Taking a break and remembering those who were killed on September 11, 2001 and retelling what 9-11 means to me. How the day unfolded and what it means for the country.
“Remember the hours after September 11th when we came together as one to answer the attack against our homeland. We drew strength when our firefighters ran upstairs and risked their lives so that others might live; when rescuers rushed into smoke and fire at the Pentagon; when the men and women of Flight 93 sacrificed themselves to save our nation’s Capitol; when flags were hanging from front porches all across America, and strangers became friends. It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us.”
Senator John Kerry
“One of the worst days in America’s history saw some of the bravest acts in Americans’ history. We’ll always honor the heroes of 9/11. And here at this hallowed place, we pledge that we will never forget their sacrifice.”
George W Bush at the Pentagon in 2008
“My older brother John lived [his life] in Technicolor. … When he walked in the door, the whole house lit up. And I’m sure heaven lit up when he got there too.”
Anthoula Katsimatides at the World Trade Center site in 2005
September 11, 2001 Memorial at the Pentagon
May we never forgot September 11, 2001
Naudet brothers 9-11 documentary
Today I want to do something different and take a step back and reflect on September 11, 2001 and share how my family reacted to the event and what it means to American society. September 11, 2001 is a day that will be seared into American history – especially for younger people as it is our Pearl Harbor. But before I start with September 11, 2001 I need to go back farther, actually to February 26, 1993.
First World Trade Center Attack and a Personal Desire
The first World Trade Center attack happened on February 26, 1993. The attack was planned and organized by Ramzi Youssef, Mahmud Abouhalima, Mouhammad Salameh, Nidel A Ayyad, Abdul Rahman Yasin, and Ahmed Ajaj. A massive car bomb was set off in the north tower parking garage with the goal of toppling one tower and to crash it into the second tower. While it did not succeed it killed six people and injured a thousand. In my life at the time I was in high school living in California and I purchased and saved a couple of newspapers about the attack. On Saturday February 27, 1993 I had a forensics meet in Lemoore, California and my Mom and I drove there for the event. I remember reading about the World Trade Center bombing in the newspaper. I was stunned that such a brazen act happened on American soil. And for me it gave birth to a personal desire, and goal I had in my lifetime. I wanted to visit the World Trade Center. I was living on the West Coast and my family never traveled to the East Coast. But that was my personal hope one day.
Before September 11, 2001 Life was Carefree
Today I look at life in the before and after moment of September 11. So much changed from air security to terrorism, to our federal government. Today as I reflect back on the era before September 11 it was care free. The thought of terrorists turning planes into missiles never crossed your mind. I remember when I flu, my family used to come to the gate of the airport. Things were more laid back and security was more relaxed. The days before September 11 I was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and I was in the grad program at Marquette University. I remember attending a University of Wisconsin football game in Madison, Wisconsin. I watched David Carr lead the Fresno State Bulldogs and dismantle Barry Alvarez’s Badgers. I was sore from screaming my lungs out. While I was doing that the student section of the University of Wisconsin was screaming their chant of “asshole, asshole” that echoed in Camp Randall. If you haven’t been to a University of Wisconsin football game, quite simply you haven’t lived. It was a different time and today it seems like a century ago.
Tuesday September 11, 2001 and the Following Weeks
I had Tuesdays off from work as I had grad school at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I was in the history program. The previous night I was up late in the computer lab and I slept in. I woke up and took a shower and was drying off when my phone rang. My Mom called and the first thing she screamed is “we’re being attacked!” I was baffled and turned on the television and sat down and watched. I watched the replays of a commercial jet flying into the World Trade Center and its eventual collapse. I was stunned and felt sick. When I was hearing about the possible loss of life being in the tens of thousands because of how many people worked in the World Trade Center I was horrified. I remember thinking to myself before it was even mentioned that this was on the same level as Pearl Harbor. I dressed and went outside and looked around. The Marquette campus had come to a halt. People were lining up to give blood, and in the student union people were gathered around the television sets. For me it seemed surreal. I later went to a Catholic Mass on campus because I felt like I should be in church that day. I remember watching people weep, cry and people sit there in shock. The Catholic priest explained that our generation had its John F Kennedy assassination moment. That evening I had Campus Crusade for Christ and I was one of the student leaders. I won’t dive into it in this post but if you want to read about it you can do so in “9/11 — Reflections on Disappointing Reactions.”
I had many situations that stuck out in my mind in the days that were to come. I remember driving around Milwaukee, Wisconsin and seeing the city covered with American flags. I saw a unity that I never saw before and haven’t seen since. Every house displayed a flag. I subscribed to the Chicago Tribune and as I recall they had a flag on a sticker tucked into the paper to encourage subscribers to place it on their car. Another thing that I will never forget is seeing my first airplane after the tragedy. As you will recall the FAA grounded all airplanes. Air travel which we all took for granted was suddenly unknown. In the time span of a few days I was playing volleyball with some guys from Campus Crusade at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. We were at Bradford Beach on the shore of Lake Michigan. I remember how it happened. It was almost like a natural event but we’were playing volleyball and then we heard a jet taking off from General Mitchell Airport in Milwaukee. Spontaneously everyone stopped playing and stood and stared at the plane taking off. That plane flying over the city represented many of our hopes and a desire for the country to return to normal. But it was weird as to how many people stopped and stared.
Another event I recall was a conversation with my grandmother Isobel Bonner. Isobel lived in Butte, Montana and at the time of September 11 was 91. My grandmother was like a living history lesson. She told me about how she remembered when World War I ended. She was a young girl and she heard the churches peel their bells and people pour out into the streets; bars opened and people celebrated the end of fighting in Europe on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – in 1918. My grandmother explained to me that as she watched the World Trade Center burn and collapse she was filled with emotions she last had when Pearl Harbor was attacked. My grandmother was making pancakes for a birthday party for my Dad on December 7, 1941 when the news came in about the Japanese bombing on Oahu. On that Tuesday morning my grandmother felt like she was reliving Pearl Harbor all over again. The same emotions, feelings and worry came back. To hear that from someone who lived through such a historical event took my breath away.
There was another aspect that I want to highlight. As I said above I wanted to see the Twin Towers but I never had the chance. For me that was crushing, and then I read something in the Chicago Tribune that also gave me pause. One day the Tribune had an article about how the aftermath of 9-11 effected skyscrapers in Chicago. Suddenly people didn’t want to work or live in them. They realized that they could be problematic in a new age of terror. The Tribune as I recalled discussed how people were moving out of the John Hancock Tower as people were afraid that it was a target. I was afraid at the time that 9-11 would repeat itself in Chicago or many other cities. I never saw the World Trade Center and I wondered…would the Sears Tower or John Hancock Center be destroyed in a similar manner? So before anything happened I decided to spend a Saturday in Chicago and see both towers. Chicago is about 90 miles south of Milwaukee. I drove there and went into the Sears Tower and the John Hancock Tower observation decks. I looked around, took it in, and processed it.
For those of you who may have forgotten, I have some of the headlines from September 11, and 12 2001 below.
How September 11, 2001 Effected People
September 11 has permanently changed our country. It changed transportation, it changed our government. It changed many lives and yes they are all around you. For some people September 11 became the instigator into joining the Navy (USN) Army (USA) Air Force (USAF) Marines (USMC) or Coast Guard (USCG). For others that dark Tuesday morning propelled some to join law enforcement or become a first responder. For others they were propelled to join the federal government whether it be the Department of Defense, (DOD) National Security Agency (NSA) Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Department of State or Homeland Security. Many people have served in silence or risked their lives in places such as Afghanistan. All of those individuals deserve the respect and love from the nation. But there is another thing I also want to state as well. There is a common refrain that you often hear in regards to some of the darkest days in American history. On Sunday December 7, 1941 the weather was warm and sunny in Oahu. There was not a cloud in the sky and the Hawaiian island was peaceful and comfortable. In Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963 the weather was warm and comfortable. It was a beautiful day. Tuesday September 11, 2001 was a beautiful day in New York City. There was not a cloud in the sky, there was no humidity, and the situation was perfect. Each of those dark days in history, Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy Assassination and September 11, 2001 started out so peaceful and nice.
If I were to state what 9-11 is all about, I would say that its about the loss of life and innocence. The loss of the World Trade Center is profound. The loss of mothers and fathers and recent graduates starting jobs in companies such as Cantor Fitzgerald or Aon is even more tragic. The loss of lives is what stands out in my mind. The way families were torn apart and how Christmases. birthdays, anniversaries or more were adversely effected just is beyond tragic. What happens is that the loss that many people feel still remains. Its hard because while other people have moved on or have not suffered as someone touched by 9-11 it continues. Many are still mourning and dealing with the loss that took place on that September morning. September 11, 2001 propelled us into two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, war fatigue and I believe later on populism. People were fearful and some people have forgotten what those days have meant. Some are living more in fear today and listening to dark voices that appeal to people’s fears. Others are nostalgic for a way of life beforehand and I think its led some people to embrace movements that appeal to those concerns. Its amazing that when major historical events have occurred you think of how they affect the greater flow of history. For example think of what Pearl Harbor did both for the United States war effort in Asia and the course it led us on. Take John F Kennedy’s assassination, how did that tragedy affect our foreign policy in Vietnam or Cold War in Europe?
We Need to Stay in Afghanistan Until the Job is Completed
Let me just say this as a concerned American citizen. I know some people are worried and tired of us being in Afghanistan. I get that as its been a long war. In my opinion it was also complicated by invading Iraq which added an additional strain. That said if you read this I am asking you to support the war effort and to continue to support it. We are in Afghanistan because of September 11. Afghanistan was a failed nation-state and in that situation it became a training ground for terrorists. To read more about the links of Al Qaeda its activities in Afghanistan you can read this New York Times article. Its important to remember that Afghanistan is not as it is now portrayed. To see what the culture looked like before war became the norm you can read this Guardian article. We need to stay in Afghanistan until the job is completed and the war is won. This is going to be a long, and hard fight. Afghanistan has been a country that has been easy to invade but hard to hold. The British and the Soviets struggled with Afghanistan. Its a challenge and it will be one of the most difficult missions I think our country has undertaken. We can’t allow Afghanistan to go backwards or became a haven for terrorists again. Not only that but from what I have read in the news ISIS is also involved, so that just re-iterates that we must stay there as well. To read more about ISIS you can do so here, here and here. We have a first rate and professional staff at the State Department, military and Intelligence Community that is working the problem. We can’t let Afghanistan go backward because we will risk more terrorist attacks here in the United States. One more thing that is also important for me to say as well. While the United States has done the bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan we are not alone. There are many NATO countries that have served, fought the Taliban and done a lot of hard work. Many Germans, British, Dutch, and yes even from the Baltics have lost their lives serving alongside our troops. You can read more here. So I am asking you to please stay with the effort and support those who are working and fighting there. In order to remember why we are there we must recall what brought us to Afghanistan. This post is dedicated to the memory of those who lost their lives in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.