Like many, Bryan Cole remembers exactly where he was the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
But, more than that, he remembers the outpouring of offers to help as soon as the scope of the terrorism was realized.
Working at the time at a U.S. Army Reserve center, Cole switched on a TV at the facility just in time to see a second plane crash into the World Trade Center.
In an instant, “My life changed, and our country changed,” recalled Cole, now the director of Eastern Kentucky University’s Office of Military and Veteran Affairs. “I stayed at the Reserve center the next five days, and I’ll never forget the people who called, asking what they could do to help. Many called wanting to donate blood.”
For Cole, “it was a great time to turn that tragedy into an opportunity to serve.” He eventually landed in Afghanistan, where Cole “never felt more like a soldier. In 24 years, that was the peak of my career.”
Cole was one of the speakers at a memorial service on the EKU campus on Tuesday, Sept. 11, timed roughly to coincide with the disastrous events of 17 years ago that killed almost 3,000 and injured more than 6,000. The ceremony was sponsored by EKU ROTC, from which dozens of student cadets either participated or attended.
Lt. Col. Jeremiah Corbin, professor of military science at EKU, offered similar memories.
“That one day changed the course of my life, and that of my wife,” he recalled.
Turning his attention to the ROTC cadets seated in front of him, he said: “You are on the path to do something great. Be ready.”
Kaleigh Hawthorne, an EKU ROTC cadet, emceed the event, and Cheyenne Jennings sang the national anthem and “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Hawthorne stressed the national unity borne of tragedy.
“Our differences never looked so small, and our common bonds never looked so strong,” she said.
The morning ceremony was just part of a Day of Service and Remembrance at EKU. The day also included a Red Cross blood drive, a Holiday Cards for Heroes event, and a second ceremony and annual memorial stair climb that evening.