MUSKEGON, Mich. — Twenty years ago, the September 11 terrorist attacks shook our nation. It was a time of overwhelming grief, but for some, like a Muskegon veteran and his wife, it was also a call to duty.
Almost everyone has a story about where they were when they heard and saw what happened that fateful September 2001 morning.
“I was getting ready to go to class and I just happened to turn on the Today show, and I saw the smoke coming from the first tower and then I watched the second plane hit the second tower on live TV. I immediately called my parents and I said, 'Are you watching this?' And they were not at the time, and I said, ‘I think we're under attack,'” recalled James Dial, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel.
Dial, a 1996 graduate of Oakridge High School, was fresh out of the Army and in college studying for his next career: nursing.
“[Sept. 11] was a life-changing moment, especially for my wife and I because we were both prior active-duty military members,” Dial said. “We went through all of the stages of grief that everybody else went through; it was the initial shock and sorrow and then that just immediately for me went to anger. And an overwhelming sense of guilt, honestly, because all of my friends were still in active duty.”
Those emotions led to a strong call to duty.
“We were never recruited, honestly. We recruited the recruiter to come recruit us, if you will. I signed a contract right after September 11th,” Dial said.
Dial and his wife reenlisted to serve in the U.S. Army.
“I joined to be there, to take care of the warfighter on the battlefield and I wanted to do that. I wanted to be on the ground as far forward as possible, so that I can make an immediate impact,” he added. "For me personally, going in during a wartime situation, that's what I wanted. I wanted to be there for those people that were gonna be out there on the ground."
As a critical care nurse, the retired lieutenant colonel tended to the most-injured American heroes, both at home and during multiple deployments.
“War has definitely changed me. I mean, it changes everybody that goes; you're just going to see things that you will never see anywhere else. But I'm grateful,” Dial said.
While reflecting on his two decades of service, Dial wants others to be just as grateful and never forget those who answered that same call to serve and defend our country.
“The men and women that go out there and put their lives on the line, they're the best of us and I firmly believe that,” Dial said. “Less than 1 percent of the United States population raises their hand and says, 'I'll carry the flag; I'll stand on this line for you.'”
“We've been at war for 20 years. The American soldier has been at war for 20 years. The American public has not, and at times, it feels like they've kind of forgotten that,” Dial said. “It's easy to just go on with your lives. It's like, we love the American soldier, but we don't really want to think about what they're going through right now and that's unfortunate. But hopefully we can be better.”