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Marine Reflects on Personal Impact of 9/11

September 5, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

SGT. LAZARO AROCHA, U.S. Marine Corps: My name is Sgt. Lazaro Arocha. I’m 25. I was born and raised in New York City, New York. And I joined the United States Marine Corps the day after 9/11.

The towers used to just stand right there. The last time I was up here was actually on 9/11. When the second plane hit, that’s — I just got up here just in time to see that. It was a shock. It was definitely a shock.

These terrorists are, you know, attacking our country, you know, especially my city, you know? I was, like, holy smokes, you know, right, right in — you know, right in the Big Apple. I was like, no way, man, that this isn’t the way it’s going to be.

I started hating an enemy I didn’t know, you know, existed, right? I didn’t know who these people were. I didn’t know they had a face. I didn’t know anything. I wanted to, you know, look them in the eye.

I want to find out what it is exactly about us, about Americans, that they hate so much. I had to stay in my girlfriend’s parents’ house. I stayed with them that night. Her brother, we were both sitting up, because he just had got home.

And he was like: You know, I wish I could do something about it.

I was thinking about this the whole day. I said: Well, we can join the Marines, man.

He looked at me, and he started laughing. He’s like: There’s no way, man.

I said, no. He — you know, you should join the Marines.

Decision to join

SGT. LAZARO AROCHA: When I joined up, my mom was fine. She didn't have no problems with me joining. She was actually very proud. But my aunt and uncles, they were all just pretty -- they were pretty upset. They were like, oh, man, you know?

They were all pretty much hoping I was going to go to college and do the whole education route. But I that wasn't for me. That's not what I wanted. I wanted to go and represent, you know, New York City. I wanted to go out there and be a voice for my country.

My relationship with everybody before 9/11 changed, definitely. They -- all my friends in high school, I never saw them again. I started realizing I didn't really like talking to them anymore. It was just -- they were so negative about everything, like: Oh, I can't believe you're going to go out there. You're going to -- you know, you're going to wind up getting hurt out there. Or you're going to -- you're going to die for some stupid reason.

That's what I was hearing. I was getting feedback like that from my friends.

So, I was like, man, you guys ain't my friends. I left them behind. But, by then, I already started working on another family, you know? That's how Marines are. We're all brothers.

I was 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. And we wound up going to Iraq twice. We went into Fallujah in November 2004. And the fighting there was -- it was very intense. I mean, there was from the moment, you know, we started pushing into the city, it was just -- we already knew it was going to be nonstop, to the end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, he's wounded in between these two houses.

SERGEANT LAZARO AROCHA: And, sometimes, these guys that -- they're kids. You know, they're like 15, 16 years old. And you're looking at them, like, wow, you know?

You want to try your best not to have to, you know, use, you know, lethal force. You know, if it's possible, sure, you know? But, if it isn't, if it comes down to, if it's going to be him or me, then it's going to have to be -- you know?

You know, I got to -- I'm trying to make it home. I want my Marines to make it home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to do five seconds of suppression.


SGT. LAZARO AROCHA: Hello. Can I speak to Anthony? This is sergeant Arocha.

My job is just to maintain the manpower of the Marine Corps. So, that's what I'm going to do. I'm going to find that person who is going to take my place in the future.

If I start making calls, and nobody is home, I'm not reaching anybody, then, it's time for me to get up and hit the road, and see what I find out there. There will be times I'm just, you know, driving down the street, and I will see a kid just, you know, walking down the road. And I will just, you know, instantly just bank a U-turn, and just approach that kid, just so that I can, you know, get my hand out there.

Have you ever guys ever gotten any information on the Marines or anything like that?

Always the -- the biggest question was: You know, have you been to Iraq? What was it like, you know? I get all these -- you know, all these questions every time. Never fails.

And I just tell them, it's tough. You know, it's really tough out there. I'm not going to lie to them.

Or would you want to come down to the office, get some information?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I could stop down.

Reasons behind becoming a Marine

SGT. LAZARO AROCHA: One young lady that I put in last month, her mom asked me, you know: Is there any chance, you know, that or -- you know, what are the chances that she's going to go to Iraq?

I told her, they're great. There's a great chance that she will be in Iraq.

Tomorrow morning.

I have definitely come across a lot of people that feel what I do is wrong, being a recruiter: Oh, you're lying to kids. You're tricking them.

I get that all the time. It's not really that much about 9/11 anymore. It's just -- you will find your few here and there.

It was pretty much -- the guys who went for 9/11 were pretty much all the guys that went when I went. Like, that was a big year for -- in recruiting that year. A lot of young men answered the call.

When I still think about it, it upsets me. It still does, to this day. I don't think that's something I'm ever going to totally get over, you know? Just thinking, you know, back on to -- you know, back into that day, it was just so much turmoil and confusion and everything. I would never want to see that happen again here.

So, it's definitely something -- you know, that's definitely one of the reasons why, you know, I fight. That's why I'm a Marine.