Soldiers who served in Afghanistan, Iraq especially touched by Sept. 11

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; The terrorist attacks of September 11 continue to provoke strong feelings among American troops, according to three area soldiers who returned last month from tours of duty in the Middle East.

&uot;I get kind of upset and emotional about it even now,&uot; said Lieutenant Colonel Richard &uot;Jeff&uot; McClure, a 30-year military veteran most recently deployed with the Army National Guard’s 321st Theater Materiel Management Center in Kuwait.

McClure is also a history teacher at Block High School in Jonesville.

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Today, he will speak to students there about September 11.

&uot;I think as time goes on and we get a clearer perspective on this, September 11 will become a defining moment in American history &045; much like Dec. 7, 1941,&uot; McClure said.

McClure noted that just as in the days following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, many young men and women felt a need to serve their country after the terrorist attacks.

&uot;A lot of kids in the area said they wanted to join (the service) Š And the young soldiers that I served with are some of the finest people you could be associated with.

When Uncle Sam called, they put everything on hold and went,&uot; said McClure.

Lance Corporal Bruce Wiley was among a wave of local volunteers who were sworn into service following September 11.

Wiley, also of Vidalia, said the attacks removed any doubts he had about enlisting. &uot;I had been thinking about it, but that made up my mind.

I felt personally that I could help do something about it,&uot; Wiley said.

In boot camp, Wiley said drill instructors challenged recruits to prepare for America’s response to the terrorist attacks.

&uot;September 11 was a huge motivational factor.

They knew something was going to come to a head, and sure enough, a year later we were in Iraq,&uot; Wiley said.

Now 20 and just home from an eight-month tour of duty with the Fifth Marine Regiment in central and southern Iraq, Wiley said the attacks of September 11 still bear an undeniable presence in his life.

&uot;There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.

All the flags and yellow ribbons are a constant reminder.

But I think people are dealing with it better nowŠ My hatred for what’s happened is not the same.

There are still a lot of people that want to do us harm, but I know that not all Muslims are like that,&uot; Wiley said.

One local recruiter said enlistment rates spiked in the months following September 11, but those numbers have fallen off since the war in Iraq started.

Still, the attacks remain a compelling factor for many of those who join the service, said Natchez resident Brad Cupit, just back from an eight-month deployment with the 527th Engineering Battalion in Afghanistan. &uot;There are a lot people that are joining the service and reenlisting because of September 11 Š It’s definitely been a rallying call for the military,&uot; Cupit said.