On this dark anniversary, we are banding together with our Outsiders to share the stories that matter most: stories from heroes. One such hero is U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Chris Akers. Akers found himself caught in the Pentagon office on September 11, 2001, when a hijacked plane hit the building. This cost all 64 people on board and 125 more inside their lives.
It’s no surprise that since that day, Akers always dreaded its passing anniversaries and experienced it as a “day of bad, traumatic memories.” The thing is, today marks another anniversary, the 20th anniversary, in fact. How is the veteran faring this year? He’s changing his own narrative with the help of the love of his life. It’s Wedding Day!
The Veteran Recounts That Day
Leading up to the day that forever changed him, Chris Akers worked as a galley supervisor at the U.S. Secretary of Navy Gordon England’s fine-dining space. Just before 9 am local time, Chris felt a sort of “violent earthquake” in the middle of handling frozen stock. He recalls to the State-Journal Register that ‘The air was sucked out of the room and any door that was open slammed shut.”
Immediately, it was as though somebody flipped a switch and the panic set in. People scrambled to find an exit amidst all the alarms, but this was difficult with so many of the evacuation doors shut. It took Chris and his colleagues an hour to safely exit the building. Even outside the building, no one really knew what happened. Eventually, they found their way to a nearby hotel that offered up their conference room as a safe meeting spot. It’s here that they all learned the fate of their place of work and other colleagues.
In the aftermath, Chris felt compelled to offer his services to first responders at Ground Zero in New York City, so he boarded the USNS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, as a volunteer. He stuck around the Pentagon for another year but the veteran remembers how badly the first anniversary in 2002 affected his mental health.
“I was waiting for something to happen, thinking there was another shoe that (would) drop. If they did it on Sept. 11, 2001, they could do it on Sept. 11, 2002.”
A Day of Love
The mental anguish and emotional scars really took a toll on Chris with every passing anniversary. This year, though, he decided enough is enough. He no longer wants to give that day that kind of power over his life and there’s something really beautifully courageous about re-claiming trauma like that.
Still, the couple isn’t completely letting go of the past. They want to still acknowledge the tragedy and plan to do so at their wedding in a few different ways. First, they will begin the ceremony with a moment of silence. They will also host an “in memoriam” table for lost loved ones.
The pair stated: “We do intend to acknowledge [the day] for what it is, but also to make sure we are making our day the central focus and that it is a celebration of our love. We’re intentionally attaching something to this day. We’re going to make this moment something else that’s worthy of celebration.”
Chris wrote a beautiful post about his soon-to-be wife this morning ahead of the ceremony. Check it out here: