I am currently rereading a book that I have read several times, Firehouse, by David Halberstam. It gives the story of a firehouse that lost all but one of the men on duty who responded to the initial report of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The book tells the stories of these brave men, and it tells the story of that horrible day. It’s one in a group of books that I reread from time to time that help me remember what happened on that beautiful summer day, as we sat in front of our televisions and watched in shock as life as we knew it changed forever.
I was at work that day, when my mom called to tell me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was an accident…a plane getting too close. My second thought was of my cousin Andrew, who I knew worked in the Financial District. My mom reassured me that he worked at the World Financial Center, not the World Trade Center. She also suggested I turn on a television or check out the Internet for more news.
I was working at a local not-for-profit agency at the time, and our executive director was the only person in the office who had Internet access. I interrupted a meeting she was having with several members of our Board of Directors to tell her what had happened and to ask if I could use the computer to see what I could find out. It was by this time, I believe, that the second plane had hit, and we were all very aware that this was no accident.
A coworker and I rigged up a TV with a broken set of rabbit ears in one of our program rooms, positioning it and enhacing the antenna with aluminum foil, until we were able to get some reception. I don’t know what channel it is that we got in, but Bryant Gumbel was on the air, talking about the morning’s events. Our reception was bad, and the picture kept rolling on the screen, but we were able to hear him and see somewhat the pictures that were being broadcast. We tuned in to him in time to hear about the smoke coming from the Pentagon, knowing that it had also been hit. We also heard about a plance crashing right here in Pennsylvania, which I thought surely must be an unrelated accident. Little did I know what had happened in the skies over my very own state.
Our office closed at lunchtime, and I went home and installed myself on my couch, eyes glued to the ticker on the bottom of the screen of the Fox News Channel. I don’t remember moving much at all that day and into that night. I know I must have gotten up and eaten dinner and moved around my apartment. But mostly, I just remember sitting there, thirsty for news of what was going on and unable to look away from the words scrolling across the bottom of the screen. I heard from my mom that my cousin was fine, although my uncle’s best friend was missing and presumed lost (he was, in fact, lost, and no remains have been found of him to this day). I went to Wal-Mart to try to buy a flag, but I was unable to. All around the Lehigh Valley, people showed their support for America by flying their flags with pride, and there were none available in any of the stores I tried.
The next day at work, I printed a flag out on the printer with the words “God Bless America” and hung it in my car window. Later in the week, one of our grocery chains placed in the newspaper an American flag that could be hung on your door or window, with a request to display the flag in support of those lost. And before long, we were sporting flags and ribbons on our cars, with a request to “Never forget.”
As time went on and things got back to normal for those of us not intimately affected by the events of that day, we were able to think less about the horrible loss of life on that day and more about our usual day-to-day. Indeed, it has been almost five years since that horror, and yet it seems like it happened just yesterday. Now, with the release of the film United 93, the wounds that we have as a result of these attacks on America are being reopened, as people flock to the theatres to relive unspeakable horror and experience the miracle of those passengers on that flight who fought back against that horror.
I have not yet seem the film, but I expect to. And when I do go see it, I plan to do so on my own, sitting in the theatre with my tissues and my thoughts, because I think it is our duty to remember. We might not have been there that day, but thousands of people were. Many escaped with their lives, but many did not. I think it’s our job to remember those who didn’t make it out. Don’t let time dull your memories of that day. May we always remember those that we lost at the hands of terrorists on September 11, 2001. Don’t let them beat us. And don’t ever forget.