My Testimony, 9/11 and Now

 

On a beautiful fall morning barely two weeks after my 21st birthday, a commercial airliner was flown into one of my favorite buildings in the world. Seventeen minutes later, a second plane was flown into another of my favorite buildings and the country knew we were under attack.

In the early morning hours of my 40th birthday, the shooting started in what may become America’s second civil war.

I don’t want that day to be, “the day the shooting started.” I’d much rather that be the day we changed direction. I’d rather that be the day we began to turn away from where we are going and started turning back to who we are, who we can be when we are at our best.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

When the entire tristate area stood agape, watching, and as everyone in southern Manhattan followed instructions to “Go North!” they went south. When everybody rushed down all those stairs and out of the towering inferno, they went in, and they went up.

Three-hundred forty-four firefighters, eight EMTs, and 60 police never came back down.

That was the day they became “First Responders” and for a moment we realized what it is they do every day. They did not ask themselves, “Who is inside?” They did not ask, “What color are they?” They did not ask, “How much money do they make?” nor “How do they vote?” They said, “People are in danger, and we have a job to do.” That was the day we understood they had volunteered to be the heroes, no matter who calls, no matter what happens, every day. And we as a nation thanked them for who they are.

Nineteen years is not so long. Have we already forgotten? Did we neglect to tell our children what that day really was?

I remember.

I remember watching three thousand of my neighbors, my friends, my family; I remember watching them die – vanish into nothing! – before my naked eyes.

I remember hearing that terrible sound, that rumbled up the whole island; a sound that’s haunted my dreams for almost nineteen years. I remember knowing immediately what it was, and never quite believing it could be so.

And I remember the smell, the stench, of destruction and death. An acrid reminder lingering in the air, among the posters of the missing, the ghosts of the dead.

I remember their faces.

I remember.

Nineteen years is not so long.

Have we already forgotten?

Did we neglect to teach our children what “First Responders” really means? Did we forget to tell them that means the firefighters, and the EMTs, and the police? Did we forget to tell them that it’s the firefighters, and the EMTs, and the police who run toward the danger? It is the firefighters, and the EMTs, and the police who answer the call. It is the firefighters, and the EMTs, and the police who put their lives on the line every day, never knowing what today may bring.

I’m sure they remember.

I’m sure they remember when they put on the uniform each morning. I’m sure they remember when they kiss their children and their families goodbye. I’m sure they remember every time they leave home, and that little voice is there – no matter how much they keep it down – a little voice that asks, “Is today the day I don’t come back?”

But every day, they still go. Even today.

And I’m sure they remember when the anger and rage of an ungrateful and agonizing nation tells them that they are the enemy.

We need to remember that day, not so we can know who to hate. We need to remember that day so we can remember who to thank. We need to remember that day not to track our enemies, but to know our friends. We need to remember that day because the next time something, or someone, goes terribly wrong – and one day it will happen – we need to remember who it is that will answer the call.

It’s the firefighters, and the EMTs, and the police.

I want them to know that I remember, too.

I want them to know: they are not my enemy. They are my family.

All Americans are my family. There is no them, there is only us.

Nineteen years is not so long.

What will we be doing on September 11, 2020?

Sincerely,
A Witness

Published in Politics
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  1. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    It’s hard to believe it’s been 19 years – I lived in Boston and remember every detail, even the weather the day before and that morning. It was like time stopped and imprinted its images onto my soul. This is weird that I remember this, but the day before, we were watching something on TV and a show came on about animal abuse. We had to turn it right away, but even after viewing it for just minutes, I went into the bathroom and started to weep, and said to myself “God is so so patient with the human race”. The next day was 9/11.  It took a major tragedy to make people stop.  You are right – we have forgotten those lessons, even through the trials of a malicious virus.  

    • #1
  2. Tex929rr Coolidge
    Tex929rr
    @Tex929rr

    Of all the things that move me about that day, one stands out.  Firefighters wear a device (generally called a PASS device) that sounds an alarm when it doesn’t sense motion for a while.  It can’t be turned off until you are back in the truck; it’s to be able to find and rescue someone who goes down in a structure fire.

    After the tower collapses the PASS devices that weren’t completely destroyed began to sound their alarms.  The alarms get louder as time passes without them being reset.  Apparently some devices were still chirping weeks later until their batteries finally wore down.  

    Of all the things about that day this one moves me the most. Thinking of that sound coming from multiple places in that huge piles of debris, and the guys who were on scene, listening to the alarms, trying to get into that rubble, knowing what the odds were.  Only 20 people were pulled from the rubble alive. 

    • #2
  3. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Thanks for this post.  We don’t do enough to remember that day and those heroes. If nothing else, it should be on TV all day on each anniversary. 

    I worked outside Washington, DC and within about 5 miles of Dulles airport which was feared to be another target.  I remember how strange it was to have no airplanes in the air for weeks.

    The thing that got me the most was seeing the lines of volunteers lining up to give blood for the presumed survivors and then hearing that no blood was needed, since there were no survivors.

    I assume most of the “peaceful protesters” attacking the police have no memory of 9/11.

    • #3
  4. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    WillowSpring (View Comment):
    I worked outside Washington, DC and within about 5 miles of Dulles airport which was feared to be another target. I remember how strange it was to have no airplanes in the air for weeks.

    Planes started flying again on the 14th.

    • #4
  5. Flapjack Member
    Flapjack
    @Flapjack

    I’m a junior high English teacher at a Catholic school.  Every year, I teach Billy Collins’ “The Names” on September 11th (or as close to it as school days allow).  I also share my own experience from that date – I was an instructor in the USAF at the time.  

    Here’s Collins reading the poem before a joint session of Congress: https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4549801/user-clip-us-poet-laureate-billy-collins-the-names

     

    • #5
  6. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    I was driving to work in a building on the waterfront in Jersey City, NJ.    The building sat directly across the Hudson from the WTC.   I could see the smoke coming from the North Tower.   My first thought was a kitchen fire at Windows on the World restaurant.    Then the radio started talking about a plane hitting the tower.   There were always planes flying around lower Manhattan.    I can recall standing at the office window and looking down at fixed wing aircraft.    So my second thought was that a small plane had hit.   Traffic was still moving.  Then reports of hijacked airliners.    
    There was no time to think about that news.    I was almost at the Jersey City end of the Pulaski  Skyway when the second plane hit the South tower.    I was almost a mile away across the river so it can’t be real, but in my memory it seems like I could feel the heat of the fireball bloom on my face.   
    The police had already shut the Holland Tunnel.    Now they closed the entrances to Jersey City too.    At the end of the In-bound Pulaski, the police were only allowing traffic to go one way half a block to the Out-bound Lanes of the Pulaski.   So they basically just turned everyone around and sent them home.  I talked every day to the people at RMJ securities.    Some former workmates now worked there.   Friends and neighbors worked for Marsh McLennan, Morgan Stanley and the Port Authority … all with offices in WTC.    By the time I got home the South Tower was gone.   
    We had to go get our kids from school.   They were dismissing early.  There were terrified kids, in tears, hoping to see their parents.  Some would not.   It was awful.   
    I know it’s unchristian

    but

    never forgive

    never forget.  

    • #6
  7. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    Tex929rr (View Comment):
    After the tower collapses the PASS devices that weren’t completely destroyed began to sound their alarms. The alarms get louder as time passes without them being reset. Apparently some devices were still chirping weeks later until their batteries finally wore down.

     

     

    • #7
  8. WillowSpring Member
    WillowSpring
    @WillowSpring

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Planes started flying again on the 14th.

    That’s a surprise – is that domestic or international?  We live in what is often the flight path for Dulles (about 35 miles away) and the skies were totally empty for weeks.

    There was actually a lesser drop in traffic at the start of the “Wuhan Flu” panic which is starting to come pack now and we are seeing more international flights.

    • #8
  9. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    WillowSpring (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Planes started flying again on the 14th.

    That’s a surprise – is that domestic or international? We live in what is often the flight path for Dulles (about 35 miles away) and the skies were totally empty for weeks.

    There was actually a lesser drop in traffic at the start of the “Wuhan Flu” panic which is starting to come pack now and we are seeing more international flights.

     

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closings_and_cancellations_following_the_September_11_attacks#North_American_airspace

    The entire airspaces of the United States and Canada[4] were closed (“ground stop“) by order of FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney (who was working his first day in that position)[5] except for military, police, and medical flights. The unprecedented implementation of Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids (SCATANA) was the first unplanned closure in the U.S.; military exercises known as Operation Skyshield had temporarily closed the airspace in the early 1960s. Domestic planes were diverted to the nearest available airport. All non-military flights needed specific approval from the United States Air Force and the FAA.[citation needed] There were only a few dozen private aircraft which received approvals in that time period. Civil Air Patrol‘s aerial photography unit was the earliest non-military flight granted approval. United Airlines cancelled all flights worldwide temporarily. Grounded passengers and planes were searched for security threats. Amtrak was closed until 6pm on September 11, but by September 13 it had increased capacity 30% to deal with an influx of stranded plane passengers.[2] President George W. Bush was transported to a secure location via Air Force One.

    Many incoming international flights were diverted to Atlantic Canada to avoid proximity to potential targets in the US and large cities in Canada. Some international flights that departed from South America were diverted to Mexico, however its airspace was not shut down. On Thursday night, the New York area airports (JFKLaGuardia, and Newark) were closed again and reopened the next morning. The only traffic from LaGuardia during the closure was a single C-9C government VIP jet, departing at approximately 5:15 p.m. on the 12th.

    Civilian air traffic was allowed to resume on September 13, 2001, with stricter airport security checks, disallowing for example the box cutting knives that were used by the hijackers. (Reinforcement of cockpit doors began in October 2001, and was required for larger airlines by 2003.[6]) First, stranded planes were allowed to fly to their intended destinations, then limited service resumed. The backlog of delayed passengers took several days to clear.

    • #9
  10. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    TheNoID:

    Three-hundred forty-four firefighters, eight EMTs, and 60 police never came back down.

    That was the day they became “First Responders” and for a moment we realized what it is they do every day. They did not ask themselves, “Who is inside?” They did not ask, “What color are they?” They did not ask, “How much money do they make?” nor “How do they vote?” They said, “People are in danger, and we have a job to do.” That was the day we understood they had volunteered to be the heroes, no matter who calls, no matter what happens, every day. And we as a nation thanked them for who they are.

    Well said . . .

    • #10