Posted on Fri, Sep. 08, 2006
Cassidy: Two worlds: before 9/11 and after

By Mike Cassidy
Mercury News

For most of the past month, a note has run where my column usually appears explaining that I was on ``special assignment.''

I want to thank all of you (Mom, Dad) who called wondering and worrying about my disappearance.

So you know, I spent the time working on a Sept. 11 essay. It will appear in a Mercury News special section on Sunday, marking the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks.

I talked to dozens of people about how 9/11 had changed them -- too many people for one story in one section on one day.

But all the subjects' stories -- big and little -- have stayed with me. They've convinced me that 9/11 has seeped into the fabric of our lives -- that for most of us, there is the world before 9/11 and the world after.

I met a flight attendant who was drawn to Oliver Stone's ``World Trade Center'' on opening day, even though she rarely goes to movies.

``We're more aware of the surroundings, the passengers'' Brooke Wu, of Los Altos, says of her flying life. The events of 9/11 prove that scares like the foiled London plot can't be shrugged off as the improbable plans of evil dreamers.

``Now we know they're out there.''

Immigrants under suspicion

I met a woman who works with newly arrived immigrants. She knew on Sept. 11 that immigrants would be viewed with new suspicion.

``In the past we were called wetbacks or undocumented,'' says Martha Campos, of Services, Immigration Rights and Education Network in San Jose. ``Now to be undocumented means maybe he's a terrorist.''

And there's Ed Knight, a Willow Glen kid who joined the Marines. For Staff Sgt. Knight the question is, what hasn't changed since Sept. 11?

Knight was packing to move from North Carolina to Fremont the day the planes slammed into the World Trade Center. He was taking on a new assignment as a recruiter.

``I called my new command and my old command,'' Knight, 32, says, ``to see what I could do to not be a recruiter, so I could go.''

He knew the attacks meant war and he wanted to be there. But the Marines had other plans. The corps would need bodies for the war on terror. It was Knight's job to find them.

``I had one kid that got killed in action,'' he says. ``That really hit me pretty hard.''

Lance Cpl. Travis Layfield, 19, of Fremont was killed by enemy fire in Iraq in April 2004.

Recruiter blamed

Knight visited the Layfield family to offer condolences. Layfield's sister cursed Knight through tears. She said she hated him.

``That's something that is burned in my mind for the rest of my life,'' Knight says.

Tiffany Hicks, Layfield's older sister, regrets the outburst. She knew Layfield wanted a military career. She knew he was proud to be a Marine.

But Knight's visit is burned in her mind, too. Hicks still displays her brother's picture (KIA 4/6/04) in the back window of her car. For a time, Layfield lived with Hicks and helped care for her 8-year-old son, Trayvon.

``They were very close,'' Hicks, 34, says.

It's what 9/11 has done to lives. Knight's and Hicks' ended up painfully intertwined. Layfield's ended too soon. Knight's took a dramatic turn.

He finally got his chance to go to war -- this one in Iraq.

``I wanted to go to Iraq,'' Knight says, ``because I'd been sending kids as a recruiter to Iraq for three years.''

Knight was gone a year. He came home to a crumbling marriage and personal doubts about the mission. War on terror? Osama bin Laden isn't in Iraq.

``I really don't know why we're in Iraq,'' he says.

Knight's latest hitch is up in a year. It might be time, he says, to call it a career. It just isn't the same today.

Nothing is the same today.
Contact Mike Cassidy at or (40 920-5536.