WASHINGTON — With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 just a few days away, I asked my 9-year-old daughter last night if she understood the significance of the day.
“I remember hearing about that in school,” she told me.
To my daughter, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are just another chapter in a history book or a lesson to learn in school. She was born post-9/11, and has grown up knowing only a nation with a heightened sense of security — and a nation at war in distant lands.
But I’m grateful her childhood isn’t punctuated by the horrific events of that day; that she doesn’t, like most Americans, recall where she was when the news broke of the attacks. And that she didn’t watch the news unfold of the nearly 3,000 lives lost in the Pentagon and in New York and Pennsylvania.
But still, I want her to understand the enormity of that day and the sacrifices our nation’s service members and their families make each day to ensure it doesn’t happen again. And I figured she’d be better able to understand it from the eyes of a child.
So I told her about a college student I spoke to recently who was 9 years old, my daughter’s age, when the attacks occurred.
Zach Laychak, I explained to her, had returned home from school 10 years ago to a house full of family and friends. There had been a fire at the Pentagon, they told him, but Zach shrugged off concerns that anything had happened to his strong, athletic father.
A few days later, two men came to his door with the news: Zach’s father, David Laychak, was among the 184 people killed when American Airlines Flight 77 struck the Pentagon. His mother sat him and his 7-year-old sister down and told them their father wouldn’t be returning home.
“I couldn’t understand what would make someone want to do this to my dad,” Zach said. “I was just angry, so mad.”
Zach struggled to comprehend the loss of his father and best friend who always made time to coach one of his sports teams or who would rush home after work to toss a ball in the yard.
Over time, I explained to my daughter, Zach’s anger evolved into a deep sense of patriotism — born of resentment against those who dared to attack his nation and his family. He felt proud, I explained, that Americans had stepped up to defend their nation.
He also shifted his focus to helping others. He became heavily involved with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors , an organization for military families of the fallen, as well as Tuesday’s Children , an organization that provides support for children of 9/11 and others impacted by global terrorism.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Zach said he’ll remember his father with love and pride. “As terrible as this whole situation was, I know he was a very patriotic person and that he died serving his country,” he said. “That’s a way he would have been proud to go.”
I then told my daughter that I, too, felt a deep sense of patriotism. Although I was separated from the Air Force at the time, I quit my job and re-entered the military two days after the attacks.
I finished my speech and gave my daughter a hug. She didn’t say much, but I’m hoping some of what I said sunk in. Although 9/11 will always be a chapter in a book to her, I hope, like Zach and her Mom, she’ll grow up with a deep appreciation for her nation and its service members.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)