CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- They saw the tragedy unfold through the windows of their childhood schools in New York City. They have grown, and all of them followed their own paths into the Marine Corps, but the images still burn in their memories.
Three Marines from 8th Engineer Support Battalion, 2nd Marine Logistics Group took a break from their daily jobs to meet here and remember the day 19 hijackers etched Sept. 11, 2001, into the collective memory of Americans.
“It was surreal,” said Pfc. Lawrence N. Ellington-Farley, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native and an administrative clerk with the battalion. “It was like the day before didn’t even happen.”
He was an 11-year-old student enduring another day of classes when he saw a plane crash into the World Trade Center.
“If you looked out the window, you could actually see people jumping or falling out of the building,” said Ellington-Farley, whose father was one of the first responders at the scene. “That is something I don’t think I will ever forget.”
The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people and stripped the New York City skyline of its iconic Twin Towers. The legacy of the attacks still troubles the Marines of 8th ESB who experienced the event within the city’s limits.
“I have a little girl and a wife back home, and it always worries me because you never know if something will ever happen like that to New York,” said Lance Cpl. Angel Anaya, an embarkation specialist with the battalion.
Anaya was 8 years old and lived in Brooklyn when the attack took place. He recalls packing supplies into disaster boxes at his school just after the event.
He said his youth made it difficult to understand the significance of the attacks at the time, but the memorial lights beaming into the sky today are a constant tribute to the scale of the event.
“Through the night you can see the two bright, blue lights of where the World Trade Center stood,” said Anaya, who admits he still hasn’t brought himself to visit the memorial site even though the lights are visible from his home in Brooklyn. “You think about it … they used to be there.”
Though each of the Marines were at different stages in their lives, they shared one common memory: their city changed on that day. Security measures increased. There was both unity and fear in New York City. Even common travel became a daily challenge.
“I didn’t go anywhere,” said Cpl. Patricio Canela, Jr., a native of Queens, N.Y., who was only 14 years old the day the towers fell. “‘If you see something, say something.’ That was their slogan. A simple commute could turn into a long commute if you were randomly searched.”
Canela is now an administrative clerk with 8th ESB and a veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom.
He found people he could relate to in the Marine Corps. They understood some of what he had been through, said Canela. That was especially true after his deployment to Afghanistan.
“Back home it is hard to explain,” said Canela, recalling his experiences from the streets of New York City to isolated parts of Afghanistan. “I lost a friend on deployment. He passed away in a firefight. I came back [home] and just wanted to see my parents. It turned out that we got to see a [baseball] game in New York. I’ve never cried for the Star-Spangled Banner in my life, but it felt too emotional.”
Canela, Anaya and Ellington-Farley each said the experience of Sept. 11 influenced their decision to join the military, but it did not define their choice to serve. They grew up with the memory of the attacks. Some lost family and friends, and they all saw their hometown drastically changed, but they came to the decision to serve over time and on their own.