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'You will be going to war:' Soldiers recall duty, patriotism as UNA cadets on 9/11

Former UNA Army cadets remember 9/11 attacks as they prepared for eventual combat.

Posted: Sep 11, 2019 5:44 PM
Updated: Sep 11, 2019 7:03 PM

Paul Eichwurtzle will never forget his first thoughts on the morning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Unreal who could be doing this," Eichwurtzle recalled. "Is this an accident? Is this an attack? The whole nation was in confusion at that point."

While the stunning images made most of us nervous, shocked and angered, Eichwurtzle, an Army cadet at the University of North Alabama, felt determined.

"That's what I signed up for as a soldier, is protect my family, my neighbors, my country, my community," he said.

He was not alone. His fellow cadet, Mike Park, remembers getting mentally focused for the inevitable (war).

"As that picture becomes clearer over time, it just reinforces what you're doing or what you should be doing, at least in my mind," Park said.

Their professor of military science, Lieutenant Colonel John Wright, arrived at the University of North Alabama's Westleyan Annex after a early morning jog.

"We were all watching TV and oblivious, and what in the world is going on?" Wright said. "Obviously, we began processing, well, what's going to happen?"

While watching the attack on America, Lieutenant Colonel John Wright took a breath and felt a heavier burden on himself as a leader of future combat commanders. He remembered his challenge to them that morning as they prepared to answer their nation's call to service.

"I went, 'Okay, gentlemen and ladies, it's time to take this seriously if you were not doing that before, because when you graduate and you are commissioned, you will be going to war against the enemies of the United States,'" Wright said.

It was a call to action that young cadets, Eichwurtzle and Park, would have to wait to answer. They had two more years before they were to be commissioned as new Army officers.

The 9/11 attack was already personal for the cadets with the Lion Battalion on the UNA campus, but it hit even closer to home for them when they found out one of their own was also killed on that fateful morning in September.

Major Dwayne Williams was only 40 years old. He was a devoted father and husband who was killed when the Pentagon was struck. The call to service for these cadets was more than about securing our freedom. There was now a face with a special bond that they were fighting for.

"That brought a real reality check that this is what we are going into," Eichwurtzle said. "We're not everyone's best friend, and not everyone is our best friend. There are people with ill-will and we have to match that."

Almost two decades later, Wright recalls one of the most certain things that happened during that time of uncertainty. These future officers never wavered.

"They could have have said, 'Well, I don't know about this thing,' but to their credit and this generation's credit, they didn't let us down," Wright said.

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