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Growing Up with bin Laden: Patch Editors Reflect on Past 10 Years

When the towers fell, these six editors were still too young to vote. How have other young people adapted growing up in the shadow of terrorism?

The events of 9/11 changed everything. Sunday's death of terrorist leader Osama bin Laden – coming almost 10 years after that fateful sunny Tuesday in September – marks the end of an important chapter in American history.

For those growing up during the past decade, 9/11 did more than change the way young people see the world: It put an end to the blissful innocence of childhood.

Six Patch editors tell their stories of growing up with bin Laden through high school, college and beyond.

Growing older to make sense of events

By Clawson Editor Nicquel Terry, 23

I was 13 years old on Sept. 11, 2001. I can remember sitting in the cafeteria of my middle school watching smoke emanate from the twin towers and the death toll numbers rising on the bottom of the screen. It just didn't make sense. At the tender age of 13, knowing that people could be so cruel was a striking reality.

My eighth-grade history teacher tried to explain it to us, as we watched CNN with wide, young eyes stuck to the TV screen. I was naive to the world, but still, I knew this was serious.

When I got home, my mom told me how worried she was about me. Her company had sent its employees home for the day and everyone wanted to pick up their children from school right away. With four plane crashes in one day, everyone was just fearful. Weren't you?

At that age, I didn't know anything about terrorism. In fact, I'd never even heard of a terrorist until I started watching CNN and listening in history class. I remember seeing Osama bin Laden as the face of terrorism. All through high school, I saw photos and videos of him on the news. I looked at him as just a bad person responsible for killing thousands. As I matured and things started to make more sense, I learned he was the leader of al-Qaida, the mastermind behind the terrorist attacks and a man the United States wanted "Dead or Alive."

At 13, I would have said of Sunday's events, "We got the bad guy, hooray!" But at 23, it means so much more than that. I know about all the blood, sweat, tears and casualties of the U.S. armed forces in the war on terrorism. I honor the soldiers who risked their lives to kill and capture bin Laden. Let the nation rejoice, but after all the celebrating, I am wise enough to understand this isn't the end. Because for every powerful man, there are followers. And there are followers ready to perpetuate everything bin Laden believed.

Wondering 'what if' everyday

By Macomb Editor Jenny Whalen, 22

I am the third generation in my family to have attended high school while the United States was in a state of war. While I didn't have a ration book like my grandmother or see my male classmates drafted as my mother did, war was a constant presence in my teens.

For weeks following the 9/11 attacks, I collected newspapers following the story. I was glued to my family's television set for the evening news and participated in fundraisers and aid drives at my school for the victims and survivors of 9/11.

Watching the events of 9/11 from my eighth-grade classroom was an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Even now, when I see a plane fly overhead, part of my mind goes back to that day and I can't help but wonder, "What if that plane crashes into the building I am in now?" When I hear of an explosion or any sort of manmade disaster, the less practical side of me immediately thinks, "Could it be a terrorist attack?"

I can't say 9/11 and the military maneuvers that followed were a tangible presence in my teenage years, but they were never far from my mind. Exaggerated as it might sound, that September day signaled the end of the world as I knew it — my childhood world. War was no longer contained to the history books; it was the backdrop of my life and the lives of my friends.

Osama bin Laden is dead, but I don't think I'll ever stop wondering, "What if?" when a plane flies overhead.

Losing a sense of innocence

By Birmingham Editor Laura Houser, 24

I was 14 on Sept. 11, 2001, just a few weeks into my freshman year of high school. I was busy trying to untangle what it meant to be an official high school student, not to mention dealing with the perpetual awkwardness of being 14, soon to be 15. It was a Tuesday. I was on my way to second period French. Someone made a crack about a plane flying into the White House. I thought it was a joke.

I don’t know whether I was lucky or not, but my French teacher thought it best to tell us “someone has attacked the United States,” then move on with her lesson plan. I didn’t watch the news until next period, meaning I missed the live coverage of the second plane colliding with the tower.

That, however, was the last time anyone gave my peers and me any such courtesy. During the next 10 years, my teenage years and early 20s were defined by a perpetual state of war, “Mission Accomplished,” seeing my classmates head to the Middle East, the fall of Iraq's Saddam Hussein and President Barack Obama’s promise of change.

During that time, amid all that tumult, I didn’t give much thought to Osama bin Laden. As the years stretched, my friends and I joked that he was the master at hide-and-seek. We laughed at American paranoia in films such as Team America and Fahrenheit 9/11.  We were jaded. We didn’t expect bin Laden to be found and didn’t see how it would matter otherwise.

Bin Laden’s death Sunday provides a handy bookend to the past 10 years. While I’m thrilled the man has been removed as a threat, I still feel like I lost something. I lost the innocence that’s supposed to accompany youth. Bin Laden’s gone, but now that I’m 24, I know I’m not going to get those 10 years back.

Thought the manhunt would 'go on forever'

By West Bloomfield Editor Tim Rath, 24

Perhaps having witnessed the beginning of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden during my formative years in high school, where my political science study was deeply expanded upon, I thought it would go on forever. The post-9/11 manhunt served as a metronome in that sense to give those of us interested in political news an opportunity to fill the gap in-between clicks — “Nope, still haven’t got him. In other news tonight …”

On the constructive side, I’ve taken that opportunity to learn about the al-Qaida power vacuum that is taking place now that bin Laden is gone and other facts that I hope can make me a more informed and better journalist. On the other hand, it’s difficult for me to imagine the news without this constant overcast of passionate hate from those less rational.

It changes nothing

By White Lake Editor Brooke Meier, 25

I was in the 10th grade when the planes hit the World Trade Centers on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a late-start day for school, and I slept in that day and didn't watch TV before heading to school. When I arrived, I ran into my friend going to class. I will never forget what he said: "We're going to war. You going to enlist?" I then walked into class and saw the television replaying the events of that morning. My first thought, after seeing the footage, was of my family. My second was wondering what the fallout would be.

One of my first assignments as a professional reporter was to cover the case of a missing soldier in Iraq, Pfc. Byron Fouty. He attended Walled Lake Central High School and was near my age. It was so difficult to call his family and write what essentially amounted to an obituary. As someone who grew up in White Lake, just down the road from Walled Lake Central, this soldier could have easily been someone I know, a friend. His body was recovered a few months after my first story, along with the body of his friend and fellow soldier – a year after they had been kidnapped. Again, I had to reach out to his family and write the story of this young man's life.

The death of Osama bin Laden, while a happy occasion for many, is a somber one for me. I can't help but think of the terror and anguish that Fouty, the soldier I wrote about, must have gone through ... and for what? Now, with bin Laden's death, I fear for our soldiers overseas, what else will they have to endure. I fear for my little brother who is 18 and old enough to be drafted should a draft be put in place again.

Bin Laden's death does not give me peace, it doesn't make me feel better about 9/11. If anything, it scares me. Fighting a war on terrorism is like trying to fight racism, ignorance and stupidity. Terrorists are all over the world, including in our own country, and they aren't in it for the money; they fight because they believe in what they are fighting for. Bin Laden's death changes nothing.

A moment I couldn't comprehend

By Dearborn Editor Jessica Carreras, 25

High school was a blur and now that I'm almost a decade out from graduating, it exists in my memory as snippets of the most important moments. One I will never forget — and I'm sure I'm not alone in this — is where I was when 9/11 happened. I was in 10th grade and I was excited because all of our classes had been canceled. "How great," I thought,  "no math today!" But then the meaning of that day began to sink in during the hours, days and weeks afterward.

I remember calling my father, who was a taxi cab driver in New York City at the time. He said the streets of NYC were in a state of absolute chaos. Though I was never very political, I knew this meant something more than I could even comprehend at age 15. It's funny, thinking back now, that when we went to class and all the TVs were turned to the news, we had no idea that we were watching something that would soon be in history books.

Beth Hammergren May 07, 2011 at 07:32 PM
Thank you for these wonderful thoughts from these talented editors. I too will remember that day & what I was doing. I am an OR nurse and we were pushing a patient back to the SICU after surgery when a co-worker came around the corner & stated that 2 planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. I turned to the nurse anesthetist and said "It's terrorists and they're not done". She is younger than me and didn't understand why I had said that, but unfortunately I was correct. The next thing I thought about was my family-my parents who had witnessed the depression, Pearl Harbor, the nuclear bombs of WWII and now this. My brother, who traveled frequently for business-but he was in town. My co-workers-many who had family living in New York. It was so strange looking at the silent skies during the grounding of all air traffic. I flew on the first day that flights were permitted to travel again. It was the beginning of my vacation. I was looking forward to going to a friends house who doesn't have a television to escape the visual images that we were bombarded with & to start my healing process. The world has changed forever. I hope we all learn lessons from this & live life to its fullest every single day.

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