That said, here are my thoughts on September the eleventh, five years after the attack.
I can still remember waking up that Tuesday morning. I had skipped class, which had become a bad habit pretty early in my college career. I was walking through the basement of the Towers Residence hall, on my way to the cafeteria, probably to stuff my face with french toast, which had become the custom. As I was walking by I noticed that something was playing on the theatre screen, which was unusual at this time of the day. The image on the screen made me initially think it was an Arnold movie that I used to watch, but the name escaped me at the time. I kept walking right by a group of huddled students, who were staring at the screen speaking to each other in Chinese. Weird I thought. Chinese students don't watch Schwarrzeneggar flicks. Fifty more steps and I was in the cafeteria. Funny, they're showing the same movie in here. I didn't even register that what was on screen was being shown to me in real time until the crowds of students standing in front of the screen struck me as odd. I drifted over and was watching over shoulders, listening to expressions of "Oh my God" and "I can't believe it". Still a little in the dark, I asked the person beside me what was happening. "Someone flew a f*(king plane into the World Trade Center man."
Boom. What kind of dead-drunk airline pilot is bad enough to fly a fly a jetliner into a some of the world's biggest buildings? It hadn't even occurred to me that this was an act of violence. Then the second one hit. Then the Pentagon. Then towers were collapsing. Something about a plane being on its way to the White House. Fighter jets were scrambled, military members everywhere holding their collective breaths, anticipating those four words "We are at war".
It was all so weird to watch. I remember getting that sore throat feeling in the back of your throat that only comes at your most emotional moments, when you see something that makes you want to break down, but you are so rocked with a thousand thoughts that tears are impossible. I remember one of my teammates crying because his stepdad worked in one of the Trade Center towers, and he couldn't get ahold of him. I remember going online and requesting a packet of information for joining the Marine Corps. What would I do? I had always wanted to join the military, now I actually had a reason. My country had been attacked, Americans had been killed, how could I hear the call to arms and stand idly by?
I don't know why I didn't enlist that week. It may have been cowardice, I may have simply rationalized that, hey, I'm a Badger football player, someone else will fight the war. Maybe for once I took my dad's subtle advice. I remember talking to him on the phone in the days following the attack, he never mentioned the military, but I remember him saying "Don't go do anything rash." I remember thinking to myself, "I'll finish college, and then I'll enter the military as an officer." But in the back of my mind, I think maybe I was hoping the war would be over by then, and that call to arms would have been silinced.
But over the next three and a half years the fighting increased and when I came to that point in my life, the point where the road forks and you have to choose your direction, I was torn. Ultimately I projected myself forward 20 years and looked back on yet to be lived life in which I had chosen to start my professional career in the business world, and when I looked back it looked empty. Full of brave words and passionate ideals, but lacking in any proactive action. It came time for me to determine if all my bravado and idealistic patriotism carried weight, if they really meant to me what I had convinced myself they did.
I didn't join the Marine Corps so that people would call me a hero. I didn't join the Marine Corps to win medals or ride in parades. I didn't do it as some self-righteous attempt for hometown newspaper clippings. Sometimes I don't even know why I did it. There are times when people ask why I joined that I say I joined for the bumper stickers, it's because I don't really like to talk about it. I don't want my motivations, whatever they are, to be judged. In reality, I joined to find something out about myself. It was the only path that would shed light on who I am as a person, as a man, even as an American.
But now that I am here, now that I watch the news and see my fellow Marines, my brothers, being killed on television, now as I watch replays of that day five years ago, I realize things about life. A lot of what I aspire to in life was inspired by my Grandpa Bauer. And one of his greatest qualities was that I don't think he believed in evil, or man's capacity to be TRULY evil. While this may have been what led him to be one of the kindest, most compassionate men I knew, I think he was wrong. There are evil men in this world, I have come to learn this undoubtedly. In our training we are shown things that happen in Iraq that a human mind should never be forced to comprehend, let along justify. The people we are dealing with truly are evil, I now realize this. Throw out religion, this isn't about that. Religion will always be a variable in mankind, but I would hope that conscience would be a constant. But with these men it is not.
I hope that this September 11th you reflect precisely upon what happened five years ago and the men that did it. I want you to think about that, about how you felt then, and how you feel now. And I want you to be honest with yourself. Has time dulled your emotions? Has five years buffered the pain and shock? I look at America and I see a diminishing resolve to eradicate terrorism, and I look at terrorism and I sense that they see the same thing, and it strengthens them. Remember your firefighters, remember your police officers, remember your emts, your troops, and all your heroes, just don't do it in practice, do it as you remember doing it five years ago.