from John “JBL” Layfield:
The first mass event after 9/11 I was a part of with WWE. 9/11 was a Tuesday and we were scheduled to tape our WWE Smackdown TV show that night in Houston, Texas. My dad didn’t know where I was and knew that I stayed often in the Marriott that was partially destroyed by the attack in NYC-his call is one of the first things I got that morning and let me know our world had changed forever.
I couldn’t believe that there were folks that we were watching that were having to decide whether to burn to death or jump to their death-they never expected that would be a choice when they left home that morning to go to work in the Trade Centers. A lot of them didn’t even know who Bin Laden or the Taliban were.
They didn’t deserve to die. Children were in a day care center there that day and they will never know their future.
I was shocked. We didn’t know if there were more attacks on the way or not. Airports were shut down, so most of our crew was stuck in Houston. I lived three hours north in Athens, Texas so I drove home. No music on the radio that day, just news.
On 9/13 WWE had to decide if they were to run a taped show or to do our TV show live. We knew this would be the first mass gathering of people-a perfect target. The military and the mayor of Houston asked us to proceed. We agreed. We felt the need, this was all we had and the only way we had of supporting our country-we wanted to make a statement, in solidarity with the heroes of 9/11, that America was not going to cower. We wanted to show, in our little way, the support of those heroes.
We didn’t know if anyone would come. We had a meeting and Vince made it clear that no one was expected to perform or even be there, it was totally a matter of free will. WWE agreed to not do any storyline advancing only to have a good feel good show. Those performers also were told they could make a statement with no parameters.
My statement drew mostly positive feedback-I was mad that so many Americans were dead and I wanted both justice and a stop to future violence. I was accused of being intolerant by my detractors, I agree 100%-I was intolerant of Americans dying innocently.
I said something to the effect that whoever did this and wherever you are hiding we will turn your country into a parking lot-I meant it, and still do. I celebrated when Bin Laden finally got justice, because I saw firsthand the suffering he caused.
I have been to the war zones eight times to support our guys and was with WWE as part of the first group to visit ground zero-at a time that bodies were still in burning rubble.
I have been given credit for the Tribute to the Troops and the visit to ground zero-it was my idea, but the real credit goes to WWE and those who participated, those who thought it important to serve those who were serving. I have gotten to see our heroes first hand and can’t express how proud I am of them. They have changed my life, and almost everyone who has gone to the war zones says the same thing.
Security was unreal that day on 9/13, dogs and cops everywhere-no one knew what to expect. What happened was a once in a lifetime experience of an outpouring of love for country by a whole arena and a world watching.
On 9/13 the place was packed, it was as if everyone wanted to make the same statement-and it seemed as all brought flags. As Lillian Garcia sand the national anthem so beautifully there was barely a dry eye in the place-something I will never forget.
I was in Iraq a couple of years later holding the hand of a soldier that had just been hit by a suicide bomber-at the time we thought it was a mortar attack. He had heard I was there and wanted to talk to me.
As I walked up to him I see that his face was covered in some type of ointment and his ears had been burned almost off-he was not able to see. I held his hand so he knew I was there. Darryl Worley, the country great, was holding his other hand. Al Franken, the senator from Minnesota and good friend, was in the room as well. I asked him if he was OK and he responded, “I was at first very thirsty, and then I realized I had just served my country and I was doing this for my little brother, and for my parents.” He went on, “I also did this for you sir, and can’t wait to get back to my men.” He concluded with a smile through his burned lips, “Thanks for coming to see me.”
These are the men (and women) who protect our country, and I am so proud to know so many of them and to have served, at least what I could do, those who have served and are serving.
This is why I am so passionate and why I defend and support our guys any chance I get. Also, why I work with folks to raise money for our troops that have been injured. And, why I believe we have a duty to help employee the one million vets that are now currently unemployed.
9/11-We will never forget!
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