Age Sept. 11,2001: 18
What he was doing: Sleeping
Bryan Lucas was sleeping in his room at Georgetown University. He woke to a frantic phone call from his mother.
“A lot of people that were kind of like,‘What’s going to happen?’ ‘Is America going to become under attack like Pearl Harbor?’ ‘Is this a start of a World War III?’” Lucas said. “It was just very much what the hell just happened?”
Lucas said 9/11 put his life into perspective. A friend working in one of the towers survived only because he was outside on break.
“I think 9/11 had the impact of ‘What are you doing with your life’?” Lucas said. “If it’s all going to end tomorrow,are you happy with where you’re at?”
He decided the answer was no and joined the military in September 2003.
“Having 9/11,I was like,OK,let me do something for these people,for the country,” Lucas said.
He served in the Navy until June 2010,and never went to Iraq or Afghanistan,despite volunteering to go. Instead,he worked in a hospital in Guam and did search and rescue missions in California.
He is studying at Georgetown University. He wants to become a doctor and work in emergency medicine.
Age Dec. 7,1941: 11
What she was doing: Listening to the radio
Retired Brig. Gen. Wilma Vaught was 11 years old when she heard about the attacks on the radio. Despite her age,she said she knew what was going on.
“I understood that America had been attacked and that this was very serious,” Vaught said. “It was something that you felt.”
At her school in Illinois,children in fifth grade and below weren’t allowed to listen to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech the next day,but she strained her ears to hear it playing elsewhere in her school.
“I was furious that they wouldn’t let us go down and listen,” Vaught said. “They just felt we weren’t old enough to fully understand what the president would be saying.”
Unable to join the military,she contributed in other ways,such as picking ears of corn farmers missed in the fields to provide food for people.
“There was hardly anybody that wasn’t doing something,” Vaught said.
Once she was old enough,she joined the Army and served for 28½ years.
She said people are beginning to forget Pearl Harbor,something she’s afraid will also happen for 9/11.
“All of us will remember it for a certain amount of time,but then it will be largely forgotten,” she said.
Vaught,president of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation,was at home getting ready for work on 9/11 when the director of the memorial called her to tell her what happened. This attack was more personal.
Pearl Harbor was a deep concern for her,but it was more a matter of supporting the effort,rather than seeing the damage. The memorial is a short drive from the Pentagon,so Vaught saw the damage soon after the attack.
“I was much more directly involved in one way or another with the 9/11 thing than I had been with Pearl Harbor,” Vaught said.
Age Sept. 11,2001: 21
What he was doing: Sick in bed
A senior at the U.S. Naval Academy,Seth Lynn was in bed with strep throat. His then-girlfriend called to tell him the twin towers had been hit. He jumped out of bed,thinking it was an accident,and turned on the TV.
“It wasn’t just an accident,” Lynn said.
He said 9/11 was the extra push he needed to commit to the military.
“This just completely firmed it up,” Lynn said. “September 12th there was no doubt in my mind left.”
Lynn joined the Marine Corps 2002 and was sent to Iraq in 2005 and 2006.
“For better or worse,that probably wouldn’t have happened if 9/11 not happened,” Lynn said.
Lynn is now the executive director for the Veterans Campaign at George Washington University.
He said the weeks following the attacks brought out the best in Americans. He remembers seeing a man standing on an overpass waving a flag.
“It made me feel good as I drove by,” Lynn said. “You haven’t broken us. We’re still a great country.”
Age Dec. 7,1941: 20
What he was doing: On a blind date
Hank Sherr was on a blind date at the movies. When they walked outside,they heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor,but he didn’t know what – or who – it was.
After returning to his Philadelphia home,he asked his mother who Pearl Harbor was.
“I thought it was some broad who had been attacked,” Sherr said.
The next day,Sherr tried unsuccessfully to join the Navy. He was drafted into the Army in 1943.
He said every year on Dec. 7,he thinks about how he can’t remember what his blind date looked like.
He left the military in January 1946 and worked as a podiatrist in the Washington area for 45 years. He was married for 10 years and had two kids.
Living through one attack on the U.S. didn’t make 9/11 any less shocking for Sherr.
He was walking out of a doctor’s appointment in Washington when he was surprised to see empty streets.
“It was completely quiet. No traffic,” Sherr said. “I couldn’t imagine what happened.”
A passerby told him the twin towers had been hit and then he understood.
Sherr now lives at Leisure World of Maryland with his second wife,whom he married in 1980.
Age Sept. 11,2001: 19
What he was doing: Chinese class
Isaac Baruffi was in a Chinese class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when the TV was turned on and he saw the towers burning.
“We saw the building on fire,and we didn’t know what that was,” Baruffi said. “It was just an image. We didn’t know it was the World Trade Center.”
He left West Point before graduation and joined the Army. He was sent to Iraq in 2007 for a five-month deployment.
“We had no idea that was going to happen,” Baruffi said. “All you think about is getting over there. And then once you’re over there,you’re like,‘Why did I want to go over there?’”
Baruffi is a member of the National Guard and enrolled in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
He said he constantly thinks about the attacks and the impact it had on the country.
“It defined the decade that I think will define the rest of my life,” Baruffi said. “I’m still not even sure what to take from that whole experience.”
Age Dec. 7,1941: 17
What he was doing: Playing pool
Milt Eisen was playing pool,as he usually did on Sunday afternoons. The radio playing music in the front of the pool hall announced the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Eisen said he wanted to enlist after the attacks,but his father convinced him to stay in school and wait until the draft,assuming it would be a long war.
He said the attack changed the rest of his life,from being drafted in 1943 to his time overseas to his time after the military.
“I have always thought that being in the service was like the defining moment in my life,” he said.
Eisen left the Army in January 1946. He became a statistician and worked for the Census Bureau. He was married in 1948 and has three children and two grandchildren. He’s now living at Leisure World.
He said the anniversary usually goes by without his notice.
He was on a tour of Eastern Europe on 9/11 when some kids asked if he had heard about what happened to the World Trade Center. He called his daughter,who worked near the Pentagon. She was fine,but another couple on the trip lost a son who worked in the towers.
He said soldiers fighting now have it harder in many ways.
“We went in and we knew who the enemy was,and the war went on and the enemy surrendered. But there’s no enemy now. Nobody knows who the hell the enemy is,” Eisen said. “We’re great at fighting wars,but we’re not great at fighting terror groups.”
Age Sept. 11,2001: 16
What he was doing: At band practice
Peter Nesbitt was at his high school band practice in Sioux Falls,S.D.,when the first plane crashed. It didn’t sound serious,so he kept playing on the drum line.
“I didn’t really think anything of it,” Nesbitt said.
Later,in Spanish class,he watched the second plane hit the south tower,and the devastation started to sink in. He had seen the twin towers two years earlier on a band trip.
He joined the Army in July 2002 and worked in military intelligence in South Korea. He was never sent to Iraq or Afghanistan.
“You kind of hope to contribute in a meaningful way. I had hoped to be deployed,” Nesbitt said. “There’s definitely highs and lows of not being deployed.”
He left the military in 2008 and is a senior at Georgetown University studying international politics in the School of Foreign Service.
Age Dec. 7,1941: 23
What he was doing: Playing golf
Lewis Gold was playing golf near the Tidal Basin in Washington. When he returned from the 18th hole,he heard people talking about Pearl Harbor.
“I didn’t have the slightest idea at first what they were talking about,” Gold said. “I was thoroughly amazed and shocked by it all.”
He was working at the Navy Yard in Washington,but was sent to work at a torpedo factory in Alexandria,Va.
In an accident about six months later,a piece of a saw went through his eye. This made him unfit for military duty,but he was determined to join. In June 1944,he was accepted to the Army for “limited service,” meaning he couldn’t serve outside the U.S. Somehow,he was sent to Europe anyway and almost to Japan.
“I think the experience I had in the Army,aside from the killing and all,was very,very important and good for me,” Gold said.
Gold said he left the military in June 1946 with the notion that life isn’t fair. He watched people next to him die,but he went untouched.
After leaving the service,Gold returned to the torpedo factory for a few months,then worked at a TV store and then became an economist for the Department of Justice. He was married and had two children.
For many years,Gold,now living at Leisure World,barely talked about his experiences,not even to his wife.
“Now as I’ve gotten older,I feel like I want to talk about a lot of these experiences,” Gold said.
Reach reporter Lindsey Erdody at [email protected] or 202-326-9866
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