Sept. 12, 2011
By Tracy Nelson, Army Athletic Communications
WEST POINT, N.Y. -Everyone has a story. Everyone remembers. The images, the turmoil, the unrest, but more than anything else, the uncertainty. Ten years ago tomorrow, the world stopped as four hijacked planes, American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, United Air Flight 93 and American Airlines Flight 77, assaulted U.S. soil. The first two plowed into the World Trade Center in the heart of New York City, leaving nothing but a pile of rubble and smoke behind. Nearly 3,000 lives were lost that day and more continue to parish a decade later as America leads the global war on terror.
Families and loved ones in small towns and huge cities across this free nation were affected on that fateful morning, and West Point was no different. The culture of the Academy as a whole, its cadet-athletes and coaches, civilian workers and military personnel were forever changed.
It Was A Tuesday
Sitting behind a pristine desk in Kimsey Athletic Center, Tucker Waugh recalls every detail of that particular day with such a vivid clarity one would think he was reliving a practice last week rather than a life-altering event that happened 10 years ago.
"It was a Tuesday," Waugh said, who was in the midst of his second year as an assistant coach under then-Army mentor Todd Berry. "I was drawing 7-on-7 scout team cards just like any other game week."
Waugh, Berry and the rest of the Black Knights were preparing for a showdown against Buffalo that, unbeknownst to them, would not be played. Waugh and the rest of the coaching staff were told a small plane struck the Twin Towers. They proceeded to make their way to a television in the A Room, located at the south end of Michie Stadium's east stands, and watched with the rest of the nation as the largest foreign terrorist attack on domestic soil unfolded.
In an attempt to resume some sort of normalcy, while also making a concerted effort to communicate with one another, the decision was made to hold practice that afternoon. Waugh, the wide receivers coach at the time, held his position meeting but did not talk much football.
"That was when it hit me exactly how special West Point is," he said. "The freshmen were quick to wonder 'what's going to happen to me?' The seniors, even though they loved football, were thinking 'how soon can I get this season over with, graduate and go join the effort so something like this never happens again?' They all came during a time of peace and were likely going to leave in a time of war. It was a pretty powerful day for me."
West Point suspended all athletic activities that week, postponing Army's home game against Buffalo until the team's bye week on Nov. 10. The next game Waugh coached in was at UAB on Sept. 22 at venerable Legion Field. It was the first time the team had flown since the attacks and Waugh said the experience was unlike any other in his tenure at West Point to date. Not only was security at an all-time high, but so were emotions boarding the charter flight to Birmingham, Ala.
"To be honest, the game is a blur," Waugh said. "I don't remember much about it at all."
In the 10 years since Sept. 11, Waugh departed the Academy for a short stint at Stanford before returning to the banks of the Hudson in 2007. He now coaches the slot backs and serves as the Black Knights' recruiting coordinator. Waugh spends countless hours on the phone and in the living rooms with prospective Army football players and their families, offering them assurance that in 47 months they will leave the Academy as prepared as humanly possible for whatever climate the world may be in.
"People come to West Point for a different reason than any other school," Waugh said. "If they do not have the final destination in mind of becoming an Army officer and serving their nation, then the rest of West Point - the football, the academics, the facilities - doesn't make any sense. When we became a nation at war, the same people came here for the right reasons. It may have just sorted out a little sooner in the recruiting process than it had before. Those who were interested were more so, and those who were not initially interested were less so."
A Mission Focused, A Mission Changed
One of the players in attendance at practice that afternoon was junior defensive tackle Clarence Holmes out of Decatur, Ga. The bruiting lineman who graduated as Army's all-time leader in quarterback sacks suddenly found himself one of 4,000-plus cadets wondering what the future might have in store for him.
Class had let out after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center. Holmes headed back to his barracks and watched the second plane strike less than an hour from West Point's still serine post. Within a matter of minutes, phone lines went down, gates locked and the U.S. Coast Guard docked on the Hudson in front of the Academy.
"It was a lot of shock followed by immediate questions," Holmes recalled. "Then immediate answers followed because by choosing to come to West Point, our ultimate mission is to protect and defend. We came to West Point understanding there was a possibility of going to war. That possibility became a reality in the blink of an eye. With that came a mission focus, a mission change at the Academy. We quickly became the generation that would be leading those fighting the global war on terror."
A Corps-wide announcement was made in terms of the initial threat and heightened security. Aside from that, Holmes said the Academy and former Superintendent Lt. Gen. William J. Lennox Jr., made it a priority to keep it business as usual for the Corps - class, athletics, study.
"The Academy did a good job of keeping us on our regular routine, going to class and all of that," he said. "The Corps of Cadets, with its own personality, saw individuals make banners and public statements to support their feelings about the situation and rally one another."
As Holmes, Waugh and the rest of the Black Knights stood anxious and emotional in a tunnel ready to take the Legion Stadium field against UAB a week later, they did so with great support.
"There weren't many people in the stands, but those that were there were in great support of us," Holmes, a captain of the 2001 team, said. "It was the first time we had the American flag lead us onto the field rather than the Army football flag that season. That was important to us. We were representing so much more that day than just football."
Army lost the game, but Holmes and his teammates put the exclamation point on the season with a 26-17 win over Navy on Dec. 1 in Philadelphia. President George W. Bush was on hand for the coin toss in a game that served as a great rallying point for the American people.
Like Father, Like Son
As Michie Stadium salutes heroes during this afternoon's home opener, senior slot back Malcolm Brown will have to look no further than Section 15 for the smile of a proud father watching his son play the game he loves. More than that, Brown's father is proud of a son who chose to serve just as he did for more than 20 years in the New York City Fire Department.
More than 10,000 New Yorkers make up the FDNY and spend their days protecting the lives of others. Listed among the core values of the department are service, bravery, safety, honor, dedication and preparedness. Brown says his father, Roscoe, held all of those values in high regard and still does after retiring as a lieutenant over two years ago.
Not unlike the military, fire and police departments pride themselves in looking out for one another. It's the simple mantra that your unit is like a family and no family members will be left behind. They are your brothers and sisters and you treat one another as so. When Roscoe switched units in 2000, he remained close with his colleagues even though he was not with them during day-to-day operations.
The FDNY deployed over 200 units to the World Trade Center site on Sept. 11, where the massive 110-floor steel-frame buildings no longer existed. One of those units deployed was that which Roscoe Brown reported to just a year earlier.
"My dad switched units a year before the Sept. 11 attacks," Brown said. "His old unit responded to the crashes and not a single one of them came out alive. All of his friends died that day. It scared me to think that he could have easily been one of them."
In the days and years following one of the most tragic events in our nation's history, Roscoe reported to work at Ground Zero, constantly reminded of those that they lost.
"Watching him inspired me a lot," the younger Brown said. "He would come back really late at night from cleaning up the mess at Ground Zero. It was amazing how much determination he had every day to go back there. To him, he was doing his job serving the city and honoring his old unit."
A Destiny Fulfilled
Ben Jebb grew up on the hollowed West Point grounds. He wanted nothing more than to follow in his parents', Cindy and Joel, footsteps in joining a Long Gray Line that includes names like Lee, Grant and MacArthur.
A young, but not naïve version of himself, Jebb sat in his fifth grade history class on Sept. 11, 2001. After stopping class to read an urgent email, his teacher left the room with a horrified look. Soon, Jebb and his classmates at the West Point Elementary School were aware of exactly why - perhaps more meaningful at that particular school with many of their parents likely facing deployment.
"We were in fifth grade and didn't really comprehend the magnitude of what happened," Jebb said. "School dismissed almost immediately. I remember watching the six o'clock news in my parents' bedroom and it becoming real before my eyes. West Point wasn't chaotic or panic-stricken, but you knew as a kid that something was up."
As Jebb got slightly older, his parents, who continue to teach at West Point today, moved over Storm King Mountain to nearby Cornwall, N.Y.
"I always knew it was my dream to come to West Point, regardless of whether the nation was at war or not," Jebb said. "I love everything about this place, the people and what it stands for. It wasn't until I moved away from West Point that I realized how much I wanted to be back and a part of it again.
"For our generation, it's hard to think of a world where there's not something going on to fight the war on terror," he continued. "From fifth-grade on, it was all about Afghanistan and Iraq. All my friends' parents were deployed at different points. The thought of there not being a conflict overseas is somewhat weird to me actually. Regardless of what is going on when I graduate, I know it's my mission to serve the country that I have believed in since childhood, and it will be my honor to do so."
Left Up To God
Davyd Brooks had just entered a fourth-period study hall when his name came over the loud speaker at North Junior High in nearby Newburgh, N.Y. He and his twin sister, Dhavosha, were among a long list of students' names announced over the loud speaker and instructed to make their way to the office.
"My mom was standing there outside the office when I got there," Brooks said. "She was in tears. I immediately thought of my father."
Brooks' dad, David, had spent his life until that point protecting and serving as a member of the New York City Police Department. The Brooks children had not seen the events that had unfolded until returning to their Newburgh home.
"My mom tried to explain everything, but it was impossible to understand what had really happened," Brooks recalled. "When we got home, I immediately turned on the television to see what was going on. I think everyone remembers the phone lines being tied up that day, making it impossible to reach my dad. I got on my knees right there, prayed that he was okay and left it up to God."
Brooks' father was a first-responder that morning - as a part of one of more than 200 NYPD units on the scene.
"My prayers were answered when my dad pulled in the driveway later that night," he said with relief.
David Brooks has since retired from the force, but passed along that sense of duty and commitment to his only son, a senior wide receiver for the Black Knights set to be commissioned upon West Point graduation exercises in May 2012.
Brooks' lineage certainly helped guide him to serve, but so did the stories of Hudson Valley families who had lost loved ones in the tragedy.
"On the anniversary after the attacks, the Times-Herald Record (Middletown, N.Y.) dedicated the issue to all those families in the area who had lost a loved one on that day," Brooks said. "It was one of the saddest things I've ever read, but I forced myself to read every last word. The worst part was looking at the pictures of children with their mothers and fathers that had passed. Some of the kids I went to elementary school with lost parents in the attacks. It struck such a personal chord with me. "I remember getting very emotional in my room, and decided I never wanted someone to have to suffer like that again. What could I do about it? The answer became obvious, and I then decided that I would serve my country in one form or another when I was done with high school."
Brooks has done just that in his four years as a cadet and will continue to do so for at least five years of active duty after graduation. With Sept. 11 in the past but never far from memory, Brown, Jebb and a myriad of current and future West Point cadets are fully prepared to lead this great nation into the future - no matter what it may hold.