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Remembering New York

New York City, September 2000

We had been planning this trip for some time. My mom and I would travel to New Jersey every two years or so to visit family, drive by our childhood homes and neighborhoods, and eat the most amazing food in the country. Call us biased, but nothing is better than New York Pizza or North Jersey Bagels with 2 inches of cream cheese. 

I had a strange sense of home mixed with the feelings of an outsider when I visited New Jersey. It was where my Grandparents were, as well as my Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins. It was where my parents were born. I suppose you could call it home, but, being a military child, I wasn’t really from there—or anywhere.

Each visit to New Jersey had criteria. There were places we must go to every single time. 1. As many diners as we could handle, 2. the track to bet on the horses, 3. that incredible ice cream shop, 4. Atlantic City, or, of course, 5. New York City. 

My Uncle Bob was our host for every visit. I loved being in North Jersey where he lived. It was just fantastic! The way you could walk down the streets of Hawthorne, N.J. and visit the butcher shop, the deli, the bakery—we didn’t live that way in Texas. We had HEB Grocery. You could literally live in Hawthorne and not own a car. That just blew my mind.

It was Sept. 2000 when we landed in Newark. Sept. 2, to be exact. Like any flight into Newark, the New York City skyline welcomed you with its wonder, magic, and those twin towers. They were like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. They were New York!

I don’t remember the exact timeline of our vacation that year. What I do remember most of all is being in New York City on Monday, Sept. 11, 2000. 

We hopped on a train, a subway, and a boat, and Wallah! We’re in NYC! And, since Hawthorne was just over the Hudson from NYC, we didn’t have to spend the night there.

I just loved the city. I loved the smells, the noise, the action. My uncle wasn’t too thrilled to be there, but he humored me just the same. There were so many places to see in NYC that I never made it to them all. I never made it to the World Trade Center.

During that trip into the city, I picked up a weekly newspaper called The Village Voice. On the cover stood a businessman on a Fall colored leaf floating down from a tall building. At the time, that photo meant nothing. I kept that paper. I’m not sure why. But my heart sinks a little when I look at it now. The paper was full of things to do, plays to see, concerts, movies, and all the wonderfulness of NYC.

Ads inside the magazine depicted the Twin Towers as a normal part of the backdrop. Just a normal, will always be there, oh, we can see them next year…yadda yadda, part of the backdrop. How could anyone have imagined what would befall this great city and those very buildings just one year later?

Back in Texas, ten pounds heavier—thanks, Jersey!—life goes on. Mom and I began planning our next visit to N.J. in April 2002.

Looking back, I can’t remember anything about the following year. I was a single mom, just going to work and home every day. I remember Bush had been elected President. That was exciting since he was the Texas Governor. Other than that, I, along with one million-plus other Americans, did what we do. 

I lived and worked in Central Texas in a town called Temple that neighbored Fort Hood, now Fort Cavazos. I had ties to Fort Hood because of my dad, a medically retired army staff sergeant. I felt at home when we went to the base for groceries or the doctor. I remember, back then, anyone could drive on base. You could just drive on in—no guards, no security.

Fast forward to September 2001

I don’t have to write any more about that day. You know. You were there. As Americans, we see the images, and every moment of that morning comes flooding back, no matter where we were at the time.

After September 11th, America had come together in a patriotic fervor. For Central Texas, home of Fort Hood, residents rallied around military families, smiled at strangers, and all those other feel-good things we did on Sept. 12.

There was always a sense of pride living close to Fort Hood. The nightly boom coming from training missions of the III Armored Corps would be so loud you would feel it in your bones. It was also common to see M1 Abrams Tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles being transported along 1-90, a flight of Apache Helicopters overhead, and, for decades, Central Texans had enjoyed the annual Draughon-Miller Airshow that would feature aerial performances by WWII Aircraft, complete with parachute jumpers. 

Even though Central Texas is a collection of small towns, Fort Hood’s annual 4th of July Firework Show would out-patriotism any fireworks show in a big city—I can promise you! Central Texans loved their relationship with Fort Hood. But on Sept. 11, 2001, we had an overwhelming sense of foreboding, knowing our troops—our neighbors—would be called to the fight.

III Corps, Fort Hood, Texas

In 2001, the corps included the 1st Cavalry Division, the 4th Infantry Division, the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, and the 13th Corps Support Command. Central Texans lived and worked alongside upwards of 50,000 troops and their families. When a Division deploys, local life feels the impact.

In early 2003, Fort Hood’s 4th Infantry Division headed to Iraq; later that year, elements of the 4ID 1st Brigade Combat Team would participate in Operation Red Dawn and the capture of Saddam Hussein. Just as 4ID returned, Fort Hood’s 1st Cavalry Division deployed in the spring of 2004. It was like one of those rotating doors: one Division in, one Division out, and so on. 

What didn’t stop were the weekly memorial services for the fallen.

Going Back to NYC

We did go back, Mom and me. We returned to N.J. in April 2002, just as planned. Once again, we flew to Newark, but so much had changed. Yes, the NYC skyline had changed, but so had everything else. The train ride and subway were somber. The life had been sucked out of NYC and its people. They appeared tired, worn, and sad—very sad.

We made our way to the city via the Liberty Landing Ferry that dropped its passengers at Liberty Park and Warren Street. Once on solid ground, we walked quietly along the city streets. The vibrance of NYC was diminished with a covering of dust that lay over everything. There was a hush where you would once have heard street performers and hot dog vendors. No one smiled, and the heaviness was breathtaking. 

It was only six months from that dreadful day, and you could feel the terror and sadness in the air. I remember seeing a Burger King that still had a medical emergency symbol etched into the dust of its windows. There were massive ruts in the pavement from construction vehicles along the empty streets, and the buildings near the World Trade Center that remained standing were draped in giant black veils.

I got my tickets to the World Trade Center that day. On the tickets, it read, “WTC:00 Viewing Platform”. I wasn’t headed to the 107th floor of the South Tower. Instead, I was heading to a viewing stand made of wood that overlooked the destruction. Hundreds of photos of those who had perished or were still missing were attached along the platform and many fences. There were flags, banners, keepsakes, and messages from around the world. And there were tears—many tears.

The Years that Followed

In the years that followed, I would marry a soldier. That is another story of its own.

My next visit to Ground Zero was in 2004, just months after my husband had deployed to Iraq. It was still very painful to be there. This time, there was another level to the pain. There were the losses of Sept. 11, 2001, and now, all those who had been lost since in the War on Terror. Americans were still dying because of 9/11. 

I remember standing in front of FDNY Ten House, just across from the World Trade Center site, when an overcome by an incredibly powerful sadness. Sorrow for the losses on that day, for the parents losing their sons and daughters at war, for everything.

During that trip in 2004, my father, my son, and I also made stops at the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 was lost. Visiting those sites impacted me in ways I cannot explain. The experience made me stronger and more resolute. It helped me become a better American, a better mom, and a better military spouse.

What I Remember

It’s been 19 years since my last visit to NYC. Throughout that time, I have been honored to have met and served alongside the most amazing people in this world. I call it “service” because being a military spouse, parent, or part of a Rear Detachment, is service. We waere the home front. We held each other up through sadness, fear, and loss. We were a part of something. 

In my reverence, I remember the people, the passion, the commitment, and the honor. I remember the losses, and I remember the wins, too. I remember the tears, and the laughter, and the hope.

And I will always remember New York.

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