BEDFORD COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) – One veteran has embarked on a journey to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the September 11 attacks. Jesse Johnson-Bower started in New York City at the World Trade Center 16 days ago. He’s now on his way to the Flight 93 National Memorial, where he’s expected to arrive Monday, before headed to the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial, where he will arrive the morning of September 11.
“This walk is to commemorate and memorialize those that have been impacted by 9/11,” Johnson-Brower said.
Brower himself was one of those impacted by 9/11. The US Army veteran was stationed in Washington, DC at the time. He and his fellow infantrymen were at The Pentagon within minutes of American Airlines Flight 77 crashing.
“We spent that whole day waiting for the fire department to put the fires out, and we slept on the front yard,” he said, as he recalled the moments following the attacks. “And the morning of the twelfth, we started going in, taking rotations finding the victims, pulling them out as well as parts of the aircraft.”
That day changed his life forever, the Michigan native said. He’s now the CEO of the nonprofit Life GR, an organization that provides services to more than 3,000 veterans nationwide who are struggling with PTSD.
“I was just 20 years old and it was the first major trauma that I ever experienced. And 20 years later it’s still pretty vivid in my mind,” Johnson-Brower said.
Two years ago, he had the idea to set out on this 500-mile trek, to honor those who lost their lives that day. But along the journey, he’s found that it’s helped him with his own healing, as he’s been able to reflect on his own emotions of the past two decades
“I didn’t realize how much I’ve been carrying all this time,” he said. “To have people come out of their house and recognize me and what I’m doing and say thank you. Or to hear a short story, it pulls these emotions from the depths of me. There will be times where someone will just give a quick thank you. They don’t see it but like I’m bawling for a minute or two after.”
He’s more than halfway done, having walked more than 270 miles. Johnson-Brower likes to keep a pace of about 20 miles per day. That puts him on pace to arrive at the Flight 93 National Memorial Monday morning, where he already is expecting 50 people to join him in the three-mile walk from the memorial’s entrance to the overlook. That kind of community support, he said, has been what has kept him going along the way.
Brower invites anyone who may be interested in walking the route to the memorial with him to join him. More information is available here.