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Leslie Perales Remembers 9/11

Perales' brother was three days from graduating from USMC bootcamp in California at the time of the attacks.

• Editor's note: If you've been following Herndon Patch for a while you know I don't normally write about myself, but as I discussed 9/11 with others I was encouraged to share my own experience.

I woke up the day after my 16th birthday to find everyone sitting in the living room eyes wide open, staring at the television. I grew up in Michigan, but my dad, stepmother and I were visiting relatives in Phoenix before heading to California to watch my brother Andrew graduate from Marine Corps boot camp. 

When he told us roughly a year before that he wanted to join the military after graduation we consoled ourselves with the phrase, "At least it's during a time of peace." That comforting thought we had disappeared quickly that day. 

For his Sept. 14, 2001 USMC graduation, we had to go to a dirt parking lot for inspection and clearance, and were taken by bus to Camp Pendleton. Everything was shut down and we were whisked back off base as graduation ended. The next couple days were filled with anxiety as our family tried to make sure we could get flights back home. Andrew was not allowed to travel back home in uniform, and had to wear the one dirty, musty set of clothing he went to boot camp in.

I was a naïve teenager. I remember feeling confused and thinking, “Why would anyone do this?” I’d never heard of Al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. The only terrorist attacks I knew of were ones learned about in history class, or the Oklahoma City Bombing.

My brother was my best friend growing up and I was afraid for him. We worried he’d be shipped to the Middle East as soon as he finished his training. We were lucky. He only ever spent six months overseas, mostly in Kuwait, in 2003 and was never deployed again.

"Lucky" may not even cover it. My brother was in communications and computer systems. He helped keep the Internet communications, what they referred to as "the gateway," running for the U.S. military in Kuwait and Iraq, so he was online often and we talked to him over instant messenger.

My awareness of the world outside America, the U.S. military and what those in the armed forces, police and fire departments go through both on a daily basis and on a large scale, grew quickly after 9/11. I still worry. And I can't watch a member of the military come home to their family without crying. I tear up just thinking about it. 


Patch's more than 850 editors across the country spoke to people in their communities about how 9/11 impacted them. There are 911 profiles as part of the project, creating a broad range of experiences and memories. To see them all, click here.  

Rodger P September 12, 2011 at 02:29 PM
I have lived in Herndon since I was 4 years old (I lived in Reston before that) . I was 20-years-old during 9/11 and heard all the events unfold over the radio on my way to work on an event in Richmond. By the time I got to Richmond, the towers were gone and my first visual of what happened was playing in re-reruns on the TVs. For those who had to follow over the local radio, It was quite unreal, not just because of what actually happened, but also due to all the early mis-information. According to the early radio confusion, they said not only had the World Trade Center and Pentagon been hit, but the State Department, Capital, Washington Monument and some sites on the West Coast were attacked as well. Eventually the facts were sorted out, but the vision in my mind while driving down I-95 was apocalyptic. The one thing that still haunts my memory was the few days after 9-11 when no planes were allowed to fly. I lived in the flight path of Dulles my whole life and that was the only time it was dead quiet in the neighborhood at night.
Leslie Perales Loges (Editor) September 12, 2011 at 06:53 PM
Rodger I can't imagine what it must have been like to hear silent skies here. When we first moved here we lived in Ashburn, probably about two miles or less from one of the runways and always heard the planes. When we moved to Oakton I sort of missed the sound. It became so normal. Now in Reston we live in the path of one of the runways and the planes fly right over us. It must be frightening not to hear them. We got stuck in California for a couple extra days as we waited for flights to go out. Luckily it wasn't as long as some others had to wait for flights. It was also the first trip I ever went on by plane, and being afraid of heights I cried a lot on our first leg out to California. On the way back I was even more anxious, though for the most part I don't mind flying now.
Todd C Smith September 13, 2011 at 06:27 AM
I remember the silence in the skies as well during those days following the attack. It was an eery feeling. After the planes hit, my father, who lived in Old Town at the time, called and said he thought he heard a huge bomb explode. It was then reported that the Pentagon had been attacked. He said he could feel the ground rumble like an earthquake just a few miles away. Normally he would have been driving right by the Pentagon around that time since he worked for congress but had just started his own business the year before in Old Town. It does not seem possible 10 years have passed. But it doesn't feel that recent either. It reminds me of how I feel when I wake from a nightmare - wondering for a moment if it really happened or not. Thank you for sharing your experience Leslie and I am so glad your brother returned home safely. I thank him for his service in protecting our country.

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