FORT POLK, La. — Sept. 11, 2001, began like most every day for my spouse, Susan, and me — getting ready to go to work.
As was my custom, I had a quick breakfast, took care of personal hygiene, and then began getting dressed for my job as a reporter at The News-Star, a daily newspaper in Monroe, La.
While getting dressed each morning, I typically turned the TV to CNN and watched Robin Meade give the morning news stories. That morning, when I tuned in shortly after 7:45 a.m. Central Time, it was a scene of mass hysteria as footage showed a jet crashing into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.
Reporters were at a loss as to how a commercial jet could have flown that far off track. I remember calling out to Susan to come look at the carnage being broadcast around the world. As we watched in disbelief, the unthinkable happened: A second commercial aircraft plowed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I remember thinking: This is no accident.
Susan had the same thought as she turned to me and said, “You know, our son is going to war.”
Our son, Justin, was in Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, when the Twin Towers were attacked. He had joined the Army earlier that year and had completed Basic and Advanced Infantry training before beginning airborne training.
After Jump School, he was hustled off to the Army’s Ranger Indoctrination Program — also at Fort Benning — before being assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, Georgia. And, proving his mother’s prophetical comment, two weeks later he was headed to Afghanistan to participate in Operation Enduring Freedom.
Susan spent eight years in the Army, and I spent a career, but we never had anything close to combat. The only assignment we had where we were even issued field gear or a weapon was at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The rest of our assignments — U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command Field Stations in Okinawa, Japan, San Antonio, Texas, and Augsburg, Germany — were either shift work or 9-to-5. Sure, we had PT (when it was convienient) and qualified with the M16 (using borrowed weapons at Marine Corps or U.S. Air Force ranges), but for the most part, we were sheltered from what combat arms Soldiers faced.
While at Fort Bragg, the Panama invasion took place, but we were not involved, and in Augsburg, the first Gulf War occurred, but again, the only impact we had was increased security entering the kasernes or PX parking lot.
But this was different. True, Susan and I weren’t deploying, but our son was. While he was in Afghanistan, we rarely heard from him due to operation security concerns. We received enough information to learn he was still alive and fairly healthy, but that was about it.
We met him at Hunter Army Airfield when his unit returned from Afghanistan and all was well again — for a season. When he injured his back and was reassigned to the 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, he was on his way to Kuwait, where his unit was in the vanguard that crossed into Iraq March 20, 2003, as President George W. Bush officially launched Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Once again, Susan and I experienced the same situation faced by the families of those who have gone to war for millennia — was our loved one safe? We were fortunate; we learned early on that David Bloom, a reporter from MSNBC, was embedded with Justin’s unit, and we were able to follow his track daily. As his unit was not reporting any casualties, we were fairly certain that Justin was OK.
Then on April 6, 2003, Bloom died from a blood clot that moved from his leg to his lung, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. Not only did we lose the link to our son, the nation also lost a hero who kept so many parents, spouses and other Family members informed on their Soldier’s whereabouts.
I’m happy to report that Justin survived both conflicts and is now married to a wonderful lady and father to a beautiful little girl. They live up north and we visit by Facetime weekly and in person as often as COVID-19 will allow.
But Sept. 11, 2001, will always stick in my memory as my generation’s Day of Infamy. It’s one of those events that if you were old enough to remember, you’ll not only never forget, but you’ll even recall what you were doing at the time.