Never Forget – A 9/11/01 Retrospective

Throughout history, there have been moments that changed the course of history for our country.  On April 19, 1775, shots were fired in Lexington, Massachusetts between British soldiers and American minutemen, and the Revolutionary War began, leading to the birth of the greatest nation on Earth, the United States of America.  On April 12, 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina, marking the beginning of the American Civil War.  On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany after German officials said they would sink any U.S. ships sailing in the Atlantic – this marked the U.S. entry in the Great War, now known as World War I.  On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas, TX.  On December 7, 1941, a surprise attack by Japan on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii left 2,350 dead and 1,178 injured, forcing the U.S. to enter World War II.

Ten years ago today, September 11, 2001, the world changed yet again, as a Muslim terrorist group masterminded a plot to destroy the U.S. by hijacking 4 commercial airliners and crashing them across the country, killing 2,977 people, and thrusting the country into war once again.

As with my parents’ generation and the Kennedy assassination, I will never forget the events of 9/11, or what I was doing as they unfolded.

That Tuesday began like every other weekday for me.  I got up around 6am, showered, and began to get ready for school.  I was 20 years old and a student at the University of Rhode Island, living at home in nearby Cranston.  I enjoyed living at home for the financial benefits, but also because it enabled me to do what I loved doing every morning, listening to The Howard Stern Show in the car.  In high school, I did get to listen to Howard on my short drive to school, which was only about 10 minutes in duration.  Unfortunately, if I didn’t time my commute perfectly, I would sometimes have an entire drive filled with commercials.  In college, however, I was able to listen for a while, as my drive lasted about 30-40 minutes.  Howard provided me with a great way to start my day every morning.

That morning, my day was to begin at 9:30 a.m. with a botany exam.  I was in the Pre-Med curriculum and needed to take as many science classes as I could, but I HATED botany (I still hate plants to this day).  I was approaching Exit 9 off I-95 South when I heard the news.  Howard was in the middle of discussing a jacuzzi escapade with the beautiful Pamela Anderson when the calls began to come in.

8:46 am – American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the north face of the North Tower (1 World Trade Center), between floors 93 and 99.

At first, before the reports came in on what actually happened, the mood was still light.  Remember, the initial reports stated that it was a small plane and most likely pilot error.  So there wasn’t too much panic at the moment.  I called my mother from my car to tell her to put the TV on at home – she had already heard on the radio and was watching.

9:03 am – American Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC), between floors 77 and 85.

As White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said to President Bush, “A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack,” those statements were echoed by Howard and myself.  At that moment, I had so much rage, I couldn’t see the road clearly.  It’s a testament to the power of the brain that my body went into autopilot for the remainder of my commute and I made it to URI safely, because it seemed as though 100% of my attention was focused on the radio.*

* Have you ever noticed that when you’re listening to something intently on the radio, you look at the radio to hear it more intensely?  I do.

I sat in my car and listened for as long as I could, but I knew I had to go to class for that stupid exam, and my teacher was a bitch whom I knew would not tolerate tardiness under any circumstances.  And I was correct.  I walked in, said that we should postpone the exam because we should all be watching the events of the day unfold.  She stated, “You can watch it later; there are more important things at this moment.”*

* I thought about doing a bit of research to find out the professor’s name of my class, but decided against it because I knew that had I found out her name, I would have then looked her up and asked her why she felt that a silly botany exam was more important than anything at that moment.  I can only hope that she recognizes the error of her ways and feels bad about what she said.

9:37 am – United Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon.

A woman entered the room while we were all taking the exam to inform us that the Pentagon had just been attacked.  At this moment, I stood up and emphatically declared that we should not be in that room at that time and should be watching as our country was attacked.  I told her that this was the start of a war and she yelled for me to sit down.  I hurried to complete my test so I could run back to my car and listen to Howard.  He did not disappoint.  He was stoic, relatively calm for most of the show, livid at other parts and, while he tried to keep things light, he was mostly a professional journalist similar to Cronkite, Jennings, and Rather.  I am extremely happy that I have that show on tape for my children (if I have any) to hear.

9:45 am – The entire US airspace is shut down and all planes are ordered to land.  The order is given that any plane refusing to land would be considered hijacked and shot down.

At the time, it was being reported that this was the first time in history that the FAA grounded all planes.  In fact, this was not true.*  My home in Cranston lay underneath the path of many planes as they approached to land at T.F. Green Airport in Warwick.  For the next two days, it was so odd to not hear any planes flying over my house.

* From 1960-1962, the US military conducted exercises to test the North American Aerospace Defense Command against possible Soviet Union air attacks.  The tests were intended to ensure that any attacks over the Canadian border or coastlines would be detected and subsequently stopped.  It was known as Operation Skyshield and was classified until 1997.

9:59 am – the South Tower collapses due to the damage inflicted by Flight 175

Words cannot express how I felt when I heard this happen.  My thoughts and prayers immediately raced to those who inevitably lost their loved ones.  One 911 call, made from Kevin Cosgrove on the 105th floor, eerily recounts the moments immediately prior to the collapse.  His last words were, “Hello? Hello! We’re looking, we’re looking over the Financial Center. Three of us, two broken windows”.   A second later, he yells in horror, “Oh God! Oh…!!” as the South Tower collapsed.  The call went silent.

10:03 am – United Airlines Flight 93 crashes in Shanksville, PA, as the passengers fight with the hijackers to prevent another crash into a building.  According to reports and flight patterns, it is suspected that the intended target was the US Capitol Building or the White House.

The ultimate act of heroism.  These men and women did not wake up that morning ever anticipating that they would be put in the position to save the lives of possibly hundreds of people.  Unlike the rescue workers that died in NYC, these passengers were not in a hero’s line of work, but rose to the test and displayed the courage that I hope all Americans possess.  I can only pray that if I was ever in that situation, I would rise to the challenge and do what I had to do to save others.  I’m sure I would.

10:28 am – The North Tower collapses.  The skyline of New York City is forever altered.

The twin towers were so simple in their design, yet, now that they are gone, seem so beautiful in their simplicity.  Two large columns that were largely criticized as they were being built, have become a symbol of unity and freedom, of hope and faith, of courage and determination.  For days, rescue workers searched the rubble, in vain attempts to find additional survivors.  After the collapse of the towers, only 23 survivors who were in or below the towers escaped from the debris, including 15 rescue workers. The last survivor to be removed alive from the WTC collapse debris was Genelle Guzman-McMillan, who was removed at 12:30 PM on September 12th, 27 hours after its initial collapse.  Sadly, there were other survivors detected over the next few days, but the debris and rubble were so extensive, the survivors died in the attempt to rescue them.

On September 11, 2001, 2,977 people died (I don’t include the 19 terrorists that hijacked the planes).  Of those, 246 were on the 4 hijacked planes that were used to destroy our country.  Another 125 people (70 civilians and 55 military personnel) died in the attack on the Pentagon.  And 2,606 died in NYC, whether they were in the towers or on the ground.  The New York city Police Department lost 23 officers.  The Port Authority lost another 37.  And the New York City Fire Department lost 343 firefighters, including the FDNY chaplain, Fr. Mychal Judge.

May we never forget those who woke up that day only to never see their loved ones again.  May we never forget those who sacrificed their lives so that others could live.  And may we never forget that there are still those out there who will stop at nothing to see our country fail and perish.  We must continue to pray for the safety of our military, and we must pray that those who make the decisions, make the right ones.

God Bless America and God Bless our troops.

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