Remembering September 11, 2001
Melanie Graham, Lt(N) (retired)
I’m not a Veteran of Afghanistan, as I was never given an opportunity to serve as a Public Affairs Officer there before I retired in 2012. But I have had the privilege of serving with and for many of the remarkable men and women who have served Canada there. It’s for them that I began this book project with Captain Susan Magill in 2010. And it’s for them that I now share my recollections of the day that started it all.
I still remember the morning of September 11, 2001 very clearly. I had only joined the Canadian Navy as a MARS Officer candidate the year before and was on leave in Port Townsend, Washington, enjoying a kayak festival with friends. My daughter called me on my cel at about 7:30 in the morning, as I was brushing my teeth at the campground washroom, to ask if I was OK. She was terribly upset. It was confusing enough to receive a call from my teenage daughter that early in the morning, but when she announced that she had just learned that Washington had been attacked and was afraid I might have been hurt I was truly confused.
She went on to explain the horrific events of that morning and I quickly reassured her that Washington DC and the State of Washington were very far apart and I would be home soon. Then I ran back to our campsite. One of my friends was a retired US Navy Seal. I broke the news to our group and together we tried to make sense of it all. I decided to take the first ferry I could back to Victoria to report in.
We stopped for breakfast on the drive to the ferry at Port Angeles, my Navy Seal friend and I, and watched the television news in shock and horror. We had time to spare before the next available ferry and were desperate for news. Our waitress could not stop crying as she brought our orders. She attempted to refill our coffees then simply put the coffee pot down, and kept her eyes glued to the TV.
It was a bright, beautiful September morning so once on the ferry I paced the upper deck, restless to get back to the Base. I chanced to look astern as we passed the mid point of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and watched in awe as a massive black US submarine raced past our stern out to the Pacific. No doubt it was soon to submerge, but for those few moments its size and black presence as it sped past caught at me somehow. Eerie and chilling, all that massive power, yet so silent and fast.
As we entered Victoria Harbour I was struck by the fact that ALL the Canadian flags I could see were already half-masted. Driving through the States to catch the ferry, none of the flags had been lowered yet. The entire US nation seemed paralyzed in shock. Understandable, but I couldn’t help feeling terribly proud of the countless Canadians who were so quick to respond, to show concern and respect, not only for the Canadians killed in the attacks, but also for the devastation facing our neighbours to the south.
As I made my way through Canadian customs and showed my still very new Canadian military ID it felt unbelievably good to see the customs agent straighten and hear him say “Ma’am, welcome home . . .”