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Reflecting on the Pentagon attack: Clara City native was 100 feet from impact: Personal changes

Jeff Caspers was working in his office at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, when an airplane that had been hijacked by terrorists slammed into the building.

The then Marine Colonel, who is a 1975 graduate from Clara City, was just 100 feet away from the point of impact.

In a telephone interview later that day, Caspers said he heard a "massive blast" and felt the building "shake and quiver."

He escaped unharmed, but at that point he didn't know the fate of his colleagues and he didn't know what lay ahead for the country.

"In some ways it seems long ago and some ways it seems like yesterday," said Caspers, in a recent telephone interview. "Ten years is a long time."

The 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 is causing most Americans -- especially those who were near the target of attack -- to reflect on the last decade and the event that launched the country's war on terror.

"I don't dwell and focus on 9/11 every day of my life," said Caspers.

But there are reminders, like seeing people he worked with at the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

"You're glad to see them alive 10 years later, just like you were the day of," said Caspers. There's a "shared bond" of emotions from "having been there at the time."

The memorial services and news stories leading up to the anniversary "will bring more vivid reminders," said Caspers. "But it was sort of surreal at the time."

Caspers parents, Dalen and Jan, still live in Clara City and vividly remember anxiously waiting for word about their son on Sept. 11

"It was a very nerve-racking morning," said Dalen Caspers.

The 10th anniversary is another opportunity to remember the sadness of the attack but also to be thankful that their son is alive.

Perhaps because of his past combat duty where he was exposed to "explosions and fires," and because he was able to get out of the Pentagon unharmed, Caspers admits he may be a little "stoic" about his 9/11 experience.

But his life has indeed changed.

"I realized life is precious. To be thankful for what God has given me. To realize that in a second you could be gone."

After 27 years in the military, Caspers retired in 2004 and now works for a non-profit organization in Colombus, Ohio. He made the change so he could spend more time with his wife, Anita, and four children. He has one child left in high school.

Since 9/11 Caspers said he's become "a little more security conscious" and is cautious of risks. He said he has no desire to travel overseas anymore.

He said he's more content with what he has and said it's important to "savor all those moments and find joy where ever you're placed."

The events of Sept. 11 launched the United States into a war that has still not ended, despite the death of Osama bin Laden, who orchestrated the attacks, said Caspers.

"Life as we know it significantly changed on that date," he said. There are people who "still intend to do us harm and they haven't given up."

One of the visible changes is the "hundreds of new grave sites" at Arlington National Cemetery for men and women who've died in the last decade on two war fronts.

"Every statistic has a human face behind it. They should not be forgotten," said Caspers.

He said whether or not Americans agree with past or current foreign politics, they must continue to support military troops as the wars continue.

"We need to pull together. It's not over. And we shouldn't forget," he said.

The praise and support for military troops should also be extended to community first responders and emergency crews who put their own lives at risk every day to help others, said Caspers.

"They're all patriots," he said.

Whether it's additional screenings and pat-downs at the airport or going through metal detectors at building entrances, Caspers said the 9/11 attacks have also resulted in increased government security in public buildings that affect nearly everyone. He calls the actions "necessary intrusions in our civil liberties."

Calling himself a private person, Caspers said he doesn't intend to attend any 9/11 memorial services on Sunday, but he carries the sacrifice of those who've died in the 9/11 decade close to his heart.

He hopes Americans never forget 9/11 and never forget those who died and their families who've been left behind.

But Caspers said the day should also be remembered because of the country's efforts to "heal that wound" and "show that it couldn't be knocked down."

Along with the tears, 9/11 should also be a time to celebrate life and the "resiliency of our nation and our ability to pick ourselves up from the ashes and rebuild."

Caspers said he hopes the 10th anniversary will help people realize "America is still a good place and it's motivated by noble and worthy ideals, and while we're fighting overseas we're attempting to bring those values and ideals to those who don't have them."

For an earlier generation, Dec. 7, when Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, was the date etched in America's soul. While the emotional punch of that date has ebbed over time, Caspers said it should "never fade from our memory" and the consequences and lessons should never be forgotten.

The same is true, he said, for Sept. 11.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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