An Army Career Forged in Wake of Tragedy
By Will Norton
Sitting in a Wake Forest University barber shop at 10:00 a.m. on September 11, 2001, I remember hearing over the radio that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I recall talking with my Vietnam veteran barber about how we thought the plane was a probably a small, single-engine aircraft.
The reality of what I had heard would be very different.
My eventual career as a U.S. Army officer—by way of Wake Forest ROTC—would be forged by this tragedy that killed nearly 3,000 people. At that moment, I did not understand how this attack would alter my future, but I knew our nation’s almost certain entry into a long-term war against terrorism strengthened my resolve to serve my country.
I felt the same way my grandfathers—one a Marine at Iwo Jima, the other an Army officer in the Pacific—must have felt when they were determined to defeat the Japanese during World War II.
On that day, there was no way of knowing the extent of the sacrifices I would make or my military service would take me to the Middle East for 28 months, which encompassed two combat deployments. My son was born during one of those absences, but I was fortunate. I made it home to see him. Many of America’s finest young men and women made the ultimate sacrifice while fighting for our country.
The attacks I witnessed as a young man emboldened my desire to serve the nation and keep in check the forces of the world that seek to do us harm. They also strengthened my commitment as an ROTC cadet. Later, I would serve with pride in the 3rd Infantry Division as an artillery officer. Three years later, my brother Jameson became a Marine Corps infantry officer and served two combat tours after graduating from the University of Virginia and its ROTC program.
Today, I am a history teacher and the dean of the high school at Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville, Tennessee. As I teach these topics to my students and reflect on my Army career, my passion for the military continues to grow—as does my trust that the United States will always have the resolve needed to keep the rogue forces of the world in check.
Serving in the military was a great honor and I am forever thankful for those who continue to serve, especially for those who gave all. In my view, my service is the least that I could do and I will never regret continuing forward in Army ROTC after one of America’s darkest days.
– Will Norton is a former Army captain who separated from active duty in 2008 before serving three additional years in the Tennessee National Guard.
Stories in this Series
Dec 22, 2014
Finding the Faith and Will to Fight On
While battling insurgents on the streets of Mosul, Iraq, Army Maj. Damon Armeni was severely wounded by a rocket-propelled grenade that nearly killed him. But this isn’t a story about what happened that day; it’s about where he found the strength to recover.
Dec 16, 2014
Constant Challenges Keep Trauma Surgeon Going
Dr. Raymond Fang said he “can’t begin to guess” how many patients he treated directly or whose cases he oversaw. He figures it’s in the thousands—fathers, mothers, sons and daughters who in past conflicts likely never would have survived beyond the battlefield.
Dec 10, 2014
The Little Men of Afghanistan
Afghan children don’t know their country’s history is one long, never-ending tragedy. They don’t know they can only expect to live 45 years, and to live those years in poverty. And no one need tell them they’ll know the sights and sounds of combat before they are teenagers.
Dec 3, 2014
Photos of Smiling Troops are the Story of Roker's USO Tour
Al Roker, the gregarious weatherman-turned-co-anchor of NBC’s “Today” gets hundreds of photo requests from fans standing just beyond the barriers of the show’s outdoor studio in the heart of Manhattan. On a 2014 USO tour, Roker was the one asking for photos.