CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Afghanistan --
“Being there that day and seeing the things I saw left an indelible mark on my psyche, my soul; I couldn’t get beyond it. The more I thought about it I realized I wanted to give back in some way; I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure something like that could never happen again.”
Not a cloud marred the sky in the early morning hours of Sept. 11 as Darryl St. George began his commute from Northport, Long Island, N.Y., to Marymount Manhattan College. The day’s beauty left a lasting impression on him and he was in a great mood as he caught up on some reading during the train ride to school.
His morning class was on ancient civilizations and the students were studying Mesopotamia, or modern day Iraq – the irony would hit St. George years later. He arrived at school early and sat outside the elevator, continuing to read, hoping to catch up on homework.
“I remember the elevator doors opened and a woman exited the elevator and she was hysterically crying. It was jarring; I didn’t know what to do,” said St. George, a 2004 Marymount Manhattan graduate. “Before I could react, a lady went to comfort her. At first it was impossible – you couldn’t get anything out of her; she was just crying, gasping for air like she was having difficulty breathing, hyperventilating. Eventually I could piece it together. She kept saying, “A plane, a plane,” and then she finally said, “A plane hit the World Trade Center.”
“I remember thinking, that’s horrible,” mentioned St. George. “I thought it was like when the plane crashed into the Empire State Building – I thought it was a small plane. I remember thinking there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, how could this have happened? After that I didn’t really give it another thought.”
St. George explained that he entered his class and after about 30 minutes, one of the administrators came into the room and said, “We’re under attack. You all need to get home, get back to your dorms; class is cancelled. Try and get in touch with your family and friends.” The student behind St. George stood up and said, “My father works in the World Trade Center.” He hurried out of the room.
“I never saw him again,” St. George said. “I just remember trying to figure everything out; it was very confusing and overwhelming.”
St. George and the other students made their way down the stairs and tried to get in touch with their families, but the phones weren’t working. He didn’t have a cell phone at the time, so he stepped out the door and onto the street.
“It was probably the most eerie experience of my life,” remembered St. George. “In New York City there is always sound; it’s always crazy and loud. At this particular moment you could hear a pin drop. There was absolute silence – only the occasional fire truck whizzing downtown or a jet flying overhead.”
It began to sink in that what was happening was more serious than he originally thought. St. George said he decided he needed to get to the subway, but once he arrived he realized they weren’t working. He made his way up the subway stairs and back onto the city streets.
“There was kind of a quiet chaos,” he said. “There were people all scattered around, but it was quiet. On the corner of every street was a radio and people surrounded them trying to figure out what was going on, what was happening.”
He began to walk downtown to Pennsylvania Station when a little old woman stopped before him. She was elderly and didn’t seem to be a stranger to war, almost as if she intuitively knew what was going on. She looked up and said, “My god, we’re under attack.”
“You can’t make this stuff up; it was like something out of a movie,” said St. George. “I didn’t know what to say to her. I looked at her and asked if there was anything I could do for her. She looked at me and replied, ‘I feel sorry for you.’ I didn’t understand. There was a pause. Then she finished her thought, ‘I feel sorry for you because it’s your generation that will inherit this war.’ This woman seemed to know all of this on this day when it was happening. Then she said to be careful and she left.”
He said he soon realized he was the only one walking downtown. He saw people walking uptown, bleeding, with soot, debris and concrete covering their suits, and it all began to sink in. When he arrived at Pennsylvania Station, he had to wait for the trains to start service. Time passed, people gathered, and eventually he could hear a few businessmen saying, “Did you hear? They are cheering in Pakistan, burning American flags.” More and more it began to sink in.
The trains finally began service; St. George boarded and was on his way home. The train passed through a dark tunnel on its journey, and when it emerged, he saw that beautiful day once again, almost as if it had all been a dream. The train passed by a Korean Presbyterian church with a scripture quote from the Old Testament, “Is it nothing to all you who pass by.”
“I remember seeing that and just losing it,” St. George said. “The significance of that day impacted me in such a way that it forever changed me in my outlook and my priorities. Gradually that change, which still lives on in me to this day, has forever altered the course of my life. I know that day changed many people’s lives, especially the people who lost friends and family members.”
Indeed, the tragic events of the day did change St. George’s life. He changed his college focus from acting to history and later became a teacher at his own alma mater of Northport High School in Northport, Long Island, to teach the next generation of young people the importance of understanding history.
“What better way (to avoid tragic events like this) than to teach the youth about history and try to guide them and give them an understanding about the past, and hopefully they’ll make the right decisions that will shape our future for the better,” he explained.
St. George’s life changed again in 2008 when he joined the Navy to fulfill his second ambition of serving the nation. He took a leave of absence from his teaching position to join the military and is currently Navy seaman assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, as a corpsman, providing medical care to Marines and sailors in his unit. He said he plans to return to teaching at Northport High School when he completes his enlistment.
Editor’s note: Second Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, recently retuned to the United States from a deployment in Afghanistan, where it was assigned to 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force is currently serving as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.