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.

Will Norton, right, during a 2007 deployment to Iraq. | Photo credit Photo courtesy of Will Norton

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.