Well here goes, just one of a million essays written on the pivotal event of our lifetime. What’s come to be known as simply Nine-eleven. How can what I have to say make any difference… stand out among the crowd? I guess I’ll just share my memories of that day and some of the things that followed. Things I would share with friends.
The events of that September day ten years ago were one of those “where were you” moments in time. Although I was at work that morning I saw most of those early events live on television. I was nearly speechless. It simply boggled the mind and tried the emotions, what we saw that day. So much had occurred and so much seen that my senses were overwhelmed, beyond comprehension. It was a day that saw the country close-in on itself. We learned once again we were vulnerable. The days immediately after were exhausting. They became a blur as I watched on television and listened to the radio following the ever-changing story. As the story developed — even days later — it seemed nearly every hour brought new and dramatic revelations.
The impact of 9-11 on me personally was far greater than that felt after the assassination of President Kennedy. I vividly remember the events of that weekend which had an enormous effect on me as a young impressionable boy. But with 9-11, in human suffering, and in emotional terms, I don’t believe there is any other single one-day event, in the history of this country, that has it’s match. Even Pearl Harbor pales in comparison. I heard it said shortly after 9-11 you’d have to go back to the Civil War to find any event that comes even close in comparison.
We were a divided nation but with 9-11 we seized that moment and became a country more united than we had been for decades. Certainly nothing like it had been seen in my lifetime. No one seemed to care anymore about the differences that separated one political party from another. At least for a while. There was a clear resolve with the President and the Congress to work together in what needed to be a joint effort ahead. Patriotism ran amok. The night of the attacks Democrat and Republican Congressmen broke in to spontaneous song following a press conference as they sang in unity God Bless America on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. It was unprecedented! Our flag was seen everywhere. One day when driving through Seattle I counted 183 flags from the north end through downtown out to West Seattle. They were everywhere hanging from windows and buildings. People flew them from their cars and the beds of their pick-up trucks. It’s not like that anymore.
I remember the thousands of people who in the days after 9-11 walked the streets of New York in desperate search for their loved ones who were in the buildings on that Tuesday morning. They carried pictures and posted flyers on the streets in hopes of somehow locating those who, as it turned out — most of them anyway — were already dead. 2977 people were murdered that day in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. More than 1,100 of the World Trade Center victims have not been identified. Little evidence of their existence had been left behind in the heat of the fire and the forces and weight of the buildings as they fell. To hear the stories of their last conversations, as many of the victims called family members from telephones, before the collapse of the buildings, was heart-wrenching. When family weren’t home many of the victims left voice messages, and said goodbye.
I can not easily forget the outpouring of shock, sympathy and solidarity from nations around the world. The entire free-world, including the President of the Russian Republic, expressed their support and concern. Impromptu memorials were set up at American Embassies and other facilities around the globe. The French newspaper Le Monde ran a front-page headline reading “Nous sommes tous Américains“, or “We are all Americans.” The German Chancellor described the attacks as “a declaration of war against the civilized world.” In Berlin, 200,000 Germans marched to show their solidarity with America. In Canada flags were ordered flown at half-staff for a month to show mourning and support. Even many of those, not considered our best of friends, expressed support. Castro’s government in Cuba offered aid and condemned the attack, while PLO head Yasser Arafat expressed dismay. In Iran a moment of silence was offered in honor of the American dead at a soccer game. But in Iraq they celebrated and danced in the streets.
Two days after the attack, at Buckingham Palace in London, a huge crowd gathered to witness the regular Changing of the Queen’s Guard. For the first time ever the British band played our country’s National Anthem. Scenes from many of the memorial services and other displays of support around the world were broadcast here on television. By the grief seen in their faces they could easily have been Americans. Their appearance was exactly the same. For a while American baseball games were different. Instead of the old Take Me Out to the Ballgame, we sang God Bless America during the 7th-inning stretch. All the uniforms of the major leagues had the flag on their shirts and hats.
I remember David Letterman returning to the air on the following Monday. It was one of the best hours in television I’d ever seen. Letterman did a superb job expressing his feelings and that of the country. One of his guests that night was CBS news anchor Dan Rather. Rather choked up twice during his appearance. He was apologetic, but no one could fault him. I’m sure he had a lot of pent-up emotion and it was probably one of the first times he’d had an opportunity to express some of his personal thoughts, after so many days of covering the story. You know how deep the impact of those events went when seasoned pros lose it on national T-V.
You hear it often said this is a war on terrorism. I disagree. It’s a war of religion. Terrorism is the enemy’s method of execution. It is a war centered on the fanatical religious beliefs of madmen. Men whose desire is to advance the cause of Islam, no matter the cost. The length of time, as well as the price we’ll have to pay to defend ourselves against the enemy, will be long and costly. It already has been.
My son Matt was a long way from home on September 11, 2001. He had been in Brazil for ten months serving a two-year church mission. My thoughts throughout that day were with him. What must he be thinking all that way from home I wondered? What did he know? At the end of the day I sat down at my computer and typed a letter. I tried to describe as best I could the events of that historic day. Much of what you read here were thoughts originally shared in that letter. Before I put it in the mail the next day I added by hand the following:
Despite all the doom and gloom with an extra day of reflection it still isn’t all that bad. Things could be worse. We’ll all still be here waiting for you when you come home.
Well of course we were waiting and things did in their way return to “normal.” Although normal would never again be as it had been before that day ten years ago.
What I believe is the defining image of 9-11 that shows the enormity of, the stark reality of that day, is the photo of one person. It’s an image that no one wants to see. It makes people feel uncomfortable. It has become the symbol of something far greater than the man in the picture. It forces the viewer to remember and acknowledge the horror of 9-11 in a way that no other photo has. It is the image that has come to be known as The Falling Man. If you have an hour to spare in remembering the events and all those who were lost on 9-11 then watch the video below. If not now, come back when you can. It’s a documentary you won’t soon forget.