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September 12, 2011

Ten years later, Welch remembers 9/11 and his past

By: Jimmy Robertson

Sept. 11, 2011, marked the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center that killed more than 3,000 people, and a nation honored those who paid the ultimate price that day. Americans also felt for the families of those who lost loved ones.

Most can’t begin to imagine the pain of those families, but at least one person knows exactly how those who lost mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, relatives and friends that day felt. He knows because he experienced the exact same feelings more than 25 years ago.

Brian Welch, a former linebacker at Tech from 1997-2001, lost his father, Kenneth – a Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army – on Sept. 20, 1984, when terrorists from the group Hezbollah drove a van full of explosives into an American embassy annex in Beirut, Lebanon. More than 20 people died in the attack.

“It’s really interesting for me,” Welch said. “Sept. 11 is such a huge milestone, and a day that so many people can rally around. But as devastating as that tragedy was, for me, it’s not a reminder of what can happen.

“For me, that’s a daily thing, and I’m sure it’s the same for those who lost family or friends [on Sept. 11]. More people can relate to what I went through, and that’s not a good thing. I don’t want people to have to relate to that.”

Welch was a 6-year-old boy at the time of his father’s death. He and his older brother were living in Beijing, China, with their mother, Linda, who worked for the CIA. Kenneth’s and Linda’s jobs took their family all over the world. Following the tragedy, they returned to the United States, and Kenneth’s remains were buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

“He’s the greatest man I never knew,” Brian said.

Following the Sept. 11 attacks, Welch and the Hokies played at Rutgers, and the game marked the first major college sporting event in the New York City area after the attacks, thus carrying with it a significant amount of importance as the nation attempted to return to some semblance of normalcy.

Before kickoff, John Ballein, Tech’s associate AD for football operations, had an American flag that he wanted a Tech player to carry as the Hokies ran out onto the field. Not surprisingly and certainly fittingly, Welch went up to Ballein and volunteered to carry out the flag. He also carried it to midfield for a special pregame ceremony.

Tech won the game 50-0, but what transpired overshadowed the outcome. On the second play of the game, Welch intercepted the pass of Rutgers quarterback Ryan Cubit at the Rutgers 28. He returned it 27 yards and expected to score, but Rutgers receiver Sean Carty knocked him down at the 1.

“The universe is funny,” Welch said. “To have my first career interception and be taken down at the 1 by some unknown receiver … it almost makes me laugh. But that’s a microcosm of life. Something can come out of nowhere and take you down. It may be unfair, but that’s life.

“But I do think about that day a lot. The moment wouldn’t have been so special if it hadn’t been for Sept. 11. I’ll carry that day with me for the rest of my life. If not for that tragedy, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to feel the pride in carrying the flag that day.”

Despite the horrible tragedy of Sept. 11, some good came out of that day. Security in this country got better. Intelligence agencies started sharing more information. People became cognizant of their surroundings.

More importantly, a nation of diverse backgrounds came together.

“To see the outward displays of patriotism, it’s just great,” Welch said. “I wish we’d see more of it. It’s great to see people rally around Sept. 11 regardless of your background and beliefs.

“That day was devastating – and, in many ways, miraculous, too.”