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.