On September 11, 2001 the world watched as terrorists attacked New York City and Washington D.C., killing nearly 3,000 people in one of the most devastating terrorist attacks ever committed on American soil. Between 1989 to 2008 a total of 22 veterans died at or near Ground Zero due to cancer related issues that were caused by their time spent there during 9/11.
Not long after this tragedy happened, many other health problems arose among those who served at Ground Zero including respiratory diseases such as asthma and cancers like leukemia from prolonged exposure to toxins released into the air spread out over an area more than 400 acres wide when buildings collapsed onto themselves .
The “military cuts 2021” is a topic that has been on the minds of many Americans. The “Not something you should ever really see’: Veterans Reflect on 9/11” is a blog post from the veterans who were there during the attacks.
Bryan Stern, a Spc., was hungover. It was a bright near-autumn day, but he didn’t want to be anywhere except bed after a night of partying to wish a buddy goodbye.
He was stationed in Lower Manhattan with the 227th Military Intelligence Company, which is based at 7 World Trade Center, and he was taking the train from Brooklyn to work, wishing he had remained at home on September 11, 2001.
He told Military Times, “I was having a sluggish, slow morning.” “I was just in my own little world,” she says.
Despite his struggles, he maintained his regular habit, stopping at a street cart every morning to buy a bagel and coffee.
The cart owner remarked, “My buddy, I’m so glad you’re alright.” Stern, who was not in the best of moods, inquired as to what he meant.
The cart owner raised his hand, pointing up to the blazing hole in the side of One World Trade Center.
Lt. Amy McGrath was sound asleep at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, California, when her sister phoned to urge her to turn on the television. The World Trade Center had been struck by an aircraft.
“I hung up and figured it was probably just a Cessna,” she said.
Stern went to the building after being unable to contact anybody using his old mobile phone. He hoped to be able to help with whatever had occurred.
He said, “I thought they needed assistance.” “I had a lot of medical expertise, so I went down and found myself just north of the South Tower, right in the middle of it.”
The second tower was then hit by an aircraft.
He replied, “I felt it on my face.” “The second tower’s escape hole was just above me. ‘Holy crap, I’m going to be clobbered with all this stuff,’ I thought.
McGrath turned on the TV just in time to witness video of the aircraft colliding with the ground. Her order instructed her to go to the base.
“I put on my flight suit, flying boots, and went in my car,” she said. “I was one of the first air crew on the base that morning since I lived so near to the gate.”
Staff Sgt. Stefan Still was assigned to the Army’s Old Guard at Fort Myer, which is located just outside of Washington, D.C., and three miles from the Pentagon.
He described the morning as “simply lovely.” “It’s like the first morning when the temperature dropped and it felt like autumn for the first time.”
He and others of his battalion were listening to the radio after PT, waiting for assignments, when they heard about the accident in New York. They changed the channel on the television to CNN.
Then their building began to tremble. The Pentagon had been hit by Flight 77.
“I can see the smoke rising up as I open the door,” he said.
Still, he told his men to contact their loved ones and let them know they were safe. At the moment, he dialed his wife’s number, who was still asleep. As she switched on the television, she shouted.
“Seeing F-16s churning and burning over the barracks while you’re under combat air patrol protecting the nation’s capital is a really strange feeling,” Still added. “It’s not something you should ever witness in person.”
Col. Randy Rosin was based in Tampa, Florida, at US Central Command. While he thought the first aircraft smash into the side of the North Tower was an accident, he soon started to piece together what was going on after the second tower was hit.
He said, “We had all this activity going on, this talk – they dubbed it the ‘grand wedding.’” “In August, an intelligence report was released, predicting that something major would occur. However, it was put in Africa rather than New York.”
He realized that the information regarding this large-scale al-Qaida event was accurate about everything except the location where the second aircraft struck the south tower.
Rosin, who had previously worked on preparations for a response to the USS Cole bombing — an al-Qaida suicide assault on the guided missile ship on Oct. 12, 2000 in Yemen – saw a link between the two incidents.
“I began to think, ‘Holy sh*t.’ ‘This is the big wedding,’ she says.
Stern was wounded on the surface and was bleeding profusely. People were yelling and fleeing in all directions. He was treated by medics and returned to the towers’ base to continue assisting. A few employees in the buildings even started leaping, spreading despair and fear.
Then the second tower started to crumble.
Stern said, “I fled north.” “My grand plan was to get on the West Side Highway and escape. It’s impossible to put into words. I recall thinking to myself, “I’m going to die,” and “I hope I’m found and it’s not too painful.”
Stern huddled behind a vehicle and waited to die as the cloud of rubble swept over everything in sight. He reappeared minutes or hours later, his mouth full of soot, and made his way back to Ground Zero. He ran into a buddy along the road.
On September 11, debris from the World Trade Center was found at ground zero. (FEMA)
Looking for a restroom, the two came upon 340 West Street, a Bloomberg office with a generator, which was the only building with lights on. The duo tried to build up a mobile command center with the help of a lingering employee to guide survivors trapped in lower Manhattan to safety.
Stern went outside for a smoke when he saw something strange.
“There’s a little city bus station with no glass,” he said. “When I glanced down, I saw this American flag. It’s all crumpled and jumbled up, and it was probably strewn over a building before.”
He took it up, draped it over the building’s entrance, and he and his buddy dialed 911 to contact survivors in the city.
They replied, “Just tell them to search for the flag.”
McGrath had never flown in combat before, but was instructed to board a jet and fly it to the runway’s edge, where the engines would be left running while he awaited further instructions.
McGrath said, “I imagined situations in my mind.” “Could we escort first?” I pondered. We weren’t prepared for this. We were kind of making it up as we went along, hoping to avoid having to do the unthinkable.”
Amy McGrath, a Marine fighter pilot, performed combat missions in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
She anticipated instructions to fire down any hijacked planes heading for heavily populated areas or important structures on the West Coast – planes carrying civilians, American men, women, and children.
That was never the case. McGrath was relieved after many hours, but she realized this was just the beginning of her troubles.
The orders for Still arrived the following day. His unit was one of many to be sent to the Pentagon’s recovery mission.
“It’s one thing to watch it on TV,” he said. “However, pulling up to the site itself is an another story. It’s still smoldering and burning.”
His mission was to rescue victims from the wreckage. His team was in charge of the lower levels. He considered himself fortunate since there were fewer undamaged corpses there.
“We understood at one time that much of what we were dealing with was a human,” Still added. “However, since it was just a foot or a hand away from you, as opposed to the upper levels, you could simply detach yourself from what was going on. They were dealing with individuals who had perished as a result of inhaling smoke.”
The events of September 11th were a turning point in Stern’s career and life. He left the Army and joined the Navy, where he worked in intelligence and special operations for the next 20 years, and devoted most of his time to homeland security.
He is reminded of that bright Tuesday every day as he exits his home. In his living area, he proudly displays the flag that acted as a light for survivors at 340 West Street. He recently reframed it, and it immediately transported him to lower Manhattan.
“It still stinks,” he said. “When I pulled it out of the frame, it smelt like dust and dead people. Because it still smells like Ground Zero, I had to go for a walk.”
Stern claimed he couldn’t go near building sites for years after 9/11 because of the smell of concrete and the perspiration of the employees.
For those who served, remembering the events of the day may be tough.
“How do you go from witnessing all of that to coming home and seeing your family, wife, and dog?” Still, it was stated. “I believe there was a lot of rage in my heart.”
Despite this, he was discharged from the Army when his unit did not go to Afghanistan or Iraq. He considered returning so that he might serve in a combat unit, but he eventually decided to leave the military after two more years. He maintains contact with members of the unit with whom he served on September 11th.
He did mention, though, how the events that followed the assault affected the military’s fabric.
“Every single person who enlisted after September 11th understood they were going to war,” Still added. “I’m not sure whether I would have done it knowing 100 percent, and I’ll be going to Afghanistan or Iraq shortly after basic training.”
McGrath said the military has made tremendous advances in inclusiveness and diversity in the past two decades of war that would not have happened if it hadn’t been for 9/11.
McGrath stated, “When we went to battle, we were the first women to deploy in these positions.” “We were extremely conscious that we were the first, not just from a fighting perspective, but also from the standpoint of the maintainers and mechanics that came out. This was the first time a combat unit like ours had been merged with women who were really fighting.”
She claims that the way women stepped up to fight in combat positions during the Global War on Terror is one of the reasons why, in 2015, all military professions in all four branches were made available to women.
“Our combat success was a major part of why no one could properly make the case that we should keep these doors locked to women, to all these other jobs,” she said. “I’m not sure that would have occurred if it hadn’t been for our post-9/11 combat time.”
McGrath served in both Afghanistan and Iraq before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 2017. She ran for Sen. Mitch McConnell’s Kentucky seat in 2020 and lost. But now she’ll be a college professor of national security studies.
President Joe Biden has pledged to withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan this summer, after four administrations and almost two decades of conflict. Veterans of America’s longest war have concerns about the withdrawal and evacuation, which was completed on Aug. 31.
“We’re asking ourselves whether our families’ sacrifices, as well as the sacrifices of those who lost their lives and their families, who were our friends, were all worth it?” McGrath explained.
The Afghan National Army surrendered control to the Taliban in a matter of weeks, and ISIS-K assaulted evacuees, killing 13 US military personnel and 170 civilians.
“The Taliban has been gaining ground for at least a decade,” McGrath added. “Did anybody believe it could happen in four days — the Afghan government collapsing and the Taliban seizing control of the whole country? No.”
The events of August 2021 mark the end of an era for Rosin. His whole immediate family, including his daughter, has fought in this conflict in some way.
He added, “My wife completed three tours with USAID in Afghanistan, I did one, and our daughter did one.” “It threw our lives into disarray. And this was always going to happen once we announced we were leaving.”
McGrath now believes that the best way to avoid another 9/11 is to maintain the legacy of those who fought in the Global War on Terror.
“I want to remind individuals that their service was important since our nation hasn’t been targeted in the same way since 9/11 from Afghanistan for the past 20 years,” she added. “I don’t think we could have stated it if we hadn’t gone there, at least at first.”
While she is grieved by the events of the last month, she believes they should not detract from what the US military set out to accomplish twenty years ago.
McGrath said, “The original justifications for going in after 9/11 were correct and accurate.” “They had launched an assault on our nation, and they needed to be driven out. And I’m proud of the fact that we were able to do this. We accomplished it quickly, with the full support of the American people, and not just with the full support of the American public, but with the full support of the whole world.”
Military Times, one of our sister publications, first published this article.
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