WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Sept. 9, 2014) -- Most people remember where they were on 9/11. Michelle and Clifton Cottom certainly do, and said they think about it all the time.
Their 11-year-old daughter, Asia SiVon Cottom, was on Flight 77 that day, with other children. They had won an essay contest and were going to a school event in San Diego, sponsored by the National Geographic Society. At 9:37 a.m., terrorists flew the plane into the Pentagon.
On Sept. 9, 2014, the couple visited the Pentagon Memorial, dedicated to the 184 souls who died that day, both on the plane and in the building. Since they live in the D.C. area, they occasionally visit the memorial.
Backing up in time, Michelle enlisted in the Army, in 1980. She said that she was always athletic as a kid, so while basic training was tough, she was prepared for it.
After basic, she became a 72E telecommunications operator, which at the time, involved operating computers and teletype machines, she explained.
In 1986, Michelle was badly injured when a military vehicle struck her on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. She received a medical discharge.
Although her time in the Army was relatively short, she said her experiences would help prepare her for the unthinkable tragedy on 9/11.
"We initially didn't know Asia was on the plane," she said, "so we were searching to find her. The training I received in the Army, is you don't panic under pressure. That's one of the attributes I learned; how to move through a crisis but still be stable in the face of adversity."
She said that training helped her that day, and during the days, weeks and months that followed.
The tragedy was also hard for their only other child, a son who was 17 at the time, and who now works at the VA Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
The 9/11 tragedy was further compounded by people wanting to profit from suffering, Clifton said.
"Media would follow us around, and people would sell bracelets with Asia's name on them," Cottom recalled. "There are still websites out there selling stuff like that."
The visit to the Pentagon Memorial gives them a sense of peace. The memorial benches are arranged by age group, something Michelle said she appreciates. She added that "they did a beautiful job."
Beneath each memorial bench is running water in a small pool, and each memorial bench has the person's name etched on the front. Asia's memorial is one of the first one visitors encounter as they enter the area.
Nearby are memorials to Bernard Brown II and Rodney Dickens, both born in 1990, the same year as Asia. They too had won essay contests in D.C. public schools, and were on the trip.
Michelle said they've become close with the parents of the two children.
Several years ago, the Cottoms were given a tour inside the Pentagon of the 9/11 Remembrance Corridor.
But just visiting the Pentagon and the memorial, and meeting with the families of the other victims, was not enough.
The Cottoms wanted to honor Asia's life and help others. So they organized the Asia SiVon Cottom Foundation and the Asia SiVon Cottom Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Its mission is to provide financial assistance to deserving students who have excelled academically, with special consideration given to students interested in math, science and information technology, Michelle explained.
This year, the Cottoms wrote a book as well: "Asia's New Wings: The Untold Story of a Young Girl Lost On 9/11."
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