Remembering 9/11: Attacks Gave a Naval Academy Plebe New Resolve [VIDEO]

by Kim Quade on September 11, 2017

In May, 2001, my daughter and her boyfriend graduated from high school together. After that, Erika worked at an Express clothing store for the summer, and in September entered a small college in Iowa.

For her boyfriend Nick, however, summer was quite different. At the end of June, he entered the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. After Induction Day, he went through the six weeks of mental and physical toughening known as “Plebe Summer.”

But once that was over, life at the Academy would settle into a routine. A strenuous one, yes, but nonetheless a more typical academic year.

Then the 9/11 attacks occurred, and Nick soon learned that his was the last class to have entered the Naval Academy during peace.

On that day, Nick was sitting in his Rhetoric and Intro to Literature class when he learned of the attacks. All midshipmen were ordered to return to their rooms in Bancroft Hall, the massive single dormitory where all students live.

Bancroft Hall.

When he returned to his floor, Nick found groups of ‘mids’ gathered in the Wardroom, a commons area that contained couches, a microwave and refrigerator, and a TV. Usually only upperclassmen could use the Wardroom, but on that day everyone congregated there to watch news of the attacks. At some point Nick called Erika in Iowa with the news, “I’m okay.”

Nick remembered feeling shocked and confused. How could this be happening in America? he wondered.

While the midshipmen watched in shock, the commanding officers at USNA quickly secured the facility. The academy cancelled classes until further notice. Company officers assigned midshipmen with extra watches around their portion of Bancroft Hall.

The commanders worked to close off the school from the outside world as well. Only military personnel could get on base for a while, and then only through a front gate with heavily armed guards. The school also restricted all vehicles for a time, and after the restrictions ended, vehicle inspections increased.

These moves were logical. After all, the Naval Academy is less than 40 miles from the Pentagon. At that time no one knew where, or when, or how, another strike could take place. Plus, the Academy is federal property, and it was reasonable to think that terrorists would relish massacring hundreds of future Navy and Marine officers there.

At semester’s end, the academy returned to a more or less normal routine. Classes and athletics continued in full swing. Upperclassmen kept on hassling lowly plebes. In December, Army and Navy played in the classic football series. (For the record, Navy lost to Army). But for Nick, 9/11 changed everything. His future as an officer held a more urgent meaning. He wrote:

For me the biggest change was the prospect of being part of the country’s next big conflict.  It was much more real now.  I knew it was always a possibility, but now it seemed like a sure thing.  Of course I was only a freshmen and would have three and a half more years of hard studies ahead, but it gave context to the entire process and gave new importance to my school work.  Not everybody graduates. Not everybody gets commissioned. It was now more important than ever that I make it through.

Nick did successfully complete his studies at USNA, and earned his officer’s commission. At his 2005 graduation, his Commander-in-Chief, President George Bush, addressed the graduates.

That same weekend my daughter, Erika, graduated from her college, too. Three weeks later they married, and we welcomed Nick into our family.

Today Nick still serves the nation as a Lt. Commander in the Navy. Because of 9/11, at only 18 years old, he learned that the world is indeed a dangerous place, and that faithful vigilance is needed to keep her safe.

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