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This Day in History, 2001: U.S. Attacked

Exactly five years ago today, terrorrists attacked the United States of America. They flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York City and into the Pentagon in Washington, DC. They most likely would also have flown a plane into the Capitol building but were stopped by the passengers of United 93. Almost 3,000 people died that day.

Emotions are still raw for all of us. This morning, as I was taking the T to work, I was reading the New York Times. On pages A14-A15, they revisited some of the families who lost loved ones in the attacks, in the same "Portraits of Grief" style they used to eulogize the victims in the months afterwards. I found myself uncontrollably and spontaneously bursting into tears. I had to stop reading.

Because I'm obsessed with exactness, I've made sure for a while now to know the exact times of certain events that took place on 9/11. The bare sequence of events at the World Trade Center was as follows:

8:46:26 AM: North Tower Hit
9:02:54 AM: South Tower Hit
9:59:04 AM: South Tower Collapsed
10:28:31 AM: North Tower Collapsed

I'm a New York City native, born and raised in Queens, and grew up in a city in which the Towers always stood. On 9/11, I was at my teaching job in Newton, Massachusetts. The following comes from my journal, a hand-written one that I was keeping at the time.

"The second [staff] meeting ended early, and I went back to the Science lab to check my e-mail. I idly noted a message...which said that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center.

"I didn't really think much of it and I went back to the Information Center. Shortly after the meeting...began, [a colleague] walked in and asked if we had heard the news. He told us that two planes had hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and he set up the small TV to receive CNN. They showed pictures of two commercial jets crashing into the twin towers...

"I ran to the phone...to call [my younger brother] at work. At 9:35 AM I called and got him. He had just gotten in, and he said that he seen the smoke from the 7 train. I told him to stay in touch, but due to circuits being busy, I wasn't able to reach New York City again for a while.

"The rest of the day passed in a blur of rumors and news. I kept checking webpages; when I couldn't reach cnn.com, I checked the New York Post webpage and the Newsday webpage. I called Nomi...

"At 10:15 AM, the...students returned from their physical education class...and...we told them the news...

"When the meeting with the students ended, I collapsed in tears..."

There's more, of course, but to summarize, I spent the day trying to get news of family and friends, making sure they were all safe. The drive home was surreal, knowing that fighter planes and battleships were protecting New York City. Nomi was already home, as her office had sent everyone home early. The rest of my family was safe, but my older brother, an emergency medicine physician, had been called up to report to New York City. Nomi and I took a walk at 5:30 PM, which included browsing at Brookline Booksmith and getting ice cream at JP Licks. Everything on TV was the news; we watched C-SPAN, which was running a feed from the CBC, so we could get the Canadian perspective.

The next few days, the events were fresh in everyone's mind. On Wednesday, I flinched at hearing an airplane in the sky, then remembered that all commercial flights had been grounded, so it had to be one of our military aircraft, protecting us. I bought my regular comic books that day; Adventures of Superman #596 had an eerie panel of the twin towers of Metropolis being repaired. A friend came over that evening after attending a local religious service.

On Thursday, Nomi and I were sick of the news, and Animal Planet had gone back to regular programming. We watched a documentary about moose to help us get our minds off things.

And life went on. Today, I'm no longer teaching, but editing textbooks in Boston; my younger brother no longer lives in New York City, but in Richmond, Virginia with his wife and two children; and my older brother is still an emergency medicine physician in the Boston area, specializing in disaster management. My mother still lives in New York City, as do my two older half-brothers.

I'm grateful that I didn't lose anyone close in the 9/11 attacks; but in some ways, we all lost someone or something that day. Ever since then, Nomi and I check in with each other every morning when we get to work, and we live with an undercurrent of anxiety at almost all times.


9/11 memory

I was working at Kodak, driving in for a "1-on-1" with my boss. The morning radio show was interviewing C.C. Deville from Poison (!), and as I was leaving my car, I heard the DJ say, "uh-oh, the wire service says that a plane has flown into the world trade center...." Thinking it was only an accident (of unknown severity), I went on to my meeting. A little ways in, my boss's secretary poked her head in to tell us to listen to the radio. We ended the meeting, and I went downstairs. On the way to my office, I walked by a conference room with most of my co-workers watching a TV. Shortly after I walked in, the south tower fell.

The rest of the day was surreal. That morning DJ stayed on the air late into the evening, fielding calls and talking about what happened. The economic impact of 9/11 hit home shortly after that, as Kodak ramped up its downsizing plans in response to the USA not traveling (and not taking pictures) for an extended time. After a close call of downsizing in late 2001, I left Kodak in November 2002 to go to my current job at Lifetouch in Minneapolis.

9/11 is one of those moments when the world changed. Mostly in the wrong ways, sadly...

Re: 9/11 memory

The whole day had a surreal quality, even in retrospect. For example, you noted the morning radio show. If you ever go back and watch the news programs that began at 7 AM, they say things like, "Today is September 11, 2001, and the big story of the day is that Michael Jordan has decided to retire..."

When I first heard of the plane hitting the tower, I thought of the bomber that hit the Empire State Building near the end of World War II. I just assumed a small private plane had gone off course.
There was an interim election in my district that day, so my schedule was a bit off as I went to vote before going to work. There was time after voting before the next commuter train, so I stopped to get a bagel at a local shop. While there, someone got a call on his cell phone about the news of a plane hitting the WTC. I also assumed it was a small plane accident at the time. By the time I got on the train, I heard it was two planes. I tried calling Seth (he was working in an office in Newton that day) but couldn't get through on his cell phone (a 917 number...), so called the office phone. He hadn't heard, but started pulling up the web news.

In the office is was a "do what you can day..." I could have gone back home, but I didn't have DSL at the time, and thought that my Internet access would be better in the office. I sent out an email to my relatives asking everyone to check in. My brother was in Amsterdam, not Manhattan that day. All of my relatives were safe.

IIRC, Seth went home on Wednesday or Thursday. He was taking the train anyway, so wasn't worried about the flights, but the trains were still running very full.

Rosh Hashana was in a few days. I hadn't thought about going to services, but after 9/11 I really wanted to. Seth's parents were able to get me a ticket to their service. So I drove to New York that Saturday(?).

That trip was very surreal. There were flags everywhere, and "sheet" signs to various Fire Departments thanking them for their help. I also passed (or were passed by) additional FD crews coming in to help out.

But the strangest sight was when I got to the West Side Highway on the way to Seth's old apartment. That day was another beautiful blue sky day, not a cloud in the sky. But as I was driving I saw a very strange vertical cloud that was still rising from where the WTC towers used to be. That was heart wrenching.

I also grew up in New York, but since I'm older than you I remember the towers being built. At the time, everyone thought they were the ugliest buildings on the island. But after ~30 years, you get used to the skyline.

Later on the streets, there was another impact. Everywhere, not just in the financial district, there were signs posted for people looking for their loved ones.

It's a week that I will always remember.

December 2016

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