Saturday, September 10, 2011

Remembering

If my blog is what it says it is - A glimpse inside my life and writing by Peter Patrick Langella - then who would I be if I didn't share my story from 9/11/01.

It was the first day of class my senior year at boarding school in Massachusetts. I had just finished an amazing preseason football training camp and a class camping trip/retreat. Our football team was looking good. We were returning almost all of our starters from the previous year, and we had Patriots legend John Hannah helping out as a volunteer coach. I was one of the leaders in my dorm, trusted to be in charge of an entire floor of sophomores. I was also being pretty heavily recruited by a lot of great schools to play hockey in college. I had a lot of options. I barely had a care in the world.

I went to history class in one of the small rooms at the rear of our student center, the French Building. On the way out, I headed for the main student area. I was on my way to the snack bar to buy a bagel. I was joking around with a friend. The first thing I noticed was the silence. The French Building was never silent. There was a huge TV in the corner to my right. I realized everybody was staring at it. The first plane had already crashed. The tower was billowing smoke. Someone behind me laughed. They didn't mean it in a bad way. They just didn't know how to react. None of us did. This kind of thing wasn't supposed to happen to us, on our home soil.

Some of my classmates were from NYC. One girl screamed. Others were on their phones, trying to get a hold of their families. I was frozen, silent like most of the crowd. It felt like we were watching a movie. It couldn't be real. When the second plane crashed, we knew it was. I can't remember one word that any of the news reporters were saying. I wasn't listening. I could only watch. The rest of my senses were numb. I don't know how long I watched for. I don't remember who was standing next to me. I don't know what I was wearing. I only know what it felt like when I saw the towers collapse. It was as if I was completely frozen in time. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't move. I was completely stuck in place, lifeless. When all of the feeling began to seep back in, the fear started to take over.

I rushed outside, stood in the shade of the large oak tree, and called my mom. The first thought that entered my mind was that I didn't want to enter the military. I told her that I didn't want to. West Point was recruiting me to play hockey, and they had quite a recruiting pitch. The package they could offer was unmatchable: a full scholarship plus military per diem and benefits starting right away. No only would I not have to pay for college, they were actually going to pay me to go to school there and play hockey. But, as soon as I saw that tower fall, I knew that was no longer an option. As far as I was concerned, I didn't care if I never talked to those nice men from West Point ever again.

I knew our country. I knew that we would fight. I knew that young soldiers would die. And, I knew that I didn't want to be part of it. My mom tried to calm me down. She said she loved me. She said that I didn't have to do anything I didn't want to do. I cried.

I don't think I knew anyone who died that day, but I feel deeply for the affected families of victims and responders. I have had many friends serve overseas since 9/11. Two of them died in action. Most made it home in one piece. Some are still over there, wherever there may be. I think of them often, and I'm thinking of them tonight.

I don't regret my choice. Military service was not for me. I chose to serve future generations in another way. I chose to write. I hope I can make the most of my opportunity.

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