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Tragedy Turned Triumph

POSTED September 8, 2009 1:07 p.m.

Will we ever stop talking about the events of 9/11 and all that it entails? My hope of course is that we will not. In my opinion, it was undoubtedly an event, which not only altered this country but the world — forever.

When discussing it recently during a staff meeting a fellow colleague likened it to the moment John F. Kennedy was shot and what that meant to so many who were living then. For those living during that time, it is a moment they have not forgotten. To this day, many still talk about ‘remembering where they were or what they were doing when JFK was shot.’

Now, eight years later, many of us not only recall, but clearly remember that sunny day in September. The day when terrorists decided to make a mockery of the symbolism of 911 and change its meaning or at least the way it is viewed forever.

As we recently discussed it in our staff meeting, now eight years later, I realized a few things for the first time.

The first and most ironic was that if there had not been a 9/11, I more than likely would not have landed a job here at the paper.

In late August of that same year my husband deployed to Japan for a two-year assignment with the U.S. Navy. With no children and few responsibilities, our plans were simple. As he traveled from port to port on varying assignments and deployments, I would fly to meet him. My passport waiting at the ready, for my next travel adventure. Weeks later, this plan was obviously put to rest.

The Christmas which followed 9/11 was the first and last — might I add — time I penned a ‘Christmas Letter.’ As a military couple, so many were concerned and curious how things would now change for us. Between September and December like many Americans, I did a lot of reflecting. It was a time when I felt it necessary that those who surrounded us not only know we loved them, but truly appreciated them as well.

That Christmas Letter, the only one I ever penned, was the writing sample I submitted to the newspaper in February of 2002. With no formal writing experience and lacking a degree in Journalism, it was all I had. During my interview with the Managing Editor at the time, I learned it was that letter, which prompted him to call me.

Oddly enough, the events of 9/11 not only changed our travel plans, but seemingly overnight my husband’s chosen career path was viewed in a whole new light.

Before I go any further, I feel the need to preface this with two things. First, being that the job he had chosen always had made not only myself, but our family extremely proud. More importantly the perspective I am about to share is based simply on our experience as a military couple, integrated into a civilian world. I do not see myself as representative for what other men and women in uniform may have experienced prior to 9/11.

In the mid ‘90s my husband made the decision that the Navy would be his career path. We, as a couple, decided the 20 years of service was something we were not only up for — but dedicated to.

Mind you this was during the boom of Silicon Valley, formerly known as San Jose and the Bay Area Peninsula. Many from our circle of friends spent their days hopping from start-up to start-up and nights discussing their portfolios. Their lives could best be likened to a strategic chess match and the thought of staying anywhere beyond five years, let alone 20 was unimaginable.

Prior to 9/11 there was also a different respect given to enlisted personnel in uniform, by our generation and younger. I can recall many a chuckle we would share, leaving parties or gatherings thrown by friends. Often we would joke that some seemed to regard military service as a step above a welfare recipient, many times pointing out it was their tax dollars paying our way. Arrogant, I know, but once a common thought among Gen Xers.

This of course should not be confused with the respect and gratitude always offered by Baby Boomers and older. Our friend’s parents often asked more about my husband and his latest assignment than my contemporaries. General concern was not only expressed but felt.

Tragically, the events of September 11, 2001 changed much of all I have shared. Suddenly our mailbox was filled. Random people would welcome him home and thank him for his service. ‘Freedom isn’t free’ had caught on and with it came a whole new respect for those in uniform.

Now, eight years later my hope is not only that we never forget, but that we never go back. Our time in the service is now a memory we will share with out children and someday our grandchildren.

I am proud to be the wife of a retired Navy chief. It is a job, a lifestyle, a path not taken by many. As soldiers continue to come home from the aftermath of what began that sunny day in September, I hope that we as ‘taxpayers’ remember they are not indebted to us. Rather we are indebted to them and the choices they have made on our behalf.

 

Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at thammond@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.

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