Friday, September 11, 2009

Lest We Forget--September 11, 2001

It is now the eighth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center. The world continues to turn. New York pulls itself up by its bootstraps. The politicians continue to argue over what the final version of the memorial complex should look like, and what it should stand for. The nation struggles with economic and political unrest. Our enemies continue to plot more attacks, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue, seemingly without end. In other words, life goes on.

We all have things we will remember throughout our lives. I remember graduating from college, then law school. And the call the day I found out I had passed the State Bar Exam. I remember my wedding day, and the birth of my three children. And the days my mom and dad passed away. But some memories are different. They are so momentous that they sear their way into our memories in a way that keeps them fresh many, many years later. For my parents, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor. For me, it was the day John Kennedy was assassinated, and September 11, 2001.

I am not an early bird, but for some reason, both in 1993 and 2001, I was restless and got up early. I made the coffee, then turned on the television to see what was happening in the world at a little before 6 AM, San Francisco time. And just as in 1993, I saw what was happening, and wondered to myself how I had found a channel with a disaster movie on. One of the World Trade Center towers had been hit by an airplane and there was smoke and wreckage pouring from the building. And at that second, the breath went out of me because I realized I was watching CNN. My thought of course was "how the hell did that happen, and why?" There was still talk about it being a commercial liner that had gotten out of its flight plan for some reason. There was even talk that it was a small aircraft being flown by an inexperienced pilot. I looked at the extent of the damage, and I knew that it was no small plane which had caused that kind of damage.

I listened to the speculation, watched the smoke, fire and what appeared to be snow falling from the building (it turned out it was thousands of reams of paperwork which had been blown out the destroyed windows). By this time I was transfixed, and making up my own scenarios, and trying to imagine how a large commercial airliner could make such a horrible mistake. I thought of the documentaries I had seen about the bomber which crashed into the Empire State Building during World War II, and had decided that his was worse, but the damage I was seeing would probably not get much more extensive. And the last thought on my mind was that this was a terrorist attack. I'm no ignoramus, but I wouldn't have known Osama bin Laden from the Kentucky Colonel at that time.

And then it happened, right in front of our eyes. A second large passenger jet headed straight into the other tower. Instantaneously, speculation stopped. It didn't take a genius to figure out at that moment that this was a planned attack. Who, what or how, nobody knew. But it was clearly not a coincidence and not an accident. I spent the next few hours watching in horror at the unfolding events. I saw the bodies fall from the upper floors as desperate people chose a quick death over a long and painful death from fire. And we watched the smoke slowly cover the southern tip of Manhattan, and eventually much of the city.

I was working on a contract negotiation with a local union at Macy's Union Square in San Francisco, and I decided that for the first time in many years, I was not going to work that day. So I called and got a recorded message that because of the attack (they already used the word) in New York, all Macy's stores would be closed until the extent of the attack and the possibility of further attacks had been determined for all the Macy's urban stores. I settled back in, and continued to watch the coverage as most people nationwide did that day.

In the early afternoon (mid-afternoon in New York) I had a sudden new sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach. The last time I had that same feeling was when I found out that my younger daughter had been house-sitting at ground zero when the destructive Northridge earthquake struck Southern California. By September 11, 2001, my son was a successful software engineer for a software company with headquarters in Toronto and a major branch office in New York City. By that time he had moved out of my place and bought his own home in Berkeley, so I wasn't in daily contact with him anymore. The week of the attack, he was to be making his rounds in Canada and New York. I remembered that his itinerary took him from Toronto to New York, and he should be returning from New York that day. Because of the branch location, he preferred flying out of Newark. And by this time, the Pentagon had been hit, and United Airlines Flight 93 had gone down somewhere in Pennsylvania. It took awhile for it to sink in, with all the information and speculation being televised, but it finally registered with me that there was a good chance that Flight 93 would have been the flight he would be on.

I started calling his cell phone. No response. I wasn't in full panic mode yet, but I was very worried. I called my ex-wife, and both my daughters, and nobody had any idea where he was. So I called multiple times, and then out of desperation called his land line at home, figuring that he would either be home soon, or I would be facing an unimaginable loss. He immediately picked up the phone. I'm sure he still remembers the tone and volume of my voice when I yelled "why the hell didn't you answer your goddam cell phone?" I was overcome with relief, but all I could do was yell. Once I calmed down and stopped yelling, he said he was fine, and he had gone downstairs to get his morning coffee when he got distracted by the events on TV. He had left his cell phone upstairs in his bedroom. And then a little sheepishly, he admitted that his private consulting business was doing so well that he had quit his job about two weeks earlier. He had simply forgotten to tell me. While I was trying to avoid picturing him on that downed flight, he was comfortably sitting at home and hadn't been anywhere near New York City.

I'm sure many of you had similar experiences. And I'm sure all of you have that day etched in your minds. We need to remember and honor those 3,000 people who died that day at the hands of a vile enemy who struck without warning and without mercy. They struck without even considering the immorality of murdering thousands of civilians. They simply justified it with their twisted religious beliefs.

But we also need to do something else. We need to do what Abraham Lincoln told us to do. We need to resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, and that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. We must never forget the horror of that day lest it cease to have meaning. But we must also remember it for the purpose of holding to the belief that we are still the leading nation in the free world. What the Civil War could not do because we pulled together in the aftermath, and what Pearl Harbor could not destroy, September 11 cannot destroy either. From the very beginning following the attacks, the police and fire fighters, and ordinary New Yorkers reminded us of our duty to help our fellow man and rebuild what was damaged. We survived September 11, and we'll survive a major recession and a demagogic administration that does nearly everything wrong. We'll survive a Congress that does nothing to solve the nation's problems while spending like a drunken sailor and legislating on all the wrong issues in all the wrong ways.

Honor the dead and remember the day because we have a duty to those who died. And that duty is to bring America fully back to life and liberty. Anger and sadness are elements of that memory, but they must be accompanied by an even stronger resolve never to be defeated. No matter what physical monument they finally put up in New York City, the true memorial must be in our hearts and souls. If we honor the past and put our hearts, minds and will into the future, those dead will not have died in vain. And remember the words of Flight 93 hero Todd Beamer: "let's roll."

32 comments:

Writer X said...

I remember how my parents talked about Pearl Harbor and I didn't understand the feelings they expressed until 9/11 happened. Now I know.

Can you imagine if we turned the anniversary of Pearl Harbor as a "Service Day?" like Obama has done for 9/11?

The feelings are still so raw and will always be for 9/11. Turning it into anything than a day of mourning and remembrance is so wrong and so disrespectful that I really can't put it into words.

ScottDS said...

I had just started at FSU (sorry, Gator fans) and we were waiting to get into a classroom to take a math test when one girl walked in and said, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center." I didn't think anything of it at the time - "Must've been a small private plane off-course or something," I thought. "Hopefully no one got hurt."

After the test, I stopped by the computer lab in the student union. I had my own laptop in the dorm - I simply had nothing better to do and I was in no rush to go back to my room. On Yahoo!'s front page, there was a news story re: the WTC but I didn't have time to let it all sink in since a woman came in and said the lab (and the school) was closing for the day.

I went back to my dorm room where I was soon joined by a friend. We just watched the news all day. It was so surreal. For the life of me, I cannot recall the moment when it hit me - that our country was attacked. Like something out of a movie. My mom called me to ask how things were going - I don't remember what I said but I'm sure the word "hectic" came up. I went with another friend to go donate blood but we were turned away - I guess they were all stocked up or something.

I'm tentatively planning on moving to NY sometime in the next six months. I've never been to Ground Zero but it's on the agenda. It's the least I can do to pay my respects.

LawHawkSF said...

WriterX: It's the therapy-generation. Pearl Harbor was "defiance day" for that generation. Nobody sat around and agonized about what we did wrong to deserve to be punished so harshly. And there's the famous quote attributed to Admiral Yamamoto (actually, it was another admiral who said it): "I fear that all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve." We had that "terrible resolve" for a very short time after 9/11 before the left started chipping at it with group-think, and therapeutic introspection. I guess we're going to be treated with a peace garden and a peace path and a peace wall at the memorial site. And if we continue to memorialize the event with the "freedom tower," we'll get everything except peace and freedom.

AndrewPrice said...

I actually drove right past where the Pentagon was struck about twenty minutes before it happened.

As I was about a block from my office, I heard on the radio that a cessna had hit the World Trade Center. By the time I got up to my office, they'd figured it what had really happened and sent everyone home -- though the rumors about the White House, the Congress, the State Department were running rampant.

It took me 8 hours to get back to my house, and you could see the black/gray plumes of smoke coming up from the Pentagon for several hours.

I didn't see the plane footage or the buildings falling until the late afternoon, though I heard it on the radio.

Hard to forget that.

Thanks for the post Lawhawk.

LawHawkSF said...

ScottDS: Funny how shock works, isn't it? Some events are so horrific that we can't immediately get our minds around them. On November 22, 1963, I was going up the steps of Sproul Hall at Berkeley. My best friend knew my daily schedule, and he was waiting at the top of the stairs, ashen-faced. I asked him what was wrong, and he told me that the President had been shot. The student days of unrest had already begun, and Clark Kerr, President of the University of California, had already become the favorite demon. So I said "Aw, come on, nobody likes him much, but why would anybody shoot Kerr?" He replied, "No, I mean President Kennedy." Complete disbelief at first, then a sinking feeling that he might be right. I looked around, and the normally bustling and raucous area between Sproul Plaza and Sather Gate was almost completely silent. People were walking around like zombies. But it still took a couple of hours before it all really sank into my mind.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: It still seems strange in retrospect to realize that those who were right in the middle of things knew less about what had happened than those of us clear across the continent. Many here in San Francisco saw the original attack, many more saw the subsequent attacks (or immediate aftermath), while those on-scene were somewhat isolated and in the middle of the horror with less information than we had 3,000 miles away. You definitely got a taste of it, and I'm sure BevfromNYC can tell us even more.

Young children were affected somewhat differently. Parents had mixed feelings about how much of this sort of thing they should allow the kids to see. My older daughter reluctantly left the TV on, figuring the scene would not completely register in any specific way with her two boys. Suddenly, her older boy Peter (who was almost six at the time) started crying and saying "What about grandpa?" They live in a typical Southern California, very low-rise suburb. But they had been up visiting me two months earlier. All Peter could think of was that grandpa lives in a tall building, and he works in a tall building, and to a six-year old, all big cities and tall buildings look alike. She called and had him talk to me so he would know I was OK, and that nothing had happened here.

AndrewPrice said...

Lawhawk, We knew almost nothing. There were an amazing number of rumors -- actual people on the ground attacking buildings with guns, the Capitol, the White House destroyed, the State Department on fire, more places coming our way.

And then none of the cell phones worked for some time because the the system was clogged. I got through to my parents on a landline before I left the office -- they actually kicked us all out into the street.

And the metro wasn't running, so it was good thing that I had my car.

And then they closed the bridges to DC and made everyone take the Georgetown Bridge, with National Guardsmen checking the id's of everyone who passed (walking or driving).

So we had no idea what was happening, not until you got home. I had a car radio, but they didn't know all that much either, not for several hours. And when you hear about a building collapsing, you don't know exactly what they're talking about until you see it.

Joel Farnham said...

Even with being 3000 miles away in Sacramento, it still took several hours to understand.

I do remember thinking that Osama didn't know who he was fooling with.

LawHawkSF said...

Andrew: That's a scary story. I mentioned the Northridge quake in my article. My older daughter and her husband were visiting here with me when it hit. Their apartment was the one at ground zero. I finally decided to wake them up and tell them about it. I assured them it would be OK, it's only property. That's when Laura got the stricken look on her face and said, "but dad, Andrea's house-sitting for us."

They hit the road for home immediately, and I started making phone calls (futile at first, the lines were down). I never reached Andrea, but I finally got through to my son at UCLA. He told me the freeways were down, so I told him to get on his motorcycle and take the Sepulveda pass road. Meanwhile, I watched everything on TV. As with 9/11, I knew more of what was going on than either of my two kids who were right in the middle of it. Chris finally got to Northridge, and Andrea wasn't there, but the building was a wreck. Then he headed out to Simi Valley to his mom's house (back roads again). He finally found Andrea, completely unhurt at a friend's house. Her reaction was typical young person, "why was dad worried? I'm OK." Four hours without knowing.

StanH said...

Damn Lawhawk you’re going to get me emotional here with the little six year old and Grandpa. It was a surreal day for me as well. My Dad lives with me after my Stepmother passed in 1999, and I take my father to the office as I was the owner it was okay. I stop at a little convenience store on the way to my office and get my Dad a paper, me chewing gum and apple juice (indelible moment I remember what I bought). When I made my way to the counter there was a business associate and the little Oriental man behind the counter transfixed on a small TV and the three of us stood for a moment with our mouths wide open in disbelief. Made my way back to my car and hauled ass to the office, and began to gather my family. My kids were at school, but my wife had gone into the city (Atlanta) for our business and I couldn’t reach her on her cell phone, to shorten the story she called me a couple hours later from the office phone, she left her cell phone at home, to inform me she was going home. I left the office and sat with my wife in front of our big screen and watched in horror. What a terrible day.

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: We are all going to be part of the community of people who would have to work to remember where they were three or four days ago, but will always remember exactly where they were on September 11.

As I mentioned to ScottDS earlier, even for those who are not on the scene, shock produces strange results. Once I had gotten my head around the Kennedy assassination, I got the crazy idea in my head to hop in the car and drive over to San Francisco. It's another scene which is permanently etched into my memory. Never before or since have I ever seen San Francisco looking like a ghost town, or the remnant of some plague which wiped out the population. The busiest thoroughfare in town, Market Street, was almost entirely deserted. I got out and walked for awhile, and grabbed a newspaper to see what they were saying about the shooting. Got back in the car, and drove back to Berkeley. I didn't see more than three or four people and a couple of cars the whole time I was on Market Street. A couple of scenes in the movie "Legend" brought that memory back as fresh as if it had happened yesterday.

Anonymous said...

we lived in Alexandria; my ex worked in Pentagon City. It took him hours to get those 7 miles home. I was in Fairfax watching the news!!!

AndrewPrice said...

Anonymous, That's where I lived at the time -- Pentagon City, just back in the neighborhood.

LL said...

I had been at the WTC two weeks earlier for work. People who were friends and co-workers had an office toward the top of WTC #2. They didn't make it out. The fires were too intense to go down.

Today when I hear of people jumping, I think of them and I cringe.

And I still want pay-back. The US Government under GW Bush did a good job of hitting Al Qaeda but we as a country were distracted by the War in Iraq.

Some of those bastards involved in the attack are still walking around and they need to be killed. Since the War on Terror has been reclassified by Dear Leader to be a "foreign contingency operation" I'm sure they won't be while he is in the White House.

Just one more reason to vote Dear Leader and his band of misfits, communists and freaks out of office.

LawHawkSF said...

Anonymous and Andrew: I even know where Pentagon City is (it's actually at least partially on the Arlington, Virginia side, right? We had a location there, and it was one of six stores put on high alert (in other words, executive management were not making the decisions, the security staff was).

patti said...

"Anger and sadness are elements of that memory, but they must be accompanied by an even stronger resolve never to be defeated." my abiding emotions since 9/11.

i was sound asleep that early morning and the ringing phone woke me. it was my husband, who days before had taken an unexpected business trip to manhattan. in my groggy state (you can imagine the poor cell phone reception) i heard: fire, plane...and then the line went dead. i mistaken assumed there had been a fire in the airport (he was due home later that day and I thought maybe he was catching an early flight). i knew he'd call back. the phone rang almost immediately after and it was was sister demanding to know where my husband was and was he ok. now i was fully awake.

i jumped out of bed, turned on fox just in time to see the images, and then not too much later, the second plane. i knew we were in serious trouble.

husband had terrible trouble throughout the day getting through with his phone, but he did.

his crew had been in the javits center for a convention. i had no idea where that was or how much danger he was in, all i knew was i couldn't talk to him for more than a few fractured moments and that he had told me he was good with god if it was his day to go.

horrifying. just writing these words ties me in knots all over again.

the story unfolded and it took him a week to get home (in a rented car with two other co-workers). he called me as they crossed over the bridge, leaving the island behind them and i broke down and cried (i was in a grocery store, in the chip aisle, and a little old lady patted my arm and said that it wasn't that hard to choose, that most chips taste the same).

i'll never be the same, but the emotion of that day has stayed with me. my resolve is stronger now than ever.

LawHawkSF said...

JoelFarnham: I wonder, did you have the same sensation I did? I knew I was 3,000 miles away, but it seemed like some SOB had just attacked my neighbors.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

I felt that someone took a knife to my best friend. I lived in NY City for about 7 months while I was in the Coast Guard. I wanted payback. That day. That hour. It was really weeks before I could think clearly. By clearly, I mean, no more instant anger.

LawHawkSF said...

LL: We have been constantly assailed by the left telling us we shouldn't be mad and we shouldn't "hate." Well, I don't want to play that game. I was taught that there is a significant difference between anger and justified righteous indignation. And it isn't hate to destroy the enemy who murdered your fellow Americans in cold blood and are determined to finish the job. So, I'm with you. And like you, I wonder what Obama plans to do when we are devastated by another "man-made disaster" that was a result of his gutting the intelligence agencies.

Patti: That's definitely something that you would remember. You notice that most of us remember the destruction, but what we really held onto was our loved ones? For those moments, we didn't give a thought to ourselves. I can only imagine what the firefighters, police and local volunteers must have felt, but they went to the rescue without thinking about their own lives. Great things can come out of horrible events. Glad to hear you're maintaining your resolve.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

I know I will never forgive the Islamists who killed that day, nor will I forgive the people who sent them out.

Cheryl said...

I worked all day in a building full of people and not one person even made mention that today was Sept 11th. I thought about it all day. During my lunch I read a very touching article by the daughter of the pilot who was flying the plane that hit the first tower, and cried. Was anybody else thinking about it? I thought about where I was on this same day eight years ago and how different that day was from today, just a normal ol' Friday.
I'm glad to be home, here on your site, and reading the other wonderful columns over at BH.
Because I want to remember.
Thanks for remembering with me.

BevfromNYC said...

I work across the street from the WTC site. Long story short, I was caught in dust and debris on Sept 11. It was surreal. I came within seconds of being splattered all over the pavement by shattering sheets of glass. But LawHawk, you would be proud of me. I was a dutiful child and call my parents as soon as I could to let them know I was okay. As we refugees from Lower Manhattan walked uptown that day, businesses already had water and towels available for people and one place let me make a long distance call to home. I remember the horror of that day, but I also remember all of the very kind unselfish things complete strangers did for each other too.

I am personally offended Obama has chosen to call this day a Day of Service and Remembrance.

AndrewPrice said...

Bev, that really annoys me too. Today is about remembering what happened and those to whom it happened, it's not about some trendy politically correct call to get people to engage in activism. Obama is an idiot and an ass.

AndrewPrice said...

Cheryl, It's too bad that people forget so quickly. This is one of those events we should not forget easily.

Tennessee Jed said...

A very nice post today, Hawk, on a day with a lot of nice posts. Recently retired, I was home watching on television, but my wife still was working. She had driven up to New York that day. I was worried because she periodically went to the World Trade Center to do business with Marsh & McLennan. As it so turns out, that morning she was on her way to see a broker in White Plains, but because I wasn't sure specifically who she was going to see, and cell phone service up there was jammed for a while, there was about an hour before being certain she was o.k..

Curiously, I was driving today and had the Limbaugh show on in the car. He also read from the Gettysburg address using it as a sharp counterpoint to Obama's day of national service. I had to agree that however intentioned, the day of service doesn't really do justice to what transpired eight years ago.

LawHawkSF said...

Cheryl: I do have one piece of surprising news. Here in San Francisco, there were an unusual number of American flags flying which usually only fly on official holidays. Some San Franciscans are still willing to show their patriotism.

Bev: As I've said, I can only imagine what you went through. And I am also personally offended by calling it a day of service and remembrance. It doesn't even mean anything. What a putz this guy is.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: It's that terrible feeling of helplessness when you can't do anything because you don't know anything, and the not knowing is the worst part.

I didn't turn on any of the old media reports today because I knew the kind of meaningless, pseudo-therapeutic, touchy-feely, let's all be brothers Kumbaya crap they'd be throwing around. And the chief crap-slinger is Barack Obama.

LawHawkSF said...

Tennessee: FDR knew how to speak of the enemy, and what to do about him: "With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable victory, so help us God." And unlike the weasel in the White House today, he didn't have to say "so help us God, by whatever name you know him."

HamiltonsGhost said...

I'm trying to picture B. H. Obama saying the following: "We mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." He has a life he prizes greatly, a fortune extorted from the public, and no honor of any kind. He would probably explode in the attempt. And as for mutually pledging any of it, buses are for throwing your hapless allies under. Did anybody expect this sniveling twit to honor September 11 by declaring a day of commitment to honoring our dead by defeating our enemies?

StanH said...

That was powerful Hamilton, you honor his ghost. How about these words, a little piece of Abe’s brilliant speech as Jed said up-thread,

“ The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

Barry was handed a difficult situation that requires courage, love and devotion of country. Instead we now have a petulant child with his fingers in his ears, eyes closed, going …na-na-na-nah. Very dangerous and IMO will get people hurt, or worse.

AndrewPrice said...

Very well said Stan!

LawHawkSF said...

StanH: Lincoln is so very much the example that Obama should follow, but never will. Lincoln hated war, and did everything he could to avoid it. And when it became obvious he could not avoid it, he pursued it intending to win. Lincoln gave a three-minute speech that will live through the ages. Obama gave a 48 minute speech that nobody will remember a week from now, except for its pettiness.

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