I Was 14 on 9/11, And a Marine in Afghanistan When We Killed Bin Laden

ByLawrence Lee

For me, September 11 marked an abrupt entry into adulthood. It was my first week of high school at Brooklyn Technical High School, in downtown Brooklyn, just across the river from downtown Manhattan. I was in health education, my first class of the day. I remember my teacher receiving a phone call, stepping outside, and returning crying. The day continued as normal for a little while; my math teacher refused to deviate from his lesson plan. Soon, though, people started realizing what was happening. We were close enough that you could see the World Trade Center from certain windows in the school. There is a (perhaps apocryphal) story that a student was staring out the window and saw the planes strike the towers.  He reported what he saw to the teacher who promptly dismissed it as daydreams.  As the day wore on, I found my way to the auditorium where large TVs were setup. Eventually, I found my brother, who was a senior, and we contacted our father who picked us up.

For the next few days, I imagined that the U.S. would be entering into its next large war — against whom and where I had no idea, but I thought I would soon be overseas fighting. Since I was only 14 at the time, I played with the idea of pretending to be someone who didn't want to go to war.

The prospect of going to war excited me. Pre-disposed to perhaps a bit too much introspection, I had never been able to do anything without self-doubt. This idea of running full-tilt at or away from someone or something attracted me.

But, as things went, it was not (initially) a large operation. I finished high school, went to college for two years, and took a year off to work. By this time, thoughts about Sept. 11 faded from my consciousness. I had a friend who enlisted in the Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq twice.  Although he didn't laud the Marine Corps, it did help him get his life on track and I deeply respected him.

So, in 2008, I enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve.

In October 2011, my reserve unit was looking for Marines to mobilize for Afghanistan starting in November. I was taking an overload in school and working two part-time jobs to pay for my tuition, so I volunteered to go. I did regret having to leave my English class on post-modern American fiction, but in Afghanistan, I was reading a few of the books that were on the syllabus.   When I finally got to Pattern Recognition, I started thinking about the effect that Sept. 11 had on my life. I also started to see a number of other books (Chronic City, Cosmopolis) as not just post-modern but post-Sept. 11.

I was in Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden was killed. I was out on a convoy at the time when we got the news, so the celebrations were limited. To be completely honest, there wasn't much of a celebratory mood among my platoon. There were worries instead – worries that insurgent attacks would increase.

When I received a letter from my friend that detailed how crowds gathered in the streets of New York City to celebrate bin Laden's death, I was very surprised. It hadn't occurred to me how so many people felt so insecure with him on the loose. I was even more surprised to find that so many people felt that bin Laden's death brought some closure to their lives.

READ: PolicyMic's special 9/11 coverage featuring the stories of veterans.