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SL couple remembers the son they lost in the 9/11 attack

Becky Vargo • Sep 12, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Spring Lake residents Ken and Jane Oswald delayed their annual escape Sunday for a couple of hours to talk to a reporter, for the first time in many years, about their family’s loss on Sept. 11, 2001.

Their son, Jason Douglas Oswald, then 28, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center after terrorists crashed airplanes into the massive structures.

An accountant, the young man had moved to New York City that May and started working for Cantor Fitzgerald in the north tower that August.

“He worked on the 103rd floor,” Ken said. “He was excited to be up there.”

The Oswalds lived in Merrill, Wis. at the time, having moved there from The Woodlands, Texas.

They soon discovered, after the terrorism attacks that it was critical to get away from home and the television so the horror was not thrown back in their faces.

“Now, it’s kind of a tradition to get away,” Ken said. “It’s been a long healing process. The grief is always right below the surface for us.”

Jason Oswald was an easy-going young man. He was active, but usually just went with the flow of things, his parents agreed.

Jason graduated from high school in Texas, Wheaton College, and then went back to Texas for his master’s degree.

He was working in Chicago, when he made the decision to follow his girlfriend to New York City.

His parents acknowledged that it was really serious when their son brought his girlfriend home to meet his parents on Labor Day Weekend in 2001 

“We had a nice weekend,” Ken said.

Both he and Jane expressed gratitude that they’d received a number of pictures from the weekend’s events.

“They were the last pictures we ever had of him,” Ken said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Ken said he was sitting in the library watching Sports Center. Jane was in the kitchen.

“She called out that something had happened. They turned on the television and watched the towers burn and collapse 

There was no contact from their son during that time.

“We knew how chaotic things were there,” Ken said. “He was an athlete. He ran marathons. Our thought was if there was a way, he could do it (get out of the building). 

They contacted his girlfriend, who worked with friends to post pictures and search for the young man.

For a short time, they hoped he hadn’t made it to work on time, or didn’t go at all because he had a headache or something like that.

“But he wasn’t like that,” Jane said.

The attacks happened on a Tuesday. By Friday, they realized that their son was likely gone. On the following Monday, they started making plans for a memorial 

“It did not seem possible,” Ken said 

“It was very easy to be in denial, because we had nothing,” Jane said.

Despite holding the memorial, Ken admitted deep down they still had some hope – until some of Jason’s remains were found almost a year later 

“They identified a portion of his remain through DNA,” Ken said. “Jane was pretty adamant that we had to bring him here.”

A family friend, who was a caretaker, helped them decide what to do with the remains.

The Oswalds had their son cremated. The cremains are stored in a compartment in a boulder placed in a new garden on their Spring Lake Township property 

Because the Oswalds have moved so much over the years, Jane said it was important not to bury Jason somewhere he never lived, but to be able to carry him with her.

The Oswalds said they were a little uncomfortable going public with their story again 

“I don’t dodge it, but I don’t wear it on my sleeve either,” Ken said.

A few years after Jason’s death, the Oswalds bought a building in Merrill, Wis., and donated it to the community as a youth center in Jason’s memory.

Although it surprised them that Jason picked up and went to New York, they supposed he was just following in his parents’ footsteps.

“I think that’s adventure,” Jane said. “That’s what life is.”

One of the photos they received after the Labor Day weekend visit was of Jason standing on a ferry with the World Trade Center in the background.

“He had a big smile on his face,” his mother said. “He wanted to be there.”

She smiled wanly as she went back in the house to get her husband – to get in the car and go for a ride, to remember at the same time they wanted to forget.

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