Just as my parents remember exactly where they were when JFK was shot and killed, I have very pristine memories of where I was and what I was doing on the morning of 9/11/01. I was working as a school psychologist in a rural county outside Nashville and we were having a meeting with our special education director when the secretary interrupted with an important phone call. It our supervisor’s husband, announcing to us a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Before the conversation ended, another plane had hit the second Tower.
Lives changed forever…or did they? This is the question I often ask myself. How has my life changed in the past 12 years? Obviously, this national tragedy became my passion at some point – but not immediately and unfortunately, not quickly enough. I didn’t start helping Soldiers and their loved one until the Fall of 2006 – FIVE YEARS after 9/11. That’s embarrassing to me. I have lived in a town populated by over 30,000 active duty Soldiers – that doesn’t even touch the National Guard and Reservists who also live here…who’ve also been deployed. And I did NOTHING for five years!
What I know, what I’ve researched, what I’ve lived in my office with these amazing Soldiers, Veterans, and their loved ones is that their lives changed dramatically. Their basic truths of living were deemed false…a family of four became a temporary family of three and sadly, some are forever a family of three because the truth of war is that not every hero returns home. What I know is that many of the heroes who did return home, came back with their souls missing in action…the video of their experiences has no pause button – it replays 24 hours a day, seven days a week and at times becomes more real rather than fading. What I know is that children have been raised without their daddy’s or mommy’s. They live in a wartorn blended family – where, as “nuclear families” they experience step-family development dynamics every other year. What I know is that the bravery, the weariness, the emotional trauma, the physical wounds, the relational heartbreak is real and it is relived every day by people who grew up believing in the same American dream you and I had…many of their dreams were exploded by an IED or an insurgent attack…
So, how has my life changed? In reality, not much at all. During World War II, 11% of the population was directly involved in the War – today, it’s less than 1%. During World War II, all of the factories in the US changed their mission, their production to support war time efforts – so, much so, that the car manufacturers went from producing new cars to planes, boats, tanks – all for the support of our troops. No new cars were produced from February 1942 until the end of 1944 – almost three years without any new vehicles made in the United States. Ummm…how many new cars have you had in the 12 years since 9/11? Sugar was rationed, Victory Gardens were shared, tin cans were recycled – even pantyhose were rationed. Life was changed for all of Americans during WWII…this is the longest war in the history of the United States – how has your life changed?