Recalling the awful feelings of 9/11

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Column by Jim Clark

This coming weekend is a time for solemn remembering of an event that everyone who was older than a toddler will recall forever … the attack on America by Osama bin Laden’s troops, including two planes crashing into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon and another into a field in Pennsylvania.
In that one, we all remember, the passengers revolted against the hijackers and gave their lives to stop a further attack on Washington, D.C.
It was Sept. 11, 2001, and we all recall what we were doing that day.
For me, I was at a newspaper where I didn’t have to be at work until about 11 a.m., and I was at home, eating breakfast and watching the “Today” program.
It was late in the show that the first word came over that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Shortly thereafter, the TV showed the towers with smoke billowing out of one of them.
Then, suddenly, you saw the second plane come crashing in, and viewers knew, sometimes even before the commentators, that this was deliberate. It was no accident.
That led to one of the most dramatic days in the history of American television, as networks scrambled to get the story right.
We watched as word drifted in that another plane crashed into the Pentagon in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. Eventually we heard about the crash of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, but still it took quite a while to link this plane to the attacks.
Now we watch the well edited specials on various TV networks, including the ones I’ve been seeing on the National Geographic channel. All the information is there, neatly packaged into a series of specials about two hours long, each.
As time goes by and we see these news clips, it’s easy to forget the feeling of the unknown that swept through the nation that day.
We knew there was a massive loss of life as soon as we saw the towers collapse, but we had no idea who was behind the terrorism. We had no knowledge of how widespread these attacks were, or were going to be. That’s why every plane in the U.S. was ordered to land within a few hours of the attacks. No one knew if any others were carrying suicide hijackers.
There were gut-wrenching tales from families of some of the victims. Some of those on the planes were able to get cell phone calls out to their loved ones, the last time their voices would be heard. From those calls we eventually got more information on what went on aboard the aircraft. For the families on the ground, those calls were devastating, and I would imagine they are haunted by them to this day.
There was heroism of all types that was eventually made known. At the towers, there were workers who helped rescue their friends, only to die themselves. There were the firefighters and police who dedicated themselves to trying to save people. Some of them made it out, many didn’t.
There were the people on Flight 93, whose cell calls made it apparent to those on the ground that they were going to try to get control of the plane.
They apparently never did, but they did prevent the aircraft from crashing to another building, probably the U.S. Capitol in D.C.
And there was the flight attendant named Betty, who was on the air phone to her supervisors as her plane hit the tower. She provided some crucial information, being able to tell those on the ground what seats the hijackers were occupying. With that information, examination of the manifests made it easy to pinpoint who the hijackers were.
However, back on Sept. 11, 2001, we had no idea about a lot of this. I had to get a small daily local newspaper out, but like everyone else, I found information scarce as the day unfolded.
There were more rumors than facts. We were worried where the president was, and if he was safe.
People old enough to remember will tell you that the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was just as bad, or worse. But the difference is technology. There were no cell phones, no live TV. That’s what made it hit home a lot harder for Americans in 2001.
There is a listing in today’s paper of upcoming memorial events. Please take time to attend at least one.
A lot of Americans gave their lives that day … it’s only right that we show support.
Jim Clark is the editor of the South Marion Citizen. He can be reached at editor@smcitizen.com or at 352-854-3986.