Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2001 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Brian Oglevie is a tenacious yet endearing 41-year-old who works as a computer software manager and a U.S. Air Force helicopter flight engineer. The divorced parent of three was born in Salem, Oregon, and now lives in Portland. When he’s not sipping coffee, spending time with his kids or flying for the Air Force, he’s installing software in hospitals throughout the eastern half of the United States and beyond. His passions include scuba diving, hiking, camping, golfing and wine tasting. Brian was just waking up as the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center. He wrote his contribution Sept. 28.
My brother and I have a wonderfully sharing relationship. We’ve always understood how important it is to spend time together today, because there may be no tomorrow. It was just like Mark to call me as soon as the disaster started being televised on 11 Sep 01. He would have been my first call after I got over the initial shock of witnessing what every single station was playing, and once I was able to find my breath. It is impossible to fathom the loss of life and how many families were ripped apart.
I’m not sure how to explain the grief I felt that morning. In a moment I went from rubbing the sleep out of my eyes to feeling as though my heart had been torn from its place. How can the human body generate tears that quickly? I can count on one hand how many times in my life I’ve felt that much immediate emotional pain. The day my father took me by the hand and explained that my mother was leaving us … a late evening phone call to inform me I had just lost 13 very dear friends in a military plane crash … and this. We all see tragedy on a seemingly daily basis in the news, though we may choose to ignore the bulk of it, but when it is thrust in your face there is no time or place to hide yourself. You never forget that kind of pain.
So you wipe the tears away when you can, walk out of the room when you must. You search desperately to remember if you have friends or family in that area today. Two hours after the first sacrifice in the World Trade Center, I have an Air Force flight suit on. Briefings are notoriously not brief except for this day. We have no information to share except that we’ve been put on alert for local disaster support. Six weeks prior I was patrolling the northern no-fly zone of Iraq where the danger is very real, but expected. How in Hell can I be putting on body armor and arming up to fly missions in my own country? Yesterday I worried about protecting my children from some of the improper decisions they make as they grow to be adults … I feel so weak because I cannot protect them from this.
And now the Air Force is saying it’s time to get your life in order. We will be traveling overseas soon. Everyone is aware of the lack of humanity the Afghans show their prisoners of war as the poem of a famous author finds its way onto the flight schedule board. But of course the majority of us, having been weaned on testosterone-laden John Wayne movies, prefer the message of an unknown author that has graced our squadron hall since I’ve been a member of this rescue unit: “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees!”
I’ve spent a great deal of time in the Middle East over the last decade and have a good understanding of how we arrived at this point. I wish that I could say I was shocked at what transpired here, but I have witnessed what man is capable of during too many wars. It is hard to understand and accept that someone can hate so deeply, but they do. Always remember that amongst us there are those who do, and they are wrong!