They came back from Iraq forever changed, but these veterans say 9/11 is all about first responders

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — When those hijacked passenger jets attacked the symbols of American wealth, influence and power on Sept. 11, 2001, Bailey Hale was in junior high.

Evan Morgan was in high school but had already enlisted in the Army’s delayed entry plan.

Both served in Iraq. Morgan came back with visible wounds.

“I was injured by an IED on Jan. 1, 2005,” he said. “I lost both of my legs, one above the knee and one below the knee.  And then this eye — everything you see on this side of my face has all been reconstructed. This eye is blind.”

Others aboard Morgan’s destroyed vehicle were injured as well — just not outwardly so.

“A lot of people had to see a lot of bad things that day,” Morgan said. “I talk to them still, sometimes. They’re difficult conversations for them to have, but they saved my life.”

Hale, Morgan’s friend and colleague, can identify with that type of injury. He carries the burden of PTSD  — Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, which affects up to 20 percent of all military personnel, and over time, according to emerging research, potentially many more. 

“Well, it’s intense, the feeling of anxiety that you get,” Hale said. “You know that you’re home, or you’re safe, or you’re secure, you’re with your family, but you still get these deep, heavy, anxiety feelings. And, yes, you never … You’re never the same.”

Hale, who served in Army Aviation, is the co-owner, with former Sheriff’s Deputy Chris McEnulty, of Crusader Brewing Co., a veteran- and first- responder- friendly brew pub on District Boulevard. Morgan, who served in the Army infantry, is their director of marketing and communications.

They are glad to see that the war in Afghanistan, a direct consequence of 9/11, is over. They’re just not happy with the way it ended.

“It feels a bit in vain,” Morgan said. “At those times I think we try to think of the lives perhaps that we did improve, or did touch.”

Although they acknowledge that 9/11 dramatically shaped their lives, they prefer to think of the 20-year commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001, as a time to honor not so much military veterans as first-responders.

“I think of watching the footage that day,” Morgan said, “and watching Transit Authority and NYPD and Fire Department running up those towers and people were running out. I think it’s important to remember that there’s those people here domestically that are willing to do what we do internationally.”

Hale became emotional at the thought of having to review a packet of information about the 9/11 terror attacks sent home by his child’s teacher.

“When I was in junior high I didn’t think, ‘Oh, one day I’m gonna have kids and I’m going to have to teach them about this,'” he said, choking up momentarily. ‘… I’m going to have to show them this video.”

Twenty years later, the sting of that day, and all it brought home to American families, remains for Evan Morgan and Bailey Hale.

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