Drew Gottstein, now a 21-year-old cadet at SUNY Maritime College, was sitting at a bar near the school's Bronx campus when the announcement came on the evening news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. He and a friend watched President Barack Obama's speech, but then returned to campus, since they both had to be up early the next day for school.
But when he got back to his dorm room, Gottstein found he couldn't escape the gravity of what had just happened.
"I was getting ready for bed when I turned on the TV, and Ground Zero and Times Square [were] crazy," he said. "I called another friend and told him to get into uniform, and I'd drive down to Ground Zero so we could be part of and experience history at the same time."
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Once the two, clad in their white cadet uniforms, got to Ground Zero, Gottstein recalled a madhouse of people celebrating in the streets and news crews capturing the action.
"The center of the gathering was on the street pole, and we kept being told that we needed to get up there," he said.
Gottstein and his classmate, Peter Poulson, a fellow cadet at SUNY Maritime, climbed to the top of the street pole at Vesey and Church streets and surveyed the surging, cheering mass.
"The scene was unreal, something I'll never forget -- the cheers because we were in uniform, the singing of the 'Pledge of Allegiance,'" he said. "It was amazing."
Some in the international community criticized Obama's decision to kill bin Laden, and said the terrorist mastermind should instead have been captured and brought to trial.
"It was quite clearly a violation of international law," former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt said at the time. "The operation could also have incalculable consequences in the Arab world."
But Gottstein defended the U.S. military's decision, and his own personal decision to celebrate that night one year ago.
"It wasn't a celebration of death, but a celebration of justice and how justice was finally served to the evil man responsible for the murder of countless civilians," he said. "It sent a message to the world that if you plan and execute a terrorist attack, we will find you. You will be brought to justice and you will not get away with it."
When he graduates from SUNY Maritime, Gottstein will be an officer in the U.S. Merchant Marine. Next week, he and other cadets will board a training ship for a 90-day term at sea.
Merchant Marine ships often deliver supplies during wartime.
"If a large-scale war broke out and my country needed me, I'd be there, being able to bring supplies to troops overseas," said Gottstein. "I was never more proud to wear a uniform than on that day about a year ago."