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By Thomas F. O'Neill

Remembering Sept 11th 2001

I was working in Glen Burnie, Maryland as the Senior Parole and Probation Agent on September 11, 2001. That day started out no different than any other working day. I was in the field checking on some of my Parolees’ and Probationers. My caseload at that time was somewhere in the ball park of 190 offenders. That is quite a lot for one person to handle because at that time the Agents had no computers to work with. There have been a lot of changes since then though mostly out of necessity due to the huge turnover in personnel.

My first stop on that September morning was the home of a man who never checked in with me after being paroled from Prison.

I was making my fifth attempt to meet with him.

The Parolee liked to be referred to as Hank and he kept a huge and mean looking Rottweiler in his front yard. The dog barked and growled at anyone that approached the house.

Whenever I went to his home I always came prepared with a small piece of beef jerky that I would toss to this mean looking dog. Like the other times I went there Hank never responded to me when I called out to him from the front gate.

The Rottweiler by this time though was used to me and when he saw me he was looking forward to the beef jerky. I built up enough nerve that day to pat the dog on the head while handing him the tasty treat. I then nervously opened the gate and worked my way up to the front door and to my surprise the dog began licking my hand.

I noticed the front door was unlocked so I opened it and yelled for Hank. My Parolee popped his head up from his sofa and looked at me. He then got up looked out into his front yard for his dog. He seemed a bit confused as to why his dog didn’t have me for breakfast.

I quickly noticed that Hank was under the influence of something because he kept scratching himself and mumbling something over and over again incoherently. He then walked back into his living room and plopped back down on his well lived sofa. I explained to him that he needed to report to my office the following day if not I had no choice but to violate his Parole. I wanted to have his urine tested because his speech and everything about him told me he was on drugs.

It was at that moment my cell phone rang it was my mother calling to tell me that airplanes had flown into the World Trade center in New York City.

I asked Hank if I could turn on his TV to see what was going on there.

“Sure thing, Agent O’Malley” said Hank.

I then handed him my card and said, “It’s Agent O’Neill and here is my phone number and the address to my office. I want to see you there tomorrow morning.”

When I turned on his TV the News was covering the events of 9/11. The first thing I saw on the television was the twin towers on fire. I told my mother on the phone, “it’s definitely a terrorist attack and I’ll call back shortly.”

“That looks like a pretty good movie,” said Hank in a drug addicted stupor.

“America is under attack,” I told him.

“Cool,” said Hank “is Bruce Willis in it?”

I was shocked at what I was seeing and felt so sad when a close up showed people falling from the World Trade Center windows.

“I got beer in the fridge,” said Hank, “help yourself.”

“No that’s alright,” I said and at that moment one of the World Trade Center Towers collapsed. I was still trying to process everything that was unfolding on the live coverage of the attack on America. Before I left Hank’s home I reminded him to report to my office the next morning.

“Sure thing, Agent McNeill,” he said.

I called my mother back and she began to tell me what she heard on TV about the terrorists.

When I got back to my office people were talking about the attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the downed airplane in Pennsylvania. My Coworkers were all wondering what was to come next if more airplanes were going to hit other places. I couldn’t help but to think of the victims’ families of what they must be going through and all those people buried under the rubble of the downed buildings. Those events truly changed America.

That attack on 9/11 led the U.S. Government to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and people today are debating whether we still need to be in those countries – we are now fighting the longest wars in U.S. history. Our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have also led to record deficits for our national economy and not to mention the thousands of troops that were killed or maimed.

My students in my Cultural Diversity classes here in China bring up Afghanistan and Iraq quite often in my classes. They ask if America still needs to be there. I tell them eventually we will leave those countries just as we left Korea and Vietnam decades ago. I also tell them that the terrorists that attacked America on September 11, 2001, caught our nation off guard and they killed a lot of people. They did not, however, kill the American spirit that unites our country.

Patriotism rooted in our freedom is what the terrorist tried to destroy but they failed and they will continue to fail. The History of our nation and what it stands for can never be brought down by the cowardly acts of terrorism. The events on that September day also showed the world just how desperate the terrorists are in their attempts to destroy our way of life. Our Nation has been and will continue to be a beacon of light for the other nations of the world to emulate and embrace.

What the perpetrators of that terrorism failed to understand on that September morning: Terror at the hands of extremists will never destroy the will or the resolve of the American people. That is what makes America the greatest Nation on earth.

My former Parolee, Hank, never showed up to my office after three more attempts to get him to do so and that violated the condition of his Parole and unfortunately for him he was sent back to prison.

If I wasn’t living in an apartment at that time I probably would have adopted Hank’s Rottweiler but there was a no pet clause in my rental agreement with my landlord. What a bummer though, I should have tried to pass him off as a K-9 or something.

I am no longer the Senior Agent for Parole and Probation in Glen Burnie, Maryland but it’s still something I can look back on for my cultural diversity classes here. My students are also very much interested in the criminal justice system in America because China has four times the population of the U.S. with far less crime, but for now I will leave that for a future column.

Always with love from Suzhou, China,
Thomas F O’Neill

    Phone: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link:

    Click on author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.


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