By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer
For Matthew Menendez of Loveland, the horror of the terrorist attacks on America two years ago today wasn't filtered through a TV screen or newspaper photographs, as it was for most Americans.
It was something he could see with his own eyes, touch with his own hands.
On that Sept. 11, Menendez was a 19-year-old soldier stationed in Washington with the "Old Guard'' - the oldest unit in the Army. Old Guard soldiers usually perform ceremonial tasks, guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stand at attention in full-dress uniform at White House functions.
But all that changed on that September morning, when a hijacked airliner loaded with passengers slammed into the Pentagon.
Within 24 hours, Menendez and the men in his company found themselves dressed head-to-toe in bulky protective suits, picking through the still-smoking rubble of the Pentagon, clearing away debris and pulling out the remains of the workers - military and civilian - who died in the terrorist attack.
"It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, by far,'' said Menendez, whose Army hitch ended in June, when he returned home to Loveland. "It was the kind of thing that stays with you.''
He spent three weeks working at the Pentagon site.
Menendez continued to serve in the Old Guard, but his best friend since childhood, Jose Hernandez of West Chester, went to Iraq as a private in the Army's 101st Airborne Division.
On May 22, in the Iraqi town of Karbala, Hernandez' platoon was in the middle of a raid of a compound housing Iraqi insurgents when Hernandez was hit in the arm by an AK-47 round. The wound was not life-threatening, but it brought Hernandez home.
In the weeks after 9-11, Menendez' mother, Tania Ward of Loveland, began baking cookies and shipping them off to the Old Guard. She asked her son what more she could do.
"He said, 'If you want to help somebody, help the ones who are deployed overseas,''' Ward recalls.
She took her son's advice and began the StarSupport Military Group, recruiting more than 100 volunteers nationwide to send letters, e-mails, cards and care packages to American soldiers, sailors and marines around the world.
"What Mom did was incredible,'' said Menendez. "You don't know how much it means to a soldier to get mail. Especially if they are stuck in some place like Iraq. Even if it is mail from a total stranger, they just like to know someone cares.''
Cincinnati remembers in solemn prayers, reflective moments
Schedule of local events
Updates on today's memorials across the country
Emotional impact of 9-11 blunts as world changes
PULFER: Still grieving? Blame the media
9-11 aftermath stays with Loveland man
How Greater Cincinnati marked the first anniversary
Profiles of area victims in the 2001 attacks
3-D graphic of plans for the World Trade Center site
Photos of the attacks on the World Trade Center
Photos of the attacks on the Pentagon
Photos of Flight 73
Special multimedia coverage from Gannett News Service
SPECIAL REPORT: VOLUNTEERISM SINCE 9-11
Strong at first, volunteer spirit has waned
Here's how to get involved
Profiles of local volunteers:
16-year-old helps kids get the chance to dance
Dad impresses by going fishing
Arthritis can't keep her from job
Helping others helps heal
Math tutor gets lesson
When disaster hits, he responds
Mentors ease the teen years
Variety is the spice of giving
EDITORIALS ON 9-11
Two years later, we must not forget
Other voices on the lessons of 9/11
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