I remember the office manager of the business where I worked in Tampa told me first that a small plane struck one of the Towers. I sort of laughed and knew they were built to survive the impact of a 707. This was because a medium bomber struck the Empire State Building during World War II.
But it was worse, much worse. And from 8:30 to 10:30 that morning, we watched it all unfold on live TV.
My grandfather was shopping at the Commissary at McDill Air Force Base. That’s home of Central Command and Special Operations Command. If an enemy wanted to really hit the United States, and cripple our ability to make war, McDill was about as good of a target as could be.
I called him, and got that “All circuits are busy.” By then, everyone was scared and worried a loved one was in harm’s way.
The base went on lockdown, but I guess they didn’t consider a 77-year-old man to be much of a terrorist. After a long delay, he made it home.
Work ended early, and as I walked out into the parking lot, I found a small red-eared turtle. I still wasn’t sure how bad things were with the attacks. I took the turtle home, but released her into a pond a few days later. I guess she went into captivity shock. It’s funny the little details one remembers about a day like Sept. 11, 2001.
Once he was home, we gathered around my grandfather’s TV. I remember the news, showing the plane hitting the second tower, over and over. We wondered what else would happen. The Towers, the Pentagon, the plane in Pennsylvania. What could happen next? Would there be miracles where innocent people survived? Who did this?
Then, just to spare us any more trauma, our entire family felt sick, my grandfather said “Let’s turn off TV.” There were no other channels other than the 9-11 channel. He wasn’t being insensitive. He’d seen too much. He knew we had too. We ate dinner in silence.
I remember the quiet and empty skies the next day. I remember being afraid of what could be next.
Life never got back to normal. We stayed numb, and scared. That winter, I went on a trip. I think maybe to Pennsylvania to meet my uncle, maybe. It was alien to see armed American soldiers in the terminal.
Tried as I could, a part of me was suspicious of Middle-Eastern travelers I saw in the airport. I was afraid to go to hockey games and be among a crowd of thousands. Thankfully, international terrorists have not launched another attack on our home soil since that day.
Sept. 11 touched my life in one other way. My cousin Brad was a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. On his second tour in Iraq, a female suicide bomber walked up to a traffic checkpoint he manned. She detonated her explosives grievously wounding my cousin.
That’s another day I’ll never forget. I was going to work in Cadiz when my phone rang. Mildly annoyed to see it was my mother calling when she knew I’d be going in, I answered.
I spent that day in shock, until my boss gave me an assignment just to focus on something beside my cousin. We had no news even if he was alive or dead.
I give thanks every day that my cousin is still alive. Prosthetic leg and all, he served in my wedding party as an usher, walking my mother and grandparents to their seats.
So think back to the day. Remember where you were. Think about everyone that died today for no reason. Think about every soldier, sailor, airman or marine who has served and sacrificed since to keep us safe. Think of our safety now and be grateful, rather than dwelling on the fear we felt 11 years ago. Remember the police and firemen who gave their lives for the lives of innocents and anyone in any uniform who would gladly do the same today. n