Today we remember the events that changed the world. Most of us that were alive then knew EXACTLY what we were doing at that moment. It was the moment when everything we knew and believed in was challenged. It was the day that led to two conflicts half a world away for the sole purpose of stopping an enemy we hadn’t yet given much national thought to. It was the day we found the value of our neighbors and the strength in our communities. It was a day that most of us held our families tighter with a prayer on our breath. We all have a story about that day. Here’s mine…

I had been serving in the Army in South Korea on a little post called Camp Casey. I was a newly minted Staff Sergeant and it was my first time on foreign soil. The hard part about this tour was my then-wife and I hadn’t quite celebrated our first year anniversary together yet. She was also nine months pregnant with my first born. In order to come home on regular leave, I had to be over half way done with my one year tour on the peninsula. I had only been there three months, so she had to do a scheduled caesarian in order to ensure the medical need could get me home on time for the birth. That surgery was scheduled for September 12th, 2001. 

I waited until 12 AM, midnight, to sign out on the 9/12, Korean time. Because of the international dateline, I was a day ahead. I would have signed out, made it to the airport outside of Seoul, flew that morning and made it home to Seattle by late in the day on 9/11. I would have been there for her birth the next day. As I walked out of my room at midnight, I saw everyone alive and awake. Guys were sitting on balconies, huddled around open doors with televisions pointing out for everyone to see. It was the middle of the week, so it was super unusual to see so many people awake at that time of night. Then one of the guys said a plane hit a building in New York City. I saw the TV and easily recognized the World Trade Center. It was smoldering and the footage was from a static skyline camera. Something horrible had happened. Then another plane hit. My stomach sank and I ran to the duty officer. I asked about my leave and he said to hang out in the barracks and wait for orders. Nobody was going anywhere and America was under attack. I made that dreaded phone call to deliver the news home and it took the remainder of the night to get through.

Even if I could have left Korea that morning, US airspace was restricted and all international flights were diverted, but I didn’t even get that far. The base was put on high security and everything was turned upside down. I spent the next couple of days working with my command on what to do and pulling guard duty. My then-wife had contacted the American Red Cross to elevate the need to get me on the first flight available. She also rescheduled the birth for another week, assuming she could make it. We worked the issue day and night. She on her side with doctors and the Red Cross and me with hunting down the right level of permission to leave. I finally had a Brigadier General at division headquarters sign off on my paperwork. I was on the first outbound flight available and made it home on 9/19. My daughter was born the next day. The joy of the moment was nestled in the tragedy that had the country in it’s grip. As uncertain as the times were, she made it and we were together.

She grew to be an amazing kid. Smart and thoughtful. Sadly, as these crime and punishment scenarios go, I won’t know how she turned out for many more years, if ever. She turns 18 years old in nine days and every year that rolls around in remembrance of the tragedy of 9/11, I think about who she is, and now, who she’ll be as an adult. Is she just as smart and thoughtful? Is she stronger than the tragedy she was forged in? I like to think so. I like to think tragedy is a mile marker on life’s highway and not the vehicle. I think about a lot of shit. God bless our families who learned to survive the worst. Never forget the ones who didn’t…

by Rory Andes

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