Jess Underwood

Non Veteran

Jess Underwood

Military Affiliations
  • Military Family Member

Where were you when you first heard about or saw the 9/11 terrorist attacks?

I walked into my 11th grade biology classroom and the teacher had just pulled the TV cart out of the closet. He was watching the video of the first tower being hit. I remember all the teachers being paged to their classroom phones. It was decided that they would let us keep watching the news. When the second tower footage went live they brought us all into the auditorium to watch together. Eventually they told us that classes were being cancelled for the day and we all had to wait for our parents to scramble and come pick us up. I don't think I fully comprehended what was happening outside of my own little bubble. My Godfather worked in New York at the time and I was really worried because I didn't know where his office was. September 11th is my big brother's birthday, so I remember this irrational sadness that his birthday was always going to be a reminder of tragedy. This was before social media and I really couldn't comprehend the human impact until the personal stories started coming through. I think it was a Time magazine photo spread that finally conveyed the real devastation and loss. We had a Performing Arts trip planned for the following year and there were already talks of cancelling it within a few days. We ended up going to New York and I still remember that palpable camaraderie and energy to support each other. I had visited my Uncle a few years prior and now all the places I went with him were closed off to visitors. I remember feeling lucky that I got to be a tourist in NYC before everyone was so worried about security. There were still missing posters up and they had just turned the Tribute in Light installation on. We were small town kids from Indiana and we felt like we were part of history seeing it in person.

How did the events of that day shape your life and inspire your service to this country?

My history class talked about how this was our generation's Pearl Harbor and that we would always remember where we were when we heard about it. Having a Grandfather who served in Japan after WWII, and seeing how much he hated taking about the bombs we dropped definitely played into my experience. I was worried about what might happen in world because of these attacks. Some of my cousins ended up joined the Marines and the Army. I think that my family's general attitude towards service and volunteering pushed me towards deciding to serve after college. I applied for the Peace Corps, but after a major surgery I had to redirect and do Americorps. I joined a state and national emergency response and wildfire team and spent a year connecting with people on one of the worst days of their lives to see how my team could help. That, more than anything, shaped my understanding of volunteerism and the importance of caring for and connecting with our own communities.