Sunday, September 11, 2011

i remember

I was stationed in London and had been there for six months. It was the second day at my new job. I had just taken the sister missionaries to lunch at the American Embassy across the street from my office at Grosvenor Square and North Audley Street right in the heart of London, only three blocks from Hyde Park.

I walked back into my office to see that someone had turned on the television which was showing the images of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. "What movie are you guys watching?" I asked, because planes flying into the World Trade Center only happen in the movies. "It's not a movie. This is real and it just happened a few minutes ago," my leading petty officer explained.

We were immediately on lock down, the whole building. No one in without proper ID and definitely no one out, until we knew what the threat was for us. My roommate, SD, was a United Airlines flight attendant (and still is) was supposed to be in Boston that morning. My other roommate, JB, worked for a large printing company in the Financial District, she had called me to find out if we were evacuating or not, but instead had talked with an office mate who told her that he couldn't tell her anything without risking our own security.

Then word came that the Pentagon had been hit. We had people there on temporary duty. We scrambled to account for them and thankfully we did.

I called home and talked with my mom to tell her I was safe. She said that she figured I was because I was across the street from the Embassy and that was a safe place to be. I didn't have the heart to tell her we received weekly, if not daily, bomb threats. I told her I would call her when I got home and that I loved her. I also told her to tell my brother, Chris, happy 16th birthday. I didn't know when I would be able to talk to my family again. The conversation was less than two minutes and I went back to work.

I talked with my roommate who worked in London, who told me that SD hadn't flown to Boston, but instead had flown to India and had arrived back in London that morning. She was home safe in our apartment. That was when I started to sob. My Shipmates were concerned and relieved that my London family was safe, and then sternly told me to pull it together because I had a job to do.

I remember though that I wasn't exactly sure what my job was because I was still learning it. I remember thinking that we were probably going to be at the forefront of a lot of things. I knew our Nation would have a military response to this day. There was no way we wouldn't respond to this without our military might. I knew my life had changed and that someday I would go to war in the country that perpetrated these events. I knew all this then and six years later when I received a phone call telling me I was going to Afghanistan, it came as a shock, but I wasn't surprised because I already knew.

I left work that evening with a group of Shipmates, and we flagged down the first cab we saw and piled in for the short one mile journey to the train station. Our bosses didn't want groups of Americans walking on the street that evening. The driver heard our accents and in his East London accent expressed his sympathy. He was the first of many to share his sympathy with us.

My roommates and I went out for dinner at a fast food place, and young people stopped to talk with us. A young woman, not British, told me, that America deserved the attack because of our arrogance.  I remember being so hurt by what she said and simply replied that people from many nations were killed in the attack and did they deserve it as well? She had no reply and just walked away.

The next day we drove by Grosvenor Square to see the makeshift memorial that had been set up on a traffic island with a tree. We got out and walked over to take a look. Flowers and cards from Londoners were pouring in. London taxi drivers, who are a special brand of people--bless them, were pulling up in their cabs and handing flowers out through their windows to be put with the others. I saw Brendan Fraser, the actor, visiting with some people on the sidewalk near by. He was in town doing a production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Later that week, my roommate DC and I went to St. Paul's Cathedral for the memorial service, and miraculously were able to find our other roommate in the throngs of people outside the in the surrounding streets. We talked with those around us, Americans and others, about the events of the past days. It was a beautiful service.

A few days later my roommate SD and I went the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace where a tribute to the victims of 9/11 was planned. After the guards were changed, the American Ambassador and Prince Charles came out and a color guard presented our flag as they band played the National Anthem. It was so moving to be there for that tribute and to sing the words with the crowd with tears in my eyes. Then they played God Save the Queen (the tune is My Country 'Tis of Thee). As I stood there respectfully, a woman behind me started loudly singing, "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty..." I quickly turned and explained to her that it was not our song, but England's and she stopped singing. It was a moment of great solemnity and importance, because the Changing of the Guard had never played another country's anthem before. It was a great symbol of England's support.

The outpouring of support and sympathy from the people of London, and indeed all of England, was humbling and appreciated. I am grateful for the show of support and caring I received from my friends while I was there. The world is a good place, full of good people. I am grateful that during that particular time kindness and support were the  overwhelming responses, which I experienced.

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