Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Decade Later, It's Still Hard to Comprehend

Doug: We had some options today. We could review how comic books have dealt with 9/11, from Amazing Spider-Man #36 to DC's 9-11 September 11th 2001 to Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers. Any of those would have made able material for a review. But instead, we thought we'd simply reflect on where we were and what we were doing on that horrific day.

Doug: Like most of us, I'd gone to work that day like any other. It was only the fourth week of school, so we were still in getting-to-know you mode in my classroom. I was 35 years old, and had been teaching for 13 years. I had a fundamental-level world history class 1st hour that year. They were a great group of students, but could at times be a bit "rough around the edges". I'm not sure exactly what we were doing, but I vividly recall during a short period of seatwork walking by my computer and seeing the email icon on the tray. I opened my Groupwise account and saw a simple request from a friend of mine whose classroom was directly below mine: TURN ON YOUR TV. I knew he wouldn't play any jokes on me, knowing I had kids in the room. So I quickly did. It was about 8:40 central time. Every channel was showing the World Trade Center ablaze. Video of an airplane hitting the WTC was shown over and over, and as we'd just come to this, one of my students exclaimed, "Cool!" For that youngster, he was having a difficult time separating Hollywood, video games, and what I perceived as something awful. I can't recall if we dismissed class at 8:54 as scheduled, but I vividly recall standing in near-shock, as at 8:59 we saw the South Tower collapse. Living only 50 miles south of Chicago, reports began to filter out that the Sears Tower was a target. The whole thing now seems so surreal...

Doug: One of the lasting memories I have of that period is the calm of the skies in the next week. I live directly south of both Midway and O'Hare, so we regularly see and hear planes heading south from the city. It's also not uncommon for our skies to be criss-crossed with the contrails of jets. Not that week. It was quite strange.

Doug: In the spring of 2003 I was at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum for the second phase of my teacher fellowship. At the conclusion of the institute, I had quite a bit of time until my flight home. We had enjoyed the privilege of presentations from educators from the Imperial War Museum in London and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. The Museum was allowing them to stay in the States for a few days after their roles had been completed, before another trans-Atlantic flight. Along with another Fellow, I was asked to take them over to the Smithsonian for some recreation. As we crossed the National Mall and made our way to the Museum of American History, I noted that the first 9/11 exhibit was there. I cannot express a) how moving it was to see the various artifacts and read some of the stories -- I was literally moved to tears... and b) how comforting it was to tour it with my new international friends. Both of them recalled their feelings of that day, and how they hurt for us. I was glad I had that opportunity, to share what I found was a common sadness.

Karen: Ten years? How much has the world, and just everyday life, changed since that day? I learned about the attacks that morning as I went into my living room to do some exercise. Turning on the TV, I saw that one tower had already been hit. I called a friend who I knew would be home and we talked about it briefly. At that point, there was still some thought that it was an accident. I went and showered and when I came back to the living room, the TV showed that the second tower had been hit. Now it was obvious that we were under attack. I was worried but headed off to work -only a ten minute drive.

Karen: When I arrived at the workplace, many of my co-workers were unaware of the attacks -hard to remember, but even just ten years ago, people were not on the internet 24/7 nor were they texting each other constantly! I relayed the news to several. People gathered around monitors in various offices and were shocked to see more news unfold: the Pentagon attack and the foiled hijacking. Some of my co-workers had friends and family in New York and they tried desperately to reach them. Most of us were stunned. My supervisor began to talk about how our political and military actions had brought this upon us. I understood what she was saying, even if I didn't necessarily agree with it. But how could any of that justify the murder of thousands of people? I just held my hand up and said to her, "I can't hear that right now."

Karen: As Doug mentioned, the absence of planes in the sky for days afterward was eerie. We had three major airports surrounding us (San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose) and were used to non-stop air traffic. The silence was deafening. I recall that in the days after the attacks, people up and down my block -and many others -began putting up American flags. Despite the tragedy, there was a sense of unity. Sadly that was to be squandered by our government. I remember wanting to do something, like so many others, but finding no outlet to help.

Karen: In October 2001, I had to go to Washington DC for a scientific conference. A group of us took a night-time sightseeing tour and one of the places we drove by was the Pentagon. It was still a wreck, one side heavily damaged. Tears began to roll down my cheeks and as I looked around the bus, I saw many others who were crying too. Looking at that battered building was somehow like looking upon a loved one in a hospital bed. It was painful to the very core. I don't think we've recovered fully, and I wonder if we will in my lifetime. I hope so.


Redartz said...

That day I was scheduled to work an evening shift , and was sleeping in. My wife and I were awakened by a phone call from my mother; she tearfully told us to turn on the tv. We did so, and sat stunned for several hours watching events unfold. I remember thinking it seemed like a disaster movie; this sort of thing didn't really happen, did it?

Tragically, it did, and our world changed for good. It was heartening,though, to see the way everyone came together in the aftermath. That evening someone had hung a flag in the breakroom at work, and of course everyone seemed like family comforting each other.

Fred W. Hill said...

I was at work, at the front counter of the Recording Dept. at the county courthouse, when Gary, a regular customer, came in and told that he'd just heard on the news that a plane had crashed into the WTC. With no other details, we figured it was some sort of accident, likely a small plane. I can't remember how we heard about the 2nd plane, but with that we knew this wasn't an accident. One of the other clerks brought up the news on a PC (most of us didn't have internet connections on our PCs back then), so I briefly got a glimpse of the images of the towers before they collapsed. But, of course, we had to get back to work and even in the breakroom there wasn't a tv for us to keep up with the unfolding events. It wasn't until after 5, when I was on the shuttle bus to the parking lot (a mile from the courthouse) that I heard that the towers had collapsed, not until I got home after 5:30 that I saw the terrible, iconic images.
A couple of years later, I found out that one of my high school classmates, Otis Tolbert, who had joined the Navy and risen to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, was killed while at work in the Pentagon; a street is now named for him in the tiny central California town where we graduated from high school in 1980. In the decade since 9/11, two of my nephews themselves graduated from H.S. and joined the Air Force, both doing tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Several of my closest friends believe 9/11 was an inside job, that the planes were actually missiles and that explosives previously planted were used to bring down the towers and building 7. These scenarios strike me as absurd and not supported by sufficient evidence. That 19 religious fanatics, armed with nothing more than small knives and box cutters, could cause such carnage strikes others as absurd, but the preponderance of evidence indicates that is exactly what happened. Whether it could have been prevented if not for incompentence in our intelligence agencies or was actually allowed to happen by officials in the top levels of our government, well, we may never find out for sure but the debates will likely go on for centuries.

Karen said...

Hey Fred, what part of central California did you live in? I grew up in Santa Maria, about an hour north of Santa Barbara and 45 min south of San Luis Obispo.


Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, Karen, I went to high school in Lemoore, which is about 40 miles south of Fresno. I was born in Long Beach, and also lived about two years in San Francisco (where I attended Potrero Hill Junior High School). From 1981 to 1990 I lived in the San Jose area, before moving to Florida. Yep, I got around a bit!

david_b said...

I do agree that the world came together.., in this day and age of nearly immediate news coverage. I see this similar to Pearl Harbor, where folks also murmurred thoughts of this being retaliation for some US involvement somewhere.. It's a sentiment that will always linger, and as a still-active serviceman of over 25yrs, I'll board any plane tomorrow (with my toothbrush) to secure this nation's freedom.

I've only had two year-long deployments overseas, but some have done so much more, not even mentioning the ones who paid the ultimate sacrifice. To those, and the victims (and families) of that evil which occurred, we will always remember.

Despite all the controversy as to the actions this nation put forth afterwards, I was and am still very proud of this countries leadership post-9/ll. A lot of tough decisions had to be made ASAP, like downing all airflight that day.

A lot of information gained later pointed to a 2nd attack on the West Coast (Golden Gate bridge, etc..) on the same day being planned, but thanks to the quick actions of our White House, the terrorists weren't able to execute that.

On a much lighter note, I always brag that the first national football game to be televised afterwards was none other than Lambeau Field and the Green Bay Packers.

"Nothing heals a nation like Lambeau.."

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