For many people who were in grade school in 2001, the Where-Were-You-On-9/11 story is a predictable one: You're sitting in class when someone bursts into the room and says, "Turn on the TV." From there, it's a matter of slowly realizing the gravity of the situation. Maybe the teacher tries to explain what's going on; maybe the school closes early for the day. And then, back home, the parents do their level best to explain what's happening on CNN.
But the paths that people have taken, directly or indirectly influenced by the largest terrorist attack ever on American soil, can be widely divergent. Such is the case for Spencer Owens and Dan Hanf, who were both in the seventh grade in Charleston-area schools when the Twin Towers fell and the uncertain, Orwellian, polarized, paranoid 21st century came barreling in.
Owens, now a Marine lance corporal working at Charleston's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, enlisted for military service after high school partly as a response to the threat of terrorism. He says many of his buddies in the Marines and in the Department of Homeland Security, as well as a high school friend who enlisted at the same time as him, have talked about 9/11 as a catalyst for their career choice.
"I'm not saying that Iraq was good, but, I mean, something had to be done," Owens says. "9/11 played a huge role."
Hanf, meanwhile, went on to become a religious studies major at the College of Charleston. He is also one-half of the acoustic folk comedy duo Introducing Fish Taco.
"I suppose you could go so far as to say that [9/11] had a big impact on me choosing my major, just because religion suddenly became a very hot topic and a lot of people were very angry and belligerent, and still are, without really knowing their enemy — the whole Islam thing and jihads and whatnot," says Hanf, now a senior.
For nearly half of Owens' and Hanf's lives, their country has been at war. Just after Osama bin Laden was captured and killed in May, Owens was deployed to Morocco, where he was unsure how the people would respond to the al-Qaida leader's death. He finished the deployment without incident.
But for Hanf, the idea of war is more abstract. He has no close friends in the military, no one is being drafted, and there have been no major terrorist attacks within the country in 10 years. One thing he knows, though, is this:
"The only connection we have with the earliest men is that we're still killing each other."