Joe Repya had been retired from the U.S. Army for nearly three years when airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
For the rest of the day, Repya and his wife, Debra, were glued to the television as they watched the events unfold. Later that evening, the two had a frank conversation about Repya's plans.
"I told her that, the next morning, I was contacting the Army and volunteering," he recalled. "I always felt like the best way to lead was to lead by example."
At the ripe age of 58, Repya was one of 350 retired officers selected to return to active duty out of 12,000 volunteers. It wasn't until 2005, after years of battling red tape, that he actually returned to active duty. The former Edina resident, who had campaigned throughout 2004 to get President George W. Bush re-elected, ate breakfast with then-Vice President Dick Cheney the morning before he deployed to Fort Campbell, in Kentucky.
"I came home, kissed the bride goodbye, patted the dogs on the head and took off," Repya said.
Following a brief stint at Fort Campbell, Repya rejoined the 101st Airborne Division—the same group he started his military career with in Vietnam. He went overseas to Iraq in 2005, but a significant shoulder injury and subsequent surgeries forced him to once again retire from active duty, in 2006—then at the age of 61.
"At that age, it was difficult keeping up with kids who were 18 and 20 years old," he said.
The biggest difference between his time in Vietnam and Iraq? The level of professionalism.
"Back in Vietnam, 80 percent of those kids were draftees," he said. "We're talking guys who never made it out of high school in some cases. Compare that to Iraq, where it's 100 percent volunteers and everyone acts in a professional manner. The one thing I noticed was you didn't have the drug problems or drinking problems we saw in Vietnam."
Now 10 years after the terrorist attacks, Repya said the nation has managed to liberate two countries—some 50 million people–but has also paid a "horrible price in death and injuries to our soldiers."
"We've made some mistakes, sure," Repya said. "But I was there (in Iraq) on election day when 80 percent of eligible voters went to the polls knowing they could be killed. That gave me hope for the Iraqi people."
See additional 9/11 coverage from throughout Minnesota:
Eagan: Eagan Resident Mike Ferber Hopes Memories of 9/11 Won’t Fade
Eagan: Incidental Soldier
Eagan: Eagan City Administrator Tom Hedges Reflects on 9/11
Fridley: Demand Soared for Speakers on Islam after 9/11
Inver Grove Heights: VFW Commander: Sept. 11 Changed the Country
Lake Minnetonka: Remembering Wayzata Native Gordy Aamoth
Lakeville: Lakeville VFW Post Manager's Wife Working at Pentagon on Sept. 11
Maple Grove: 9/11: A Day of Respect for Maple Grove Resident
Maple Grove: Maple Grove Fire Chief Shares Memories of 9/11
Maple Grove: United to Help Maple Grove Service Members
Minnetonka: 9/11 Memories From a Former New Yorker
Mendota Heights: Retired Mendota Heights Pilot Recalls ‘Paradigm Shift’
Northfield: Northfielder Will Never Forget His Birthday in Iraq
Oakdale: Terror and Joy Came Together for Oakdale Family
Oakdale: Post-9/11 World Meant Three Years Away From Family for Local Guardsman
Richfield: 9/11 Aftermath: Richfield Couple Waits for Possible Deployment
St. Louis Park: 9/11 Attacks Made Being Muslim ‘More Difficult’
Woodbury: Woodbury Resident, NYC Native Recalls 9/11