While many Americans slowly made their way back to normality after Sept. 11, 2001, a few didn’t – or couldn’t – fall back into routine.
Fourteen years ago, our world changed. The United States has never been quite the same as it was before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and it’s unlikely that it’ll ever go back.
Most of us share a few key changes to our lives in the past 14 years: a heightened awareness of terrorist threats. Less convenient air travel. The knowledge in the back of our minds that our own soil may not be safe. And of course, a new day of mourning, one that joins Pearl Harbor Day and Memorial Day as a time to reflect and remember.
But some lives were changed more than others. While many Americans slowly made their way back to normality after Sept. 11, a few didn’t – or couldn’t – fall back into routine. They took inspiration from that day’s stories of heroism and tragedy, and it spurred them to do something new. For some, it was a huge life change like a new career; for others it was a subtle but meaningful new personal directive – but for all of these people, the inspiration they took from 9/11 was important enough that it was something they talked about.And for those who have died recently, they included it in their obituaries. On this 14th anniversary of 9/11, we looked in our database for those who changed their lives after that day. We’re sharing just a few of the stories of inspiration we found there.
Perhaps the most common life change after Sept. 11, 2001 was a call to join the military. Our national safety had been threatened, and many wanted to be a part of protecting their country. One of those was Ryan Means, whose best friend, Adam White, was killed on 9/11. Motivated by the despair of riding his bike around New York City, posting flyers, checking in with hospitals, and, finally, accepting that Adam was dead, Means set out to change the world by quitting his telecommunications job and joining the Army. He was one of thousands who heard the call to military service after 9/11. Among the others were Robert Sickles, who left college to join the Air Force after seeing the effects of the events of 9/11 and realizing he heard the call to serve his country. Alexander Ghane was another who was committed to defending and serving his country after 9/11 – he joined the Navy and served in Special Operations. For some, civilian service in Iraq and Afghanistan was the best way to follow through on the drive to serve their country: Curtis Hundley had already served a stint in the Army, but after 9/11, his patriotism, and warrior blood, became a driving force in his life, and when given the chance to join Blackwater Security, and participate in defending our country, he did so.
Some Americans felt called to help at home, inspired by the everyday heroes they saw helping at Ground Zero on 9/11 and for weeks and months afterward. Daniel Adams was working with security systems before 9/11, but after the events of that day, Dan felt the need to contribute to his community. He graduated from the Firefighter’s Academy and became a volunteer firefighter and first responder with the Indian Hills Fire Department. It wasn’t a surprising move for someone who always went the extra mile to help people in need or distress. David Podell was a volunteer EMT who was one of those who helped at Ground Zero, and that profound experience led him to take on helping others as a full-time career: he became a Paramedic after 9/11, where the experience of working on the site of the World Trade Center convinced him to change careers in order to do something “useful.” And while we can’t all become first responders, that doesn’t have to stop us from using the inspiration of 9/11 to help those who do fight fires or tend to the injured. Marie Simeone, a schoolteacher, adopted a neighborhood fire department and police station after 9/11, along with her class, where they baked goods for the departments, and started gardens and decorated at each department.
Not all who were inspired by 9/11 felt the call to take on a high-risk career, but many did want to change or augment the work they did. Walter Evanuska had already served in the Air Force, the Army Special Forces Reserve, and his local fire department, and he was in his fifties on 9/11/01. But that didn’t stop him from changing careers and becoming a Transportation Safety Officer, serving in a crucial post-9/11 industry, and later taking a job with the Department of Homeland Security. James Pellerin was inspired by 9/11 to offer his time up more for the community and ran for a seat on the Fairfield Town Council in November of 2001. And Jean Caffee left her job with Lockheed Missiles and Space after 9/11, moved from California to Florida, and purchased Dick’s Wings and Grill on Wells Road in Orange Park. She was a hands-on owner and was famous for sitting down with the customers, listening to their life stories as well as sharing her own.
Then there were those who changed their lives by becoming active volunteers or by inspiring others – like Margie Ford. She was always committed to social justice – and she once served as Coretta Scott King’s secretary – so doing more after 9/11 was a natural progression. Immediately after 9/11 she initiated interfaith dialogues at Southside Presbyterian Church, and brought many in her church and community to a deeper understanding of the Palestine/Israel conflict. John Marr led his neighbors with the example of his patriotism, in the form of the much celebrated American flag street in Tallahassee, Brookwood Drive, where John inspired his neighbors to fly the flag in front of their home after the 9/11 tragedy. And 9/11 prompted Jeffrey Weinstein to become more politically active: he lobbied members of Congress, Senators, and even a sitting President on the need for a strong U.S. – Israel relationship. He took great pride in knowing that his actions helped to have legislation pass that would make a difference.
So many people, like Weinstein, just wanted to make a difference after their worlds were changed 14 years ago. Our hats are off today to those who devoted their post-9/11 lives to making that difference.
Written by Linnea Crowther