Andy Sampson should have been studying that day in late 2005, but he needed to write. Once he started he couldn't stop.
What resulted was a 2,000-word essay detailing the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when he was a 19-year-old lance corporal serving in the Marine Corps Headquarters communications center next door to the Pentagon.
The Montevideo graduate says now that his writing helped cut down on the nightmares he was having about that day and its aftermath.
"It was one of those situations where my mind and hands were in sync, and the words just continuously flowed together," Sampson wrote in an email interview. "I hadn't talked about it much to actual people, just family mostly, but this gave me a way to share it, without actually sharing it. It was the release I didn't know I was looking for; like something was forcing me to write it."
Sampson has given the Tribune permission to reproduce his essay, which can be found in its entirety at www.wctrib.com. "Thank you for allowing me to share," he wrote. "Minnesota is full of great people that support our military, so I wanted to provide an interesting, 'hometown' perspective on my experience."
When he wrote the essay, he was a full-time student at American InterContinental University, and he was supposed to be doing research and studying, "but instead (I) just sat and started writing my story."
Sampson and one other Marine stayed behind in the communications center when the center was evacuated on 9/11. His essay relates the uncertainty and fear of the time: "For all we knew, terrorists were charging the Pentagon and Annex, so we started making a checklist of items to lock down and destroy ... I always wondered why we had a sledgehammer in the Comm Center. I quickly found out that it was for smashing classified computers so the enemy couldn't obtain any information."
Eventually, Sampson and his colleague were told to evacuate "or suffer the consequences of disobeying an order," even though the communications center was never to be left unmanned. As they left and began to cross the street, they could see the destruction and flames at the Pentagon, and they saw three people coming up the street. One of them was badly burned, so they helped him inside the base gate across the street
In the aftermath of the attack on the Pentagon, Sampson and others in his platoon were assigned to guard duty or to triage the wounded. Sampson worked with casualties, and the next day he was assigned to help begin cleanup efforts at the Pentagon.
Confronted with the sights and smells of the destruction, he wrote in his essay: "The totality of it all finally hit, not only for what had happened, but for how much of a close call it really was, for me and many others. To this day, I ponder the thought of about 1000 yards separating me from being among those that weren't so fortunate."
Sampson received the Navy Achievement Medal for his participation in the aftermath of 9/11. He earned the rank of sergeant while a Marine.
Sampson served in the Marine Corps from June 2000 to June 2004, "and loved all of it." After basic training in San Diego and training in computer networking he was stationed at Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., and worked at the communications center.
After his service, Sampson used the GI bill to earn a bachelor's degree in computer information systems. He now lives in West Virginia and has worked for Telos Corp. for more than seven years. The company operates an enterprise messaging system which is used by all branches of the military and other agencies.
His work takes him to the Pentagon sometimes. "I'm not nervous about working there at all, except when we had that earthquake this week," he wrote in August. "I was there and it was a bit unnerving, as you could imagine."
The attacks on 9/11 changed his life, as they did for nearly everyone, he said.
"It makes you appreciate things more, especially family," Sampson wrote in the email. "After hearing families' experience that day, from their perspective -- the worry and not knowing if I was OK -- made me re-evaluate whether I wanted to continue with a career in the military. I worried that I could be put in much worse situations and I didn't want my family to have to live in that kind of worry. We're a pretty close family, so it's hard to see them like that."
Sampson's sister, Angie Danielson, sent his essay to the Tribune after the newspaper posted a request on Facebook for 9/11 memories.
Danielson said that the day was indeed very difficult for the family as they waited to hear if their son and brother was safe. Danielson and Sampson are the oldest of five children raised by their single mother, Marie Brovold. Danielson, Brovold and two younger siblings Lukus and Lexi still live in Montevideo. Another sister, Ashley Dwire, lives in Kerkhoven.
Sampson said the family moved to Montevideo from Willmar just before he started fourth grade. He had an older friend who joined the Marines, and that led him to the Marines' delayed entry program as a sophomore.
Distance running is a hobby, he wrote, and he competed in the Marine Corps Marathon last fall for Team Fisher House, a charity that helps families of wounded soldiers. He runs in a few races a year, mostly those which benefit wounded troops.
Sampson closed his essay with this thought: