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In their own words: John Dowd

The former offensive guard for the U.S. Naval Academy is a native of Staten Island, New York, and was 11 years old on 9/11. On Sept. 11, 2010, Dowd ran onto the field for a game against Georgia Southern University carrying an American flag that had previously been flown over special-operations bases in Afghanistan, had been raised at the World Trade Center site, and was returned to Ground Zero for the 10th anniversary of 9/11. After commissioning in the spring of 2012, Dowd completed initial training for submarine officers. Since February 2014, he has served onboard the Navy’s newest Virginia-class attack submarine.

They wouldn’t let us watch the (9/11) footage at my grammar school because half of our parents worked in Manhattan. My father actually worked in downtown Manhattan at the time. They didn’t want us to put on the TV and have, you know, this girl who sits next to me whose father works on the 50th floor of the Trade Center, and she has to watch that thing. So I didn’t know until I got home. It’s just tough being from Staten Island on that day. It literally shattered the community.

Obviously everything shut down for the day. The teachers were more interested in finding out. And kids slowly and slowly started being pulled out of class. Me and my brother and sister were some of the last few there. We didn’t really know what was going on until my mom picked us up and she was shaking. Where my grammar school was, you can look out and you’d have a decent view of eastern New Jersey, a little bit of the Hudson, so you started seeing some smoke.

Luckily, I was fortunate enough to not have any immediate family (die on 9/11). It’s the five or six people from your parish, some of the kids, their fathers, literally somebody everywhere. And it’s still very personal to this day. I had an opportunity to go down and see one of the memorials, and there was a widow there. My mom had to step away for a couple of minutes because this lady was just crying her eyes out. They started feeling the same things and had to step away for a couple of minutes.

(Carrying the flag against Georgia Southern) made me step back for a minute because we put so much effort into a sport, a game, and it’s trivial compared to those 3,000 lives. It really just becomes a game at that point. It took me a couple of minutes through the first quarter to refocus and actually play. It shocks you back into perspective. If you go look at the pictures of it, because of what that flag meant to so many people, I took my gloves off and I was wiping off my hands. If you look at the pictures, I look really goofy because I have my gloves around my waist belt. With what that meant to a lot of people, I was going to make sure that I did not disrespect that in any way. I was gripping that the hardest I’ve ever held anything in my life. You really can’t compare something to that (moment).

We try really hard here, especially on the football team, to preach a brotherhood. We take pride in what we do and we treat each other like family. And the fact that a lot of your family members are going into harm’s way – like we had graduates who helped out with the team who had been to Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re still preparing at the Naval Academy, as patriotic as we are. But we’re not the ones fighting the good fight right now. We’re preparing to lead our nation’s sailors and Marines. So we really take pride in the brothers and sisters who came before us and the great work that they do and all the hardship and sacrifice they’ve made to defend our country. There’s an athletic standard, which here is definitely not the most important standard.