Five years since the bombings. It's gone very quickly for me. I think for my generation, recollections of the bombings will be similar to "where were you when JFK was shot?" type questions were relevant to our parents' generation.
I remember waking up and hearing something weird on the radio about a plane crash. Later, I remember flipping on the TV just in time to see the second airliner crash. Like most big items, I remember being a little bit numb to the act at first, but I grasped right away that it would have big repercussions. I finished my cereal and sped off to work.
On the way to the base (I was in the Navy at the time), I think the first tower collapsed. I got to the base and the gate guards were still waving people in with a cursory check of the DOD sticker on the car. I asked them if they knew what happened in New York and he said, "Yeah, we know" and continued to wave people through.
I got to work and everybody was sort of standing around during the morning cleanup, discussing the events. Morning quarters happened and my chief sent me off to lead a couple other guys in removing a couple of circuit breakers that would've been, at the very least, underway limiting. I don't think the significance had really sunk in yet, but it had for me, because I remember asking him, "Chief, are you sure you want us to do that with what's going on? There's a good likelihood that we'll be deployed soon." He told me to go ahead and do it. I decided that I'd drag my feet on the paperwork for little bit to see what happened. Sure enough, right as we were setting up to remove the circuit breakers, the captain came on the 1MC and said something to the effect of "If you're performing work that is underway limiting, please stop now" and then he called the department heads to a meeting. About an hour later, we were told that we'd have to be ready to go to sea in 48 hours, which was no small feat, because we were a few weeks into refit and we had big pieces of gear torn up, not to mention that the reactor was cooled down.
The rest of the day went by in a blur. I can say clearly that it was my proudest day in the military. Everybody, and I mean everybody, pulled their weight that day to put the boat back together. There was no bitching, no BS politics to get your paperwork signed, nothing.
When I left the boat 12 hours later so that I could go home and pack my stuff for going out to sea, there were F-14's patrolling overhead, and the Navy had put a guided missile frigate in the canal for defense. Not to mention a ton of marines everywhere on the pier. It was pretty amazing.
I remember pulling out the maximum ATM amount and giving it to my wife (at the time) to stash. We filled up all of the cars, and I packed for the upcoming (and my last) trip to sea.
The next day, it took me the better part of four hours to get to work.
We ended up getting told that we would not be going out as soon as initally predicted. I ended up attending the division officers' meeting since everybody else more senior was off to get their own personal stuff in order before we left. I remember the engineer saying "thanks guys, but in my heart of hearts, I just don't think we would have made it." Looking around the room, it seemed that the only divisions that weren't ready were my division and A-gang, and I knew that we were both finishing up our final issues that evening. I really felt proud that we had all taken a difficult task, and for once, teamed up to get it done.
For me, life effectively returned to normal soon thereafter. We went on our patrol at the scheduled time, and during the patrol, I started to read the accounts of the Afghanistan war. I did support the war activity in Afghanistan, but I felt that administration started charting dangerous territory somewhere around the Patriot Act and the Iraq war. I don't feel that either of these measures has made us safer as Americans, and they've both cost us plenty (as much or more as the attacks themselves) in personal civil liberties, money, and human lives (the death toll in American soldiers isn't quite up to the 9/11 casualty count, but I have no doubt that it will be before we're out.)