I was a sophomore in college in 2001 at the University of Missouri. I shared an off campus apartment with my best friend, Roxi. On the morning of September 11, I was sleeping because I did not do morning classes. Roxi, however, was just the opposite and was already at school.
It was 10am and I was soundly sleeping when my phone started blowing up. I was not pleased given that I didn’t have class until 1300. I answered and it was Roxi. She was screaming, “Turn on the TV!! Turn on the TV!!” I fumbled for my remote and flipped on the TV. By this time the towers were enormous piles of smoking rubble. I was replays of the first tower fall and the second be struck by the jet and its subsequent fall. Of course this was on all of the TV stations. I was in shock, in solidarity with the rest of America.
I made my class at 1300 because we had a test. It was psychology 210. As I walked into the room, the wall mounted TV was on and the destruction again burned my corneas. My professor was a young, attractive woman with sort of a sultry voice. She walked in and simply said, “In light of today’s events, I am postponing the test until next week.” She then walked out of the room. I never saw that professor again. A month later I would learn that her father was a battalion chief in New York City and his remains were never found.
As I walked around campus, there was a quiet buzz as people spoke. I overheard words like “terrorism” and “Muslims” and “suicide jihadists.” As a Political Science major, I understood the consequence of what had just occurred in our country. By 1600, we knew this was an intentional attack. All commercial flights were grounded and America was paralyzed.
September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday. By Thursday I watched four classmates explain to our instructors that they were reserve or guard members and that they had been activated. I was in awe at the idea of 20 year olds, just like me, were getting ready to do the unimaginable. They were literally going into the unknown. They were brave, but I know they were scared. We were all scared.
My family, staunchly Democrat, was cringing at The President’s demeanor in the days following the attacks. Never a fan of Bush, my Grandpa Jenks, a highly decorated and wounded WWII veteran, said to me, “Liz, if he’s in charge for the duration, this will be your generation’s Vietnam. We don’t have a President Truman to end this one.” How right he would be.
Grandpa would leave us in May 2003 and he died horrified, that again we were fighting a two wars at once, just as his generation did six decades earlier.
Little did I know, a Senior Airman named Zachary Hershley was sitting in Tech School at Shepherd Air Force Base. He was rushed through his tech school and by late February of 2002, he was in Kuwait, staging for invasion into Iraq.
I wouldn’t meet SRA Hershley, until he was Staff Sergeant Hershley in late 2004. I met him for the first time as he wore a flight suit. I thought he was pompous and he thought I was stuck up. Within six months I was a military wife in a post-911 world.
My husband would be wounded and forever scarred while serving our country. Our country was wounded and scarred as well. Our country would heal, SSgt Zachary Hershley would not.
Each year, as the world “Remembers 911” or “Never Forgets” or whatever the popular slogan is on that particular year’s anniversary, it reminds this family that this is date that began our nightmare of being used, abused, and forgotten by those SSgt Hershley promised to serve.
September 11th is not a time for mourning for us; it is a time of anger and hurt at our government, the Air Force, and even some of our fellow citizens who got to “go on” with their lives. September 11th is a reminder of the hell that we live every day, where each year the flames are just as hot as the one before.
Wife of OIF/OEF Veteran SSgt Zachary Hershley, wounded.