JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Sept. 11 has been honored as a day of mourning across the nation since the 2001 terror attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 victims in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
But for some Americans, the date 9/11 evokes a complicated mix of emotions because it also represents something else: their birthday.
For some, like Jacksonville pipe layer Spencer, all they remember are birthdays after the attacks. Spencer will turn 23 on Sept. 11 this year. He has few memories from that day in 2001 -- his third birthday -- but he recalls in the years after other children sometimes mocked him about 9/11 being his birthday.
“It never really bothered me, but it’s something that sticks with me,” Spencer said.
He said it’s not in his nature to celebrate his birthday in general, but he’s also always tried to be mindful of having a celebration in public on such a somber day -- not knowing who around you might have been personally affected by the attacks.
Shirley, a Nassau County mom who will turn 40 on Sept. 11 this year, shares that approach, often opting to celebrate her birthday on a different date.
“Birthdays are different now since then, because although, you know, for me, I’m celebrating my birth, everybody is mourning a death, so it’s hard because you don’t know the extent of those who are affected from that day. You don’t know if you’re going to come across somebody on that day and if they were affected,” Shirley said. “I think at this point to me it’s just, I’m happy to be alive, and I respect the people who lost their lives that day that were first responders, all the people who were a part of that, and then all the innocent people who lost their lives, so it’s a balancing act, I think.”
Retired Yulee contractor Dallas, who served four years in the U.S. Marines, said he stopped celebrating his birthday altogether after 2001.
Dallas, who is married with grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will turn 77 this Sept. 11 and said he feels blessed to be alive, but Sept. 11 is all about reminiscing and remembrance for him now.
“I’d lived a good life up to that point and I have after,” Dallas said. “Every year, I just pray for the families that lost their loved ones in that, and pray for our country. And that’s what 9/11 has become to me. It’s a day for me to pray for the people we lost and thank God for the people still here.”
Unlike Spencer, both Shirley and Dallas were adults on the day of the attacks and have vivid memories from that day. Dallas recalls being at work and seeing the second plane hit the second World Trade Center tower live on television -- then packing up and heading home for the day to be with his family.
Shirley said she heard the early reports on the radio on her way to a college class that was later canceled. She recalls mass confusion as the reports kept coming throughout the day. Eventually, her father took her out to dinner for her 20th birthday that night, she said.
“There was nobody there. And if they were there, they were watching the news,” Shirley recalled. “It was just -- that’s all anybody could talk about. ... I remember just sitting there in disbelief, and they kept replaying the plane and the smoke, and it was just insane. It was just crazy.”
Regardless of how they’ve chosen to recognize their Sept. 11 birthdays since that fateful day, it’s clear having a 9/11 birthday is far from simple for those who must balance their personal joy with a national tragedy.
Here are some comments other viewers shared with us about their 9/11 birthdays: