Where I was on 9/11

photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons. Julien Menichini

This week, so much has been written about 9/11. So many documentaries and television specials have aired. I haven’t really watched any of it, nor have I read the articles. It’s not that I don’t care about what happened a decade ago. I care a great deal. Like all other Americans who remember that day, September 11, 2001 left an indelible mark on me. But I don’t need a documentary to remember what happened. It’s a day about which I constantly think.

I don’t want to sound as though I’m criticizing anyone who has watched the documentaries or attended various memorial ceremonies. I think it’s great that people are finding their own ways to memorialize September 11, sincerely, I think it’s great.

I only speak for myself, but I don’t need reminders. I know what happened:

I thought it was an accident.

I thought it was an accident, when my high school principal announced over the PA system that the World Trade Center had been hit by a plane. I distinctly remember hearing someone in the back of the class mutter, “terrorism.”

I was taking a quiz in my third period geometry class a decade ago. I was 15 years old, and a sophomore in high school.

I’ve changed a lot over these last ten years; we’ve all changed a lot over these last ten years.

Later during that third period math class, the principal again announced a second plane had hit a second tower, erasing any doubt that this was accidental. And I still remember what I did the rest of that day.

I hadn’t seen a television on 9/11 when I found out that the towers had fallen. When I heard about it, it didn’t seem possible, at least not to me. Fourth period: chemistry, where we found out that the towers had collapsed. Our teacher turned on a television and we could see the horrors unfolding. Fifth period: lunch, where rumors and confusion abounded. It’s always been interesting to me how some of the conspiracy theorists who claim 9/11 was “an inside job” will use footage from that day in an attempt at substantiating their claims. There was such utter confusion and chaos going on that day. No one really seemed to have a clue what was happening.

Sixth period: journalism, where we went to the library with several other classes and watched news coverage. The ash covered streets of Manhattan made the area look post apocalyptic. Seventh period: art.

We still had football practice that day. I still remember it was for a game against Worthington Kilbourne. After football practice, we heard planes in the distance. They were military.

I was afraid on that day. It seemed like nothing would ever be normal again. The day was like a movie, but it seemed as if the bad guys had won. Ordinary people, thousands of them: boarding flights for work and vacations; sitting in their offices; responding to the first tower after it had been hit, oblivious to the horrors which were to come, and thousands of them were gone.

Just. Gone.

Fifteen months before the attack, my family and I went to Manhattan and to the Twin Towers. I decided not to ride the elevators to the top (I have a fear of heights and I had already been to the top of the Empire State Building). I marveled at the enormity of the World Trade Center from the ground. I remember a conversation I heard with two security guards. One of them was from London and he spoke with an accent to his colleague. On September 11, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were in the towers when they were hit and what were they doing the rest of that day.

America rebounded. People who can’t agree on much of anything banded together and life went on. But my fear that life would never be the same has come true in many ways. America is not and will not ever be the same as she was before 9/11. 8:46 AM that morning split time for this country. Everything we speak of happened before or after the attack.

In my tenth grade geometry class, as the principal announced that the World Trade Center had been struck, a young man in my math class first heard of the attack at the same time as me. I would later find out that September 11 was a seminal event in his decision to join the army. Shortly before Christmas in 2006, that fine young man lost his life for the cause of defending America and freedom. It would be impossible for me to think back to 9/11 without thinking of him. As I think of him in my recollections, it is difficult for me not to be fatalistic.

For so many more Americans who have served, their stories are similar. I consider it to be part of the enduring American Spirit. With burning towers, Americans ran into them; in the aftermath of the attack, Americans volunteered to take up the cause and risk their own lives, and thousands still continue to take up that cause.

A great people has been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining.

Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America — with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbors who came to give blood and help in any way they could.
-George W. Bush. September 11, 2001

May God continue to bless the Republic.


Photo: Julian Menichini. It was taken on September 5, 2001. This photo is not the property of joshbenner.org, and the owner of the copyright on this photo does not endorse this blog. For more information, please click on the photograph.