September 11, 2001. Twenty years ago.
I had come back from a visit to Victoria and Nanaimo on Vancouver Island in British Columbia the weekend before that fateful day
after enjoying a beautiful weekend kayaking around Vancouver Island with a Ham Radio friend. (He sent me a photo collage which hangs on my office wall., today)
It’s hard to think back and not think how relaxed and refreshed I felt. Vancouver Island was so quiet, so pristine, so simple. The next Tuesday morning, all of that changed.
Why is this important to me? According to the 9-11 Commission, I think of how some of the 9-11 terrorists made their way through Canada to their East Coast destinations sometime around that time. I remember thinking in the days that followed when the FBI was grasping at straws trying to figure out what had happened, I too came through Canada to the US and around the same time. I wonder if that fact was reflected in some FBI file buried in the bowels of J. Edgar Hoover’s office building?
Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001 dawned much like any late-summer day here in California. It was cloudless, and the weather was warming, as I learned later was the same weather on the East Coast. I was woken out of bed by a phone call at around 6 AM from my Mom (something you almost never want to have happen to you) saying, “Turn on the TV.”
Before I had any inkling of what was really going on, I had a scheduled conference call with East Coast clients that morning, so I dialed in to the call. No one showed up. “Hmmm, that’s odd, they’re usually so punctual,” I remember thinking at the time. So, I went back to the television set that was on in my living room.
BOOM! The whole world changed!
8:46:40 EDT: Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99. The aircraft enters the tower intact.
9:03:02 EDT: Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 77 and 85. Parts of the plane, including the starboard engine, leave the building from its east and north sides, falling to the ground six blocks away.
9:37:46 (EDT): Flight 77 crashes into the western side of The Pentagon and starts a violent fire.
9:59:00 (EDT): The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 56 minutes after the impact of Flight 175.
10:03:11 (EDT): Flight 93 is crashed by its hijackers as a result of fighting in the cockpit 80 miles (129 km) southeast of Pittsburgh in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. Later reports indicate that passengers had learned about the World Trade Center and Pentagon crashes and were resisting the hijackers. The 9/11 Commission believed that Flight 93’s target was either the United States Capitol building or the White House in Washington, D.C.
10:28:22 (EDT) : The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapses, 1 hour and 42 minutes after the impact of Flight 11.
10:50:19 (EDT): Five stories of part of the Pentagon collapse due to the fire.
So, I spent the rest of the day and most of the next couple of days glued to CNN.
I have two additional memories of the day. One of an email from our CEO, Aylon Engler, z’l, that morning, telling us all to forget about work and take care of ourselves and our families. What a mensch he was!
Another was an ex-post-facto story from one of our sales guys, Steve Everett, who recounted being on an airplane that morning and being forced to land in Nashville and then trying to figure out, with four other travelers, how to procure a scarce rental car and to drive home the 250 miles to Atlanta.
What has happened to our country since?
Well, despite the initial unity expressed in the immediate aftermath on the evening of September 11th, with dozens of bipartisan members of Congress the singing of “God Bless America” on the steps of the US Capitol, can we even imagine something like that happening in today’s toxic political climate?
October, 2011 the CIA invaded Afghanistan followed by a coalition of international troops to rout the Taliban and find Osama Bin Laden and bring him to justice.
March, 2003, the US invaded Iraq.
May, 2010, Navy Seals execute a raid to Abbottabad, Pakistan and kill Osama Bin Laden.
4 US Presidential Administrations, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have had to deal with the fateful decisions taken then and, in the years, since.
August, 2011, President Biden evacuates tens of thousands of US Troops, American Citizens and coalition allies, effectively ending US involvement in the Afghan War.
20 years ago, is one of those big anniversaries, where all of our attention is drawn to New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. But to those who lost loved ones in the initial attacks and in the subsequent wars, 9-11 continues to leave gaping wounds.
I have only visited the WTC Ground Zero site once, a few years after 2001. I remember emerging from the Subway and asking directions to the site. People seemed incredulous, like “don’t you KNOW where it is?”
Anyway, I found Ground Zero and spent the better part of the afternoon there. It had been a few years, and by then, all of the rubble had been cleared out. What remained was a giant open hole that looked like a huge, outsized construction site. They were engaged in the early construction of the National Memorial.
In fact what really struck me was not so much what was THERE, but what WASN’T there. It seemed like there was a giant hole in the Manhattan skyline.
Another impression was visiting the church next door to where the WTC stood. I think it’s the final resting place of Alexander Hamilton. They had converted it into a temporary museum and I recall reading samples of the “missing notices” that were pasted up all over Manhattan in the days and weeks following the tragedy. “Have you seen my Dad, Mom, Sister, Brother, Friend, Cousin…” Heartbreaking! That, and a huge collection of hats and badges from the various agencies and first responders that came to the site for months after 9-11. They laid in haphazard piles on the display case and gave a sense of the enormity of the search.
I only know of one person who died on that day, Scott Schertzer, the brother of a friend. May his memory, and all the others who perished on that day be for a blessing.
We owe a debt of gratitude to the first responders and all of our armed forces who’ve been put in harms’ way, that day, and in the days and years since.
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