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  • Madison Whitney

Auburn student reflects on what could have been on the 20th anniversary of 9/11

As President Biden withdraws U.S. troops from Afghanistan, ending America's longest war, this anniversary means even more to so many.

For Auburn junior Jillian Dalton, this closing chapter in military history hits close to home, knowing that her family could have been one of the first pages.

Dalton's parents, Karla and Jon, were struck by cupid’s bow at the University of New Hampshire. Closing in on her father's senior year, he joined the Marine Corps Reserve. Ten years later, after Jillian and her brother Charlie were born, her parents made a decision that perhaps prevented their lives from changing forever: Jon would leave the reserves.

"He decided to leave so he could focus on our family and build the next chapter of his life. He had given 10 years to the military and had decided it was time," Dalton said.

Most lives were changed on Sept. 11, 2001,. The Dalton family's lives were changed on Sept. 10, 2001,. "My dad's discharge papers were successfully processed the day before the attack, and he was no longer an active member of the Marine Corps," Dalton said.

“I'm not sure what would have happened, and that is the scariest part,” she worried.

Not knowing his fate would be like being stuck in a maze.

“My younger sister wouldn't be here, and my dad may not be alive to tell us his stories," Dalton said.

Dalton loves to share stories about her dad. Her favorite story to tell that always makes her turn beet red from laughter is her dad on New Year’s Eve. She imitates her dad after one too many drinks, singing and dancing in his bright, sparkly blue dress shirt, doing whatever he can to embarrass his three children.

Now 20 years later, at the age her dad was when he decided to join the Marines, she couldn't be more grateful. "Even though he was stateside and wasn't actively fighting in a war that would have changed the very next day. Now that I am 20 years old, I can process what took place that day and understand what he was doing stateside. I didn't realize how much of an impact he had," said Dalton.

"I am happy he got to continue his impact stateside, not for his country, but for his family," Dalton added as she shared early memories of her dad coaching her elementary soccer team.

Empathy is an emotion shared most on this day. Dalton is the perfect picture of this emotion. With a blank face, eyes moving, thinking hard on what is the right thing to say. After letting out a meaningful sigh, not knowing what to say, Dalton added, "I am not really sure, there is a lot I want to say, but not a lot I know to say. Not everyone shares my story. I want to be able to do whatever I can for the families that aren't so fortunate, especially given recent events."

When asked how the attack influenced her view on the country, she said, "the camaraderie after 9/11 reminds me of the reasons why people move to America. This is a great country, but there is always something in the world that wants to take the good things away from you."

War is more than just geography. As we remove soldiers from Afghanistan, Dalton reminds us that the war is far from over and is as unknown as that fate of her father. "There is so much more healing and learning to be done. I hope that my generation will understand the sacrifices and honor this day for what it is."

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