Sept. 11, 2015, is the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and United Airlines Flight 93’s crash in the field in Shanksville, Somerset County. This date has special significance to every American, and intense personal significance to far too many individuals who lost friends and loved ones.
But September 11, wasn’t the first time terrorists visited the World Trade Center. In truth, Feb. 26, 1993. was the date of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. I worked in New York at that time at an office located downtown in the financial district at 44 Wall Street.
On that day, I had accompanied an office friend to the World Trade Center to grab an early lunch and to check out some stores in the shopping concourse. We were back outside the Trade Center buildings, getting ready to cross the street, when suddenly the ground shook and moved. I remember that we were looking directly across the street at Century 21, a department store in Lower Manhattan. Then something happened that rarely happens in New York: Everything went eerily still and quiet. We looked up at what we first thought were snowflakes beginning to float and fall from the sky. After all, it was February.
Then car alarms began to go off one by one like the cacophony of many distorted bells. The snowflakes, we soon discovered, were in reality ashes.
People began yelling and screaming. It became very confusing and chaotic all at once, like someone flipped a switch to “on.” At first, we both felt rooted to the sidewalk, unable to move. I remember feeling a sense of panic at the unknown. We had absolutely no idea what had happened, and hurried back to our office. Reaching it, we were greeted by worried coworkers who told us that someone had set off a bomb underground in the World Trade Center garage.
I will never forget the crazy kaleidoscope of images, throughout that afternoon, of all the people who were related to or knew people in my office who sought refuge in our office after walking down the innumerable flights of steps in the dark to exit the World Trade Center Towers. They arrived with soot all over their faces, hands and clothes. They all wore zombie looks of shock, disbelief and panic.
Of course, the oddest thing about the first terrorist attack on New York City is that I don’t remember much lasting fuss about it. I do remember that President Bill Clinton was newly sworn into office, but I don’t remember him or his wife Hillary coming to visit New York after the attack. (And now she is “Hillary for America” and wants to be President? Where was she then as our then First Lady?)
Everything was back to normal in Lower Manhattan in about a month, maybe two. After a while, unless you had worked in New York, or lived in New York, you simply forgot about this “incident.”
So, on the morning of 9/11, as I pulled into my office building’s garage and listened to the breaking news on the radio announcing that a plane had struck the World Trade Center, tears began to run down my face unbidden. I knew in my heart of hearts what happened. I said to myself, “Oh no. They came back.”
I remember picking up my cell phone to call my father, whom I knew to be, at that time, on an Amtrak train bound for New York City. I remember him telling me it was fine and he’d be fine. I wanted him to get off in New Jersey and take a train back to Philadelphia. But the train was already pretty much past all the stations and getting ready to go into the tunnel to New York. That very thought terrified me. To this day, I still do not understand why Amtrak did not stop those last trains from going into New York City as the news of the World Trade Center attacks first broke.
I next remember getting in the elevator and getting off on my office floor to find people clustered around television sets and radios. And the news kept getting worse: first one plane, then a second, then a third, and then a fourth.
The images and news just didn’t stop. Camera cuts from lower Manhattan to Washington to Somerset County. They are images that have to be ingrained in everyone’s mind forever like indelible ink.
It took a couple of days for my father and brother-in-law (who had already been in New York on business) to get out of the city, but eventually they got home safely with many stories to tell of what New York was like in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. A lot of people weren’t so lucky. They never saw their loved ones again after that fateful morning. Many people in the Philadelphia and greater Main Line area lost friends, coworkers and loved ones.
On September 11, I knew people who were lost, but fortunately I didn’t lose any loved ones. I have friends who did and who lost co-workers and staff they were responsible for. I remember for a brief time it seemed we were all a little nicer to each other, and politicians actually seemed to come together as one and grieve as a nation grieved.
But here we are fourteen years later. I have only seen the site twice where the World Trade Center once stood proudly. The first time was about a year after the attacks. I remember a distinct pit in my stomach and looked away from the car window. I was in Washington a few years ago, and had the same intense, awful feeling in my stomach as we drove on the highway past the Pentagon.
In 2015 we are a country divided by often extreme partisan politics. Our economy is only so-so, and the government seems skewed even more every day towards special interests. Middle Eastern immigrants are flooding the shores of any country that will help them escape the tyranny and bloodshed that is all they know.
In Chester County local governments are letting oil and gas companies like Sunoco and residential developers destroy where we call home so they can rape the land for their gain and profit. Small potatoes I am sure to some when compared to 9/11, but to me they are two more examples of life off-balance. Other things include the news. I am and always have been a news junkie, but find myself watching and reading it less because it often seems as if it’s all bad news.
Face it, we are ALL different after 9/11, but I have to say we have become a country divided. Over everything. From the town to town, city to city, state to state to Washingtn D.C., we have become a country of extremism – especially politically. We are all still Americans, but are we always proud of that? Hyper liberal, hyper conservative, what happened to the people in the middle? Who cares about the people in the middle?
When did it become a crime to disagree with the status quo? To disagree with elected officials? To wish for better in the gray shades of a desperate recession? To be just a little bit different?
A country still at war, at war with itself inside our own borders. Who will do the healing if not each one of us ourselves? Who do we believe in? Who can we believe in? Can we hope for anything or is hope still just an overused word in our everyday vernacular? We have people who shoot up churches in Charleston, murder a reporter and her cameraman in cold blood in a live shot, people who randomly shoot up shopping malls and movie theaters, and even worse the ugliness I remember from my childhood a race riots.
A few years ago now I rode in my friend Barry’s balloon shaped like a giant American flag on 9/11. We soared over parts of Chester County. It was such am amazing and peaceful yet exhilarating and powerful feeling. A great way to remember 9/11.
Life must go on and time can’t stand still, but all in all I can’t help but wonder: What have we learned since about our country and about ourselves? Fourteen years after 9/11 what have we learned and what have we forgotten? What do we need to remember?
Simply said, as a country we need to do better. From local to national we need to do better, to be better. We need to vote smarter and field better candidates for public office. On every level of government, even at the most local we need fewer apologists in office, and more who are actually accountable.
Finally today, take a minute and remember our first responders. They are every day heroes we can believe in.
Thanks for stopping by. #NeverForget