Five Years Later: Europe troops share their memories of 9/11
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Stars and Stripes reporters asked servicemembers in Europe their memories of that day. Here are their stories:
Hannah Borsch was decorating her high school football team’s locker room for an upcoming game when she heard over the radio that planes had struck the World Trade Center and one was possibly headed toward the White House.
Borsch, a senior at Monterey High School in Lubbock, Texas, and a group of friends threw their decorations in a box and ran to the main school building. Once inside the main building, they saw TVs inside every classroom showing coverage of the attack.
“We were going through the hallways, and everybody was glued to the TVs,” said Borsch, now 22 years old. “There were three security guards from the school just watching TV from the hallway into the classroom. One guy had his hand over his mouth. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. What’s going on?’ I was scared at first.”
Borsch now is in the Army Reserve with the 4005th U.S. Army Hospital in Lubbock. She is in the midst of a yearlong assignment to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany where she serves as a nutrition care specialist. With a family tradition of military service, Borsch was prompted by what happened on that day to enter the Reserve.
“After September 11, I wanted to do my part because our nation was under attack,” she said.
Airman 1st Class Trebian Gregory, 23, of Lowell, Mich., was at work when he first saw the images from the attacks.
“I didn’t even believe it was real at first. It was all just unreal,” he said.
Five years later, Gregory credits the events of that morning for prompting him to join the Air Force and for changing his view of the world.
“I appreciate things a lot more now, and am a lot more aware of things going on around the world.”
Michael Rich, 28, from Sumter, S.C., was at his job at Frasier Tire Service, going through the normal shop routine that morning. It was like any other morning.
Around 9 a.m., a television in the shop’s lobby, where people waited for their cars, showed the first images of a plane flying into the World Trade Center.
Rich doesn’t remember exactly what he was doing when someone ran into the shop from the lobby to tell all the mechanics what he’d just seen. Rich and his co-workers dropped what they were doing and dashed into the lobby to see for themselves.
For a long time, Rich stared at the television and the images of the planes flying into the towers over and over again.
“It was unreal,” he recalled. “It was kind of like watching a movie.”
Almost four years later, that day was still eating at Rich. With the U.S. engaged in two wars, he started to feel he should do something for his country before getting too old. He decided to join the Army.
“I didn’t want to look back when I was 65 and regret not doing it,” he said.
Like many people, Rich, now a member of the 440th Signal Battalion in Darmstadt, Germany, said Sept. 11, 2001, made him more aware of his surroundings, but it seems to have made him cynical as well.
“It really makes you look a lot harder at everybody and think about what’s going on,” he said.
The terrorist attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism recently took Navy Lt. Cmdr. Benito Baylosis away from his wife and three children for a year.
Last month, Baylosis returned to his home station in Naples, Italy, after a tour in Iraq.
“I was asked to go, and being away from my family for a year, well, that’s nothing compared to what could happen if we don’t do anything,” said the 41-year-old sailor, who works for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Naples, providing maintenance services for ships in the area of operation for the 5th and 6th fleets.
For a year, Baylosis analyzed more than 1,000 roadside bomb detonators and the IEDs themselves, both exploded and not, he said.
“If you’ve never done that before, yeah, you’d think it’s going to be a dangerous job. But someone has to do it,” he said of his mission, which earned him a Bronze Star.
In Iraq, the electrical engineer led a multinational team of military specialists and engineers who examined the makeup of IEDs, what triggered them and where the parts originated.
He often thinks back to the day that propelled the United States into two major ground wars and other anti- and counterterrorism missions worldwide.
“I heard about [the World Trade Center attack] on the radio, and at first I thought it might have been a small plane, like a Cessna, and I wondered if it was an accident or on purpose. Then it happened again, and I knew something was wrong.
“I knew we were at war. We’d been attacked,” said Baylosis, who had been in Norfolk, Va., at the time to test the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz after it had been in drydock for routine repairs.
“I think back to 9/11 and think ‘That can’t happen again. It must not happen again.’”
Sgt. Norman Witte, 34, of Appleton, Minn., was at work at Giebelstadt serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 12th Aviation Brigade on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We were in the office and CNN was on, showing the plane hitting the building. At first we thought it was a movie preview and then we found out it was the real thing,” said Witte, a 3rd Battalion, 58th Aviation Regiment soldier. “There was dead silence as it kept unfolding on the news.
“Before that, I felt pretty safe traveling and flying and riding the train. It just shows how unsafe the world really is. Anyone can be a target.”
Jeremy King was getting ready to go to school on a sunny Idaho day when the world changed.
He came out to his parents’ living room just before the second jet hit the Twin Towers.
Until that morning, terrorism had seemed to King a distant problem that only took place in foreign lands, not something that could happen on American soil.
“My parents were watching it,” said King, now a 25-year-old private based in Baumholder, Germany, with the 1st Armored Division. “I was surprised and astonished that it would happen here.”
Five years later, King said that day changed his life in many ways.
“Now I realize that it can actually happen here,” he said. “We’re not immune to these problems.”
That morning, the very nature of the attack confounded King.
“I thought ‘how could a plane that big be flying over the city?’” he said. “After that, I thought that we should take care of the issue, and make sure it never happens again.”
Compiled by Steve Mraz, Bryan Mitchell, Geoff Ziezulewicz, Sandra Jontz, Seth Robson and Matt Millham.