By Brandon OConnorSeptember 11, 2019
NEW YORK, N.Y. -- Walking along the memorial wall surrounding the reflection pool where the North Tower once stood, Cadet Candidate William Sutton slowly read the names.
He knew the name he was looking for, but not where it was amongst the hundreds of names engraved on the wall. His dad's cousin had died on Sept. 11, 2001 after being trapped on one of the top floors of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the building.
Sutton, 18, never met her, but he grew up hearing about her from his dad. Now, as he visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum with his fellow cadet candidates from the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School he wanted to pay his respects.
He read and searched, slowly walking around the reflective pool before finding the name he'd been looking for engraved in the black wall surrounding the area where the tower once stood. Pausing, he stretched out his hand and rested it upon her name, honoring her and all those who died that day.
"My dad was really close with her," Sutton said. "That day, he couldn't get in touch with her. He was constantly calling her. He was supposed to be in class, but he just kept calling her and calling her and she never answered. Then later, (he) found out she was in the tower at the time."
The trip to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum has become an annual tradition on Sept. 10 for the cadet candidates at USMAPS. With the 18th anniversary of the attacks occurring Wednesday, this year's visit marked the first time members of the class were born the same year the attacks occurred.
They have spent their entire lives growing up in a world where the United States has been engaged in wars that started following the events of 9/11, and yet they willingly chose to serve in the Army and fight for the freedom the hijackers tried to take away that day.
"It just becomes more real for them," Maj. Anthony Chung, the USMAPS battalion tactical officer, said. "It was just stories. It's just news. Now they actually are there. Now they actually can say I was there at Ground Zero. I was there below. I got to hear the videos. I got to hear those calls. That changes a person. It makes a kid grow up a lot faster."
The cadet candidates had the chance while walking through the museum to see the remnants of the attack including steel beams twisted by the impact of the planes and gear used by the firefighters as they rushed to save people, as well as hear the voices of survivors recounting their day.
"It is always the fire truck that gets me," Cadet Candidate Daisjha Parks, who was making her second visit to the museum, said. "There was Station 3 and all 11 of those firefighters, people who had just worked the midnight shift, people who were on the morning shift, all came in to go help, and they all died. It makes my heart heavy every single time knowing they all really wanted to save as many people as they could."
For Cadet Candidate Michael Nizwantowski, it was the In Memoriam room that left a lasting impression. From the floor to the ceiling, the room is covered in the faces and names of the more the 2,000 people who died in the attack while displays in the room tell their stories and introduce visitors to them.
As a prior-service cadet candidate, Nizwantowski is older than many of his classmates and remembers 9/11 occurring. His parents have also worked to remind him over the years of what happened and the impact it had. Despite the images he has seen over the years and the stories he has heard, and being in a museum filled with artifacts and details about the attack, it was in the In Memoriam room where the human toll of the day truly came alive.
"Looking at all the faces and all the names, it really hits home being the biggest cause of terror that's happened in the United States," Nizwantowski said. "It definitely motivates me. It's a part of this country's history that everybody wishes wasn't there, but fires this nation's military up to charge on and fight on and to serve and protect this country so something like that doesn't happen again."