Monday, September 12, 2011

All Gave Some and Some Gave All - 9/11 Before and After

I’ve started this blog in my mind at least a dozen times.  On September 11, 2001, my husband and I were supposed to have our first date—sushi and a movie.  At the time I happened to also be dating a Navy Fighter Pilot who was living in Norfolk, VA, but that’s kind of a complicated story and not relevant right now.

I didn't have a digital camera in 2001, so you will have to forgive the quality of the photos as they are all photos of photos.  They do paint a picture of some of the happier times I spent while training for and serving in the United States Navy JAG Corp.

September 11, 2001

The sky was crystal clear and the weather was a beautiful early fall/late summer day.  Cool in the morning and hot by noon.

I was in my office preparing for Physical Evaluation Board hearings where I represented service members in hearings to either improve their disability rating or help them prove that their disability did not impair their service to the military. 

The Petty Officer and Civilian I worked with at the Physical Evaluation Board.

One of the Coast Guard officers who worked at the Naval Legal Services Office.

8:46 am
One of our Petty Officers had survived the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen.  He had been seriously injured in the October 12, 2000.  Seventeen people died that day and 39 were injured.  He had endured over a dozen surgeries and was still working at only about 30% of his previous capacity.

He walked into my office and said, “L.T.—a plane just hit the World Trade Center.”  I looked up and remember wondering how in the world a plane could accidentally hit a building as massive as WTC.  Initially we heard rumors that it was a weather plane.  At the time I was busy reviewing my cases and I did not think very much about it at that moment.

9:03 am
When he came back for a second time we knew something was wrong and that while it was possible that one plane could possibly, accidentally hit the World Trade Center, there was no way that two planes could have hit it. 

9:37 am
While those in New York had been living a hellish nightmare for almost an hour, suddenly the attack hit much closer to home.  As soon as the Pentagon was hit, those of us in Washington, DC were thrust into the tragedy of 9/11. 

Immediately our hearings were cancelled.  Phones were ringing off the hook.  Cell phones started freezing up because there were so many people trying to call family and friends to see what was happening.

Rumors started immediately.  We heard there was a bomb at the Capitol.  We heard there were other planes that would be attacking D.C.  Alarms started going off and soon Military Police were going floor by floor and were evacuating everyone.  It was chaos.  One of my friends, Joan, was doing her rotation from our office at our Pentagon office and initially, no one could make contact with her.  I’ll never forget wondering where Joan was and whether or not she made it out.  Thankfully Joan made it out alive.  Traumatized, but alive.

Shannon, Joan and I in happier times.

The problem was—where do you go?  Did I go back to my apartment in the heart of DC where I could see the Pentagon from my roof?  Did I get in my car and start driving back home to Ohio?  That was what I wanted to do more than anything in the world.  I was a 26-year-old who had moved to Washington, D.C. on April 1, 2001 and now it seemed like the whole world was ending.  My mom and I discussed that option, only I told her that now that I was an officer in the military that would be going AWOL and she advised me to get as much gasoline, cash and water as I could before heading back to my apartment.

The Lieutenant Bars

The JAG Corp Ensignia

I remember driving from the base into the city on that date, against traffic-- no one else seemed to be driving toward the chaos-- all the cars were leaving the city, but the Navy Yard and my apartment in Woodley Park were both located right in the city.  I stopped to fill up my car with gas, to buy extra water for apartment.  My uniform was messy and I wasn't nearly the picture of a put together office that I should have been, but almost immediately after the first plane hit, DC was paralyzed.  I paid the cashier at the BP station and I'll never forget him looking me dead in the eye and saying, "Be careful, Lieutenant."

Only a couple of months before we had all celebrated the Fourth on top of my apartment building where we drank cocktails and watched the fireworks across the national monuments.  On September 11, 2001, the only site from the roof of my apartment was that of a huge cloud of smoke as the side of the Pentagon smoldered.  Like a light switch, that innocence of the Fourth of July in 2001 was gone by September 11, 2001.  

A call finally came through on my cell phone.  It was the Lieutenant Commander I had been dating since moving to D.C.  Trey was a fighter pilot and Top Gun instructor down in Norfolk, Va.  He said they were rallying all the F-18's and that he would be flying cover over New York City.  He told me I might not hear from him for a few days or weeks, but to watch the news.  Our relationship was never really the same after September 11th.  Both of our jobs and lives were much more intense after that.  

Trey in Key West on May 5, 2001.

Me in a plane down in Norfolk, Virginia.

We broke up a couple months after 9/11.  I began dating Tom (my husband and true love) in 2002.  I kept in touch with Trey and we remained friends, but he was deployed on the George Washington and in 2002 I received a phone call from a fellow JAG officer who let me know that Trey's plane had gone down over the Adriatic Sea.  He never came home.  At first I didn’t believe her because I had just gotten an email from him that very morning.  I read it to her to somehow prove that he must still be alive.  He wrote that he had watched “Legally Blonde” the night before and that the character, Elle Woods, Attorney at Law, reminded him of me and that he hoped to be home to see his family sometime near Thanksgiving.  That was the last communication I ever received from Trey.

Amy called and told me about Trey's plane.

Amy was known for some wild parties!  Halloween 2001.
A couple of years later I was in Savannah with my husband and we were at the British Pub right off of one of the squares.  We were sitting at the bar when I started seeing names of Navy SEAL’s going across the screen as deceased and killed in action.  One of those names was Jeff Taylor.  An incredible SEAL and a dynamic person I had met right before I went to JAG school.  I’ll never forget it—Jeff traded me his Navy SEAL fleece for my little old OSU Law School sweatshirt.  I thought he had definitely gotten the short end of that deal.  A group of us had all spent a weekend skiing in Snowshoe, West Virginia.  They had all just finished BUDS and I had just finished Officer Indoctrination School.  These guys were not just Navy SEAL’s, they were incredible athletes.  We all night skied and spent the weekend celebrating our time off.
Me shooting off the DDG Laboon on March 3, 2001.  Look at that form!

On the DDG Laboon.

Fellow officers from the DDG Laboon while on liberty in Charleston, SC. 

Trey and Jeff are just two of the incredible people I got to know while I had the privilege of serving in the military.  There were officers like my Commanding Officer, Captain James Norman and my Executive Officer, Captain Fred Mitchell.  There were colleagues—young attorneys, doctors and nurses like Joan Malik, Amy Larson and others.  All of them were individuals who dedicated some (if not all) of their life to serving our country and who I looked up to as friends and mentors. 

Officer Indoctrination School in Newport, Rhode Island

The Mess Hall

The "O" Club

Our beautiful rain coats.

Physical training.

Graduation day from Officer Indoctrination School-- December 2000.

Trying to explain what September 11th meant and was like to experience is difficult.  In the days, weeks and months to follow, living in DC continued to be difficult.  There was the Anthrax scare in which all of our work mail was fried in a big machine before we could get it.  There was the disappearance of Chandra Levy.  Then, there was the Sniper.   But we were young and idealistic and pursuing our dreams.  As the saying goes, it was the best of times and the worst of times.

There were the friends I knew and loved who are no longer with us.  There are friends who are still in danger’s way every single day.  All gave some and some gave all.

Army-Navy Game 2001

Home for Christmas.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Jen. Thanks for sharing this story with us.


Thank you for your comment! We read every comment!