Daniel Jens, a Carroll University student studying communications, remembers exactly where he was on Sept. 11, 2001.
"I'll never forget where I was that day," Jens said. "There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about what happened and why I was inspired to enlist."
He was at home watching his young son play with the dog while working on his tool-selling business when he watched the aftermath as news reports came pouring in about four airplanes that were hijacked by terrorists.
"At first we thought it was just an accident," Jens said. "Then the second plane hit. And then the Pentagon was hit and then the other plane crashed in Pennsylvania.
"I remember thinking to myself as I was working from home that we are never going to be the same. … I remember thinking what I was doing didn’t matter to anyone. … In the grand scheme of things and the grand scheme of life, it didn’t mean nothing to no one. I kept thinking I wanted to something more, something more meaningful with my life as I looked at my son."
Jens also remembers where he was more than four years later – Ft. Sill, Oklahoma – for basic training. Another six months later, and the former Army sergeant was bound for combat in Iraq.
Jens put aside his fears of leaving his son behind for war and put aside dreams of going fishing with his son and spending time with his business. A self-described musician, he told his band mates “I’ve got to go overseas,” he said.
“I enlisted during a time of war,” Jens said. “Not that many people can say that, but it is something that I can say and be proud of.”
It was in the middle of war that Jens said he was able to use his calling and his dreams of being a musician to help others. Between missions in Iraq, Jens would bring out his guitar and play for the soldiers around him at chapel services or “just like we were at the campfire at home.”
“There were times that I could really see the war melt off their faces, sitting down and singing along to the songs,” said Jens, who appeared on season 3 of America’s Got Talent.
When Jens came back home and was about to leave the Army, he was signed by Sony Music with the group 4 Troops.
“Probably the best thing that I did was not giving up on that dream but using my talent, my God-given talent, to sing for family members of service members that we lost,” said an emotional Jens during the ceremony. “… To be able to do that for our service members meant more to me than even serving overseas because we came home and we were a blessing to somebody who had lost their family members overseas. That all started from 9/11.”
In a somber ceremony that began at 7 p.m. Monday on Carroll University's front lawn with seven strikes of the bell, about 200 people gathered to remember the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Also honored during the ceremony was the family of U.S. Navy Cmdr. Dan F. Shanower, a 1983 Carroll graduate, who was killed during the terrorist attack on the Pentagon, where he worked.
The ceremony was attended by students and community members, including firefighters from the Waukesha Fire Department. Also present at the ceremony were elected leaders State Sen. Rich Zipperer, State Rep. Bill Kramer, Sheriff Dan Trawicki and Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas.
The community owes much to the men and women in uniform – military, police and firefighters – who have chosen dangerous professions to help the community, Vrakas said.
People "like your son," he told the Shanower family.
"We owe an incredible debt of gratitude to your generation," Vrakas told the students at Carroll University.
Vrakas said he watched the TV coverage of the terrorist attacks "in disbelief." Days later, he wore an arm bracelet that said "God Bless the U.S.A." and didn't take it off until a year later when he encountered a tree at the Pentagon that was made as a memorial for the Sept. 11 victims.
"I wore that little wristband, and I wore it for a year," said Vrakas, who admitted that he was turned down to join the National Guard after Sept. 11, 2001, because he was too old. "... We have all spent the weekend reflecting. ... We will continue to come together."