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The Son Of A 9/11 Victim Remembers His Mother


Another person whose life was changed by 9/11 is Rodney Ratchford Jr., known to family and friends as Marquez. He was 11 when his classmate Bernard Curtis Brown II was on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon, a crash that killed his mother, Marsha Ratchford, who worked for the Navy. When we spoke, I began by asking him to tell me about her.

RODNEY RATCHFORD JR: My mother was young, energetic - beautiful human being. She's your favorite sister, your favorite auntie, your favorite cousin. I mean, even some of her old shipmates have reached out to me. And what's funny is if they've been around here, they always told me, you know, they didn't call her Marsha or sergeant or nothing like that. They always called her Mama Marsha. So that just lets you know, you know, how much she cared for other people around her. She wasn't a selfish person.

MARTIN: And I know that this is the pain part. Would you mind telling me, do you remember how you heard about what happened on September 11? Or just - what are your memories of that day?

RATCHFORD: Yeah. See, it wasn't like a you-were-told type situation. It was you knew what was going on, but then maybe you didn't know what was going on. I went to a school that was not too far from base or from her job downtown. When the buildings struck, you felt it in the school. He was all on the news. My sister used to walk a young lady home that lived on base with us. Her dad and my mom worked together at the Pentagon. When we dropped the little girl at the house, the mom told me that her husband was OK. She had called, but she said she didn't know about my mother. So she told us to go straight home, don't go anywhere else. So we did, and my dad was standing there holding the phone. He crying. It was this sense for me. It was a sense that, you know, something terribly was wrong.

MARTIN: And nobody ever sat you down to talk about it, or you were just kind of left to figure it out for yourself?

RATCHFORD: It didn't really sink in on me that my mom was gone until I went to her funeral. Even with my friend Bernard passing in this situation and the teacher that was on board the same plane that hit the Pentagon, I went to his funeral first. But I don't think it really hit me hard in a visceral, like - painful-wise and just - memory and mentally - when I went into my mom's service, that's when I think it took ahold.

MARTIN: Were you angry?

RATCHFORD: Angry about what?

MARTIN: All of it.

RATCHFORD: I went through a lot of emotional states. I mean, you know, sometimes I would be very happy and living a good life. Sometimes I would be very mad. Sometimes I could go to school, and I'd be bullied. At this time, everybody wanted to crack your momma jokes, and I wasn't a momma-joke-cracking type of person because I lost my mom. You know, I wasn't bad in school. I had good grades. But for me, you know, people would do things like that, and I would get into fights and get suspended or get expelled or get in trouble for it.

MARTIN: Is there something you wish people knew about either your experience or the experience of other people like you who lost loved ones on 9/11? Is there something you wish people knew that they don't know that maybe you could share?

RATCHFORD: The conspiracies is just - enough. But when we speak of this, let's speak of and know that it was a lot more people and things that were involved that I wish that people did know about but not (ph) - even the guys who risked their life. These guys were your average hey, how you doing? citizens - got family, got a home. And these guys still up on the plane that was hijacked, and these guys took charge. You know, they went on that plane and tried to help. They tried to do what they could to go home and make sure other people went home. Like I said, my mother is deeply in my heart, but she's no better than anyone else that died that day. Whether it was my friend, the bunch of the students that was on their plane, wherever the situation was, this thing was one big whole tragedy.

MARTIN: I'm wondering what it's like for you as a parent. Do you - I just wonder if maybe losing your mom at such a young age, if it affected the way you parent your own kids.

RATCHFORD: No, not at all - because my mom gave me all the tools that I needed. And the rest of my family, like I said, from my aunties to my uncles, I've had the best upbringing that anyone can ask for. It might not have been in a stable family home like, you know, this is your mom and your dad and your, you know, upbringing. But I don't regret anything at all about my life or anything that has happened with me or my sisters.

MARTIN: I sense, like, you feel the victory. Do you know what I'm saying? I feel like you know you've been through it, but at the end of it, you feel like you've come through.

RATCHFORD: Yes. And because, like I said, even with my children, I mean, there's no - there's nothing lost. You know, it's a legacy that was left behind. You know, she left a legacy behind, and I'm going to honor it until I die.

MARTIN: That was Rodney Ratchford Jr. - he's also known as Marquez - remembering his mother, Marsha Ratchford and friend Bernard Curtis Brown II, who both died in the attack on the Pentagon 20 years ago today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.