DeKALB – Jake Coffman became a Marine because of Sept. 11. He enlisted after his time at Forreston High, before he was a Northern Illinois defensive end. He wanted the man responsible to get justice.
When Coffman saw the news of Osama bin Laden’s death Sunday night – something he called “a great victory for the war on terror” – he had one of those remember-where-you-were-when-you-heard moments.
“At first it was like disbelief,” said Coffman, who served two tours in Iraq and rose to the rank of corporal. “It’s been 10 years, so at first it’s like, no way can that be right. Then they had people coming on that were confirming it.
“So it started with shock, and then it was a celebration.”
When the news broke Sunday night, Coffman wasn’t the only one celebrating.
People flooded Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House and ground zero in New York City. American flags were waved everywhere. Cheers were heard until the early hours Monday morning.
Coffman watched it all, glued to his TV for about three hours. He said he was surprised by the reaction, but it felt right.
“He was such a hated figure. He was public enemy No. 1,” Coffman said. “Every citizen knows who he is, but I was surprised when I saw the huge crowd outside the White House.
“I think a lot of people feel like me and have a lot of pride in America.”
TV images captured the pride.
Coffman said his proudest moment was when those outside the White House burst into a chorus of The Star Spangled Banner. Mine was watching people flock to ground zero.
I’ve been to ground zero twice since the attacks. The place is empty, just a two-block hole in the ground. Located in the middle of the loudest city on earth, it’s the only quiet area in New York. The silent hush is deafening.
I never thought ground zero would be a place of celebration and joy.
Coffman said Sunday night was “a huge relief.” I agree.
The first thing I did was call my brother. David is a sophomore at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., an infantryman in officer training. I’m the stereotypical big brother, as overprotective as it gets, terrified of him going to the Middle East.
We talked for almost an hour Sunday night. It was one of those remember-where-you-were-when-you-heard moments for both of us. I had joy to the point of tears. I finally felt more relief than fear.
I imagine millions of people had similar conversations Sunday night. For every Twitter update or Facebook post, there must have been a hundred phone calls.
Coffman said he expects counter-attacks in retaliation, but added that losing bin Laden is a monumental blow for the al-Qaida terrorist organization. I’m not smart enough to know what bin Laden’s death means to the war effort, and I won’t pretend to know. Sports are my only area of expertise.
But this much I do know: Sunday night was not just a great victory for America.
It was a great moment for the victims of Sept. 11. A great moment for those who have served or will serve. A great moment for the families of those brave men and women.
“I knew we were going to get him,” Coffman said. “It was only a matter of time. When you’re the No. 1 most wanted man in America, it’s only so long you can hide.
“A lot of people have been waiting for it. It’s a huge victory for the victims of 9/11. For a guy who enlisted because of 9/11, it’s what I’ve been waiting for.”
• Ryan Wood is a sports reporter for the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.