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How 9/11 has shaped a generation of Americans

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Isaac Miguel knew something was up that September day because he could hear that the television in his parents' room was on – at 5 a.m. local time in Honolulu, where they lived. A seventh-grader, he'd never heard of the World Trade Center until his mother explained what was going on. He barely knew where New York City was.

His reaction was a slow-building wave. He attended an all-boys private high school where many of his classmates were military kids. He heard a lot about what their parents were doing overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan – and increasingly, he wanted to join them. First he enrolled in ROTC. Then with his parents' consent he signed up for the Marines after his junior year. Today he's a sergeant who's served in both war zones. "I really wanted to be a part of it," he says.

9/11 was a fire that shaped a generation. It's true that Americans of all ages felt shock, fear, and uncertainty at attacks unlike any the nation had experienced. But for young people, the events of that day were a defining epic, in the way that Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy's assassination were for their elders.

For many it was the first time they'd seen adults cry; the first time they'd felt their security threatened; the first time the outside world had reached through the television screen and tapped them on the shoulder, figuratively speaking.

Not all of them learned Arabic. Not all of them joined the military. Their lives may have been affected by Facebook and new social networks as much as by the visage of Osama bin Laden.

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