Ten years ago, I was Engineering Duty Officer on the USS Hartford (SSN-768), in port in Groton, Connecticut. We were due to leave on a six-month deployment, and were doing last-minute maintenance checks. That day was extraordinary; within hours we had closed out all the maintenance and were effectively ready to go. (And security on the base changed incredibly quickly.)
For the rest of the week, we didn’t know if would be sent to sea that day, the next day, or on our originally scheduled date. In the end, we left about a week after 9/11 for our six months at sea.
I have a strange relationship with 9/11 because of all of this. The Hartford left just after 9/11, and we got back to the US it was the end of March, 2002. We got very little news during that period, we missed all of the memorial events, the unity of the country, and the invasion into Afghanistan. (Though we were in the Gulf during the invasion, our boat didn’t directly participate.) By the time we got back, we saw all the flags on the interstate overpasses, the yellow ribbons everywhere, and all of the other signs. The country had moved in and done a lot of healing in those six months, and I hadn’t been involved.
I was fortunate enough not to know anyone that was killed in any of the attacks. And with time, my experiences feel like they’ve gotten closer to everyone else’s. But a six-month hole between my experiences and the country’s collective consciousness is still a strange gulf to bridge.