‘Are you ready for war, boy?’
Boy turned man in midst of 9/11 attack
Veterans Day is a national holiday to remember the sacrifice, heroism and courage that men and women who fought for the freedom of the United States of America.
Falling on Nov. 11 to acknowledge the signing the Armistice that ended WWI, Americans celebrate Veterans Day in recognition of the nation’s patriotism.
John A. Eggleston, local Marine Corps veteran, joined the military right out of high school in 2001.
Eggleston went to San Diego, Calif., for boot camp in June 2001, then he went into training as a field wireman, graduating in February 2002.
Eggleston then joined his unit in North Carolina and had two deployments.
“If I think about the main reason I wanted to join the military, it was that I felt like I wasn’t going to go anywhere in life,” he said. “My parents didn’t have the money for college, and I wanted more than to just be stuck in a small town my entire life. At the time, I didn’t know how to get out other than to join the military.”
Eggleston decided to join the military so he could go to college and get a degree afterward.
“When I first joined the military, it was scary,” he said. “I was this young kid fresh out of high school, and I didn’t know what to expect. I had lived in this area my entire life, so I didn’t know anything outside of here.”
Once Eggleston got in, he went off to boot camp, and he had a one-of-a-kind experience.
“Half way through boot camp is when 9/11 happened,” he said. “I will never forget that at that moment, I was sweeping off the commanders’ area, because it was clean week.
“All of a sudden, the commanding officer came out and he saw me, and he immediately started screaming, ‘Are you ready for war boy?’”
Eggleston said at that moment, he was completely confused.
“I had no idea what was going on,” he said. “The commanding officer dragged me into his office, which was odd in itself because I was just a recruit. I saw some of the images of what was going on, but I didn’t get to see the whole thing or even find out exactly what was happening until much later.”
Eggleston said 9/11 was terrifying being a young man going through boot camp.
“I graduated in October and was then able to go home and learn what exactly had happened,” he said. “After Christmas break, I went to telecommunications school, where people were talking about it again. People were mad, mad about the situation and mad that they were able to come over and do that to us.”
Through the hardships of training school and the possibility of going to war, there was one lasting impact that stays with Eggleston today.
“I made a friend there, his name was Michael Hurricane, and I’ll never forget him and how we met,” he said. “We are still best friends to this day, but the first time we met we were roommates, and I couldn’t stand him.
“Our story is funny, because when they asked us where we wanted to go and who we wanted to be with, he picked me. We ended up being shipped together to North Carolina, at this time I thought this guy was annoying and had a mouth on him that he wanted to run all the time.”
The two were sent on tours together and after enough time they became close friends.
“We were put on the USS Carter Hall and traveled from country to country, and then we were told about what was happening in Liberia,” he said. “Once we got to Liberia, we took over Roberts International Airport. We helped train the Nigerian special forces, and with us together we took over medical supplies, food and water to give to all the civilians that were suffering during the civil war there.”
One of the things that sticks out in his mind when he thinks back on his time there, is still hard for Eggleston to talk about today.
“I was guarding the back gate of the airport and this woman came up to me. She had something in her arms and I had no idea what it was, but she was frantic and she shoved this thing into my arms,” he said. “When I started to unravel it to see what it was, I saw a baby.
“The woman was begging me to save the child’s life, but unfortunately there was nothing we could do to save the baby.”
Still today, when talking about the incident, Eggleston can’t help but to feel emotional about the memory.
“It is hard to talk about and deal with,” he said. “The baby was dying of malaria, and this woman saw a sliver of hope for help when we showed up. There is no telling how far this woman walked to get help for her baby.”
Of all the people that they were able to help, they weren’t able to help that one, and it still sticks with Eggleston.
“When leaving that tour, we kicked the president of the country out, then Interpol came in and arrested him for crimes against his own people,” he said. “We were able to set up a voting system for them to vote in a new president.”
Eggleston then came home for a short period, and from October 2003 to October 2004, he spent another year in training.
“From there, I went to Iraq,” he said. “That was a different kind of experience than my first tour.
“I remember one time a guy was handing out candy to the children, and one child came up and stole a whole bag of candy from us.”
Eggleston said an hour later the boy was standing there asking for more candy.
“We told him no, he had stolen most of what we had,” he said. “He said, ‘If I show you something, will you give me more candy?’
“So we followed him and he took us to a bomb maker.”
Eggleston said it was intense that a child was aware of something so horrible and that he wanted candy as a reward.
“We raided the bomb maker’s place and confiscated all the weapons and materials,” he said. “Iraq sucked. It was filled with people who hated us. But, there were also a lot of people who were innocent and just trying to live their lives.”
Eggleston said during a wedding, a child was accidentally shot in the foot.
“Her foot was so badly infected it needed medical attention,” he said. “To help with our presence there, we brought the girl and her father onto the base, and we were able to save her foot and get her walking again.
“After we helped her, we gave her father a job to help their situation.”
Eggleston said they also had contractors come in to help innocent people build their homes.
“When you build something with your own hands you have a pride in it, but if it is built for you, that pride just isn’t there,” he said. “So, we were providing materials and the contractors were teaching them how to build their homes.”
Eggleston said the pride they were feeling in rebuilding the damaged parts of their communities was beneficial to the military too.
“If there was something going on, they were more open to tell us about it,” he said. “It was more of a welcoming experience because they knew we were there to help.
“But, you can’t forget we were in war. Every other day or so, there was a truck that was fitted with mortar tubes that would shower mortars into our base.”
Eggleston remembers going from being terrified of when and where the next mortar attack was going to be, to thinking, “Oh, it’s just another mortar attack.”
“When leaving, I remember feeling like we made progress,” he said. “But, I also remember feeling that we didn’t at the same time. When that dictatorship was broken, there was no one in charge anymore, and that was a new problem to deal with.”
After leaving Iraq, Eggleston spent a week in Kuwait, then he came home and saw his daughter for the first time.
“Transitioning back into a normal life was very difficult,” he said. “I will say this for anyone who is going into the military, the military is a great opportunity, but you have to have a good and strong mind.”
Eggleston was eager to get out of the military and be a full time dad.
“But, I went in as a young man,” he said. “And I came out older, but it was a struggle to figure it all out and raise a family.”
The brotherhood and camaraderie of the military will always be important to Eggleston, but he wanted to be present to raise his family.
“During my time serving in the military, I didn’t have time to think about hits as they were happening,” he said. “I had to keep pushing forward, and by the time I was able to sit down, relax and slow down in my own home, it was a struggle.”
Eggleston said he remembers waking up in his sleep fighting.
“For awhile, I couldn’t sleep in bed with my ex-wife or take a nap with my daughter,” he said. “I was afraid I would hurt them, and I wanted to protect them.”
After some time, Eggleston said he was able to heal.
“Going through events like that, it is impossible to stay the same person,” he said. “It changes everything about you.”
Eggleston said the thing that nearly killed him during his service was not combat or a mortar, but malaria.
“A lot of us got it in Liberia, and I almost died,” he said. “After all the things that I went through, I find it so ironic that the thing that almost killed me was a mosquito.”