Where Were You? Remembering 9/11


Almost twenty years ago…

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost twenty years.

On September 11, 2001, I was a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force, stationed at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, TX. The thought of war was far, far from my mind. We didn’t do that any more. Right?

You could still take your own bottled water through security at the airport. In fact, you could escort your loved one to their gate before they left. Remember that? It’s a fleeting memory now in a world of long security lines, zip lock baggies, high tech x-ray machines and $7 bottles of water that must be purchased inside the security realm; rapid hugs and teary goodbyes as we are dropped hurriedly at the curb in front of the airport.

All because there is a chance that someone might try to blow up a plane again.

And that scares us.

Did you know that statistically, it is much more likely a plane will drop out of the sky and kill you (actually happened a couple years ago to a man running along the beach!) than your chances of being killed by a terrorist attack? Do you know how much more likely you are to die from heart disease, breast cancer, or a number of other diseases than by being blown up in a plane?

Yet we spend billions of dollars and countless resources to protect ourselves from another event like 9/11.

This isn’t meant to be a political debate on the ins and outs of why. Just an observation.

Deep down, we know why. Because we have zero control over an event like 9/11 and it terrifies us. But more than that, we know the larger implications. The potential negative economic impact, the social impact, and the emotional impact of another event as outlandish as 9/11 far outweigh the weight of the actual risk of being killed in a terrorist attack.

9/11 left an ugly scar on our country. And yet … even scars fade after time.

For years after the fact, if ever I heard a discussion that started with “Where were you…?” I just knew that the conversation was about rehashing the events of 9/11.

Whether near or far from the events of the day, we all needed to tell our war stories. How had our lives, whether in NYC or in Dubuque, Iowa, been affected that day?

I was in training to become an intelligence officer. We were in our educational block that happened to be discussing threats such as terrorism. On September 10th, we had actually discussed the likelihood of a terrorist attack on the U.S. One of my more arrogant classmates boldly asserted that “no one had the balls to attack us,” (his words, not mine). I disagreed. Because I have an active imagination and I had just finished reading a Tom Clancy novel. The name escapes me, but the events of the novel do not. Terrorists flew a jumbo jet into the white house.

So while most of my classmates were agreeing the arrogant belief that we were untouchable, I spouted out “It wouldn’t be that hard. Don’t you read Tom Clancy? They could just fly a passenger jet into the White House.”

I immediately regretted saying it. Everyone laughed at me and I felt like an idiot.

Until the next morning. I got the first phone call from, ironically, the guy who made that comment. We were neighbors and carpooled to school each day. He told me to flip on the news. A plane had hit the towers. I immediately said “It’s a Terrorist Attack!”

He laughed at me again. But I’d flown into NYC enough to know we never came close enough to “accidentally” fly into the Towers.

I started calling my friends and family, telling them to turn on the news. I knew this was a big deal. I knew we were under attack.

And then the second plane hit.

That day just got crazier as it continued on. When the Pentagon was hit, things got real for us. Our friends, family, co-workers were in there. Now, the military was under attack too. The base went on lock-down and things got crazy.

I knew we were going to war. My biggest concern was for my soon-to-be-fiance, an active duty Marine at the time. How long would it be before they were shipped out?

We all know the rest of the story. No matter where you were or what you were doing, you were impacted. Later, we would find out that my (now) husband’s best childhood friend, Shannon, was killed in the South Tower. Even a sleepy, tiny town in upstate NY lost one of it’s own that day.

It affected us. That day changed our country, and it changed us as people. We learned just how evil some people can be. We had to learn to talk about violence and death and bad people with our children. We had to learn to accept new security measures and a different way of doing business in our country.

We learned how unprepared we were, and that while our responders acted so bravely, they did not have all the equipment, plans, procedures, and protocol in place for something like this.

Like all scars, it fades. And that is a good thing.

Since 9/11, I’ve gotten married, moved several times, worked several different jobs, (one of them in Homeland Security, which only exists because of 9/11) carried and delivered four live babies, watched one of them pass away in my arms, learned how to live in my “new normal” after that event, and so forth. I no longer feel that same pull towards rehashing how my life was changed that day. But I will always know that 9/11 altered the course of my life.

We’ll never forget, but thank goodness we can also move forward.

This post is written in loving memory of my husband’s friend Shannon, and all of the thousands of other men and women who died on 9/11 and in the events that have followed. Even though we move forward, we remember.

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Alexa Bigwarfe is a mother to 3 wildlings who keep her on her toes. She is an advocate, activist, speaker, author & author coach, publisher, and podcaster. Her writing career began after her infant daughter passed away at 2 days old and she turned to writing for healing. Since then, she has used her writing platform for advocacy and activism to support mothers, children, and marginalized voices. She began a nonprofit, Sunshine After the Storm, to provide support, care, healing retreats, and grief recovery to mothers in their most difficult time. She is the creator and co-host of the Lose the Cape podcast, which features moms working to make a difference in their children's lives and has co-authored and published four volumes under the Lose the Cape brand. Her primary business is Write|Publish|Sell, a company dedicated to shepherding authors through the massive process of writing and publishing their books like a pro. She owns her own publishing house, Kat Biggie Press, and a children's book publishing company, Purple Butterfly Press - both dedicated to bringing stories of hope, inspiration, encouragement, and girl-power to the world. Learn more at alexabigwarfe.com.


  1. My neighbor died on the 97th floor of tower 1. Susan Marie Clyne worked for Marsh and McLennon and she left behind three children. The youngest, who was three, kept asking me where mommy was and when she was coming home. The first few days, I brought over stickers and coloring books as a distraction while their father traveled to New York City searching for her, holding out hope she was not in her office at the time if impact and was just in a hospital somewhere. Days turned into weeks of unknowing. I wrote a piece for the school newspaper called “Where’s Mommy?” chronicling my experience the first week after.
    Then, fear and anxiety hit. I was put on home schooling for about two months from my high school on Long Island because I was afraid to leave the house.
    I finally feel safe in quiet Columbia, SC, but when people hear I am from NY, I get asked about the events of 9/11 more often than I care to count.

  2. I will never forget either. I had gone back to school to complete a bachelor’s degree after having taken a few years off to work full time. I was driving to school, when I heard it on the radio. I truly thought it was a prank call and never thought it could be real for some reason. But soon enough while in class, I found out it was definitely true and still remember that awful feeling I got in my gut. I live in NY about 45 minutes away from NYC and still can close my eyes and see the smoke in the offset of the sky that was coming in on the beautiful fall day. So, I totally get it and yes I definitely will not be forgetting any time soon either.

    • I just can’t even fathom what it was like to actually witness it with your eyes. Those images of people running through the smoke and dust… or worse, the ones of people jumping out of the building. HOrrific.

  3. Such an excellent post and amazing perspective Alexa. I can’t imagine the turn of events for you and your (now) husband from that fateful day. I still wish you would write more about your experiences while over there protecting our people. I’m sure you have a wealth of insight, experience and perspective in it all… that goes even deeper than this.

    I was at home with Derek, who had just blew a disc. He had a black eye too- from bumping it on a corner of something. He was a hot mess…. and I was rushing to work.

    I couldn’t believe it. Still can’t. It’s what happens when the impossible becomes possible. I think our country will always feel vulnerable and unsafe because of it. I know I do.

    • So true. And the somewhat banal events of a day that you would probably have forgotten long ago are now seared into your memory… I want to write more about my time in the service. It’s just a matter of time! 🙂

  4. I was unemployed still, looking for a teaching job, living in Brooklyn. I didn’t even know what was going on until my mother, who lived in upstate NY, got ahold of me and told me to turn the TV on. I walked down to the elevated train platform and saw the plumes of smoke rising from the Manhattan skyline. It was a strange, surreal time to be living in New York.


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