Today is the 11th anniversary of the largest terriorist attack on US soil. 11 years ago today I woke up in one world and went to bed in a world that was changed forever. These are my memories of 9/11 as someone who was very far removed from ground zero (I lived in Oklahoma City, Ok, the site of the domestic terror attack on a federal building in 1995).
I was 29 years old, three years out of law school and working for an attorney named Richard Klinge. He had a small law office in North Oklahoma City. In addition to Richard, there was me, two other attorneys, two legal assistants and and a legal intern. From what I recall, in the office around 9:00 EST that morning was Christy and Elsie, the legal assistants, Craig, one of the attorneys, Sarah the legal intern and me.
I was working in my office when almost at the same time my wife called and someone in the office called down the hall and both essentially said: “You have got to come see this.” I walked down to the conference room which had a small TV in it and saw video of the smoldering World Trade Center that had first been hit. At this point, there was still some thought the plane may have crashed on accident. Literally, minutes after I started watching the second plane hit in New York, not only demolishing another building but any hopes that this had been an accident. I stayed glued to the TV for at least an hour even though I had work to do as the details unfolded.
A few minutes later the plane hit the Pentagon and the reports of the plane crash in rural Pennsylvania started to surface (completely coincidentally but eerily near a town where my father had briefly attended school as a child). For me, the magnitude and terror of what was happening was growing by the minute. My prevailing feeling at the time was insecurity:
how many more attack were planned, would they happen close to my family or even where I live??
I can only imagine the fear and uncertainty of people near ground zero or around the Pentagon. For at least a few moments, the terrorist succeeded: they put fear in my heart and in thousands of the hearts of people around the country.
I didn’t know what to do. Should I keep watching the coverage? Should I get back to work? Should I just go home and mourn? At some point in the day, I got back to work but kept one eye on cnn.com to find out what was going on. I went home a little early from work that day and my in-laws had come over. We went out to dinner that night, eating Italian food. However, nothing felt normal or right, things felt different.
It was over the next few weeks I began to realize that the world I grew up in had changed for forever. Terrorism was no longer a middle-eastern problem far removed from US shores, but a reality for all people of the United States. There were hate-filled people plotting all over the world everyday to do harm to the US and other countries. Particularly alarming was the realization that many of these people were willing to give up their own lives to inflict harm on others.
My wife Amy was pregnant at the time with our first child, due at the end of January 2002. Although it didn’t become clear to me for several months, our son was going to be born into a radically different world than we had grown up in or even that had existed when I got out of bed on September 11. Trying to explain a pre-9/11 world to child Sam’s age is similarly frustrating to trying to explain the Cold War to people born after about 1984-85.
My final memory from 9/11 comes a few weeks later when my wife and I took a trip (planned before 9/11) that included air travel. Due to the method of the terror attacks (planes) air travel was on high alert. I recall looking around at all the people on each flight and asking myself “Are there terrorist on this flight?” Are there sky marshalls on this flight?” Both of these thoughts were unproductive but unavoidable for me. When we landed in Seattle, I was struck by the airport being filled with troops– soliders wearing combat fatigues and fully-armed. I could not recall seeing this before in any airport but I realized this was the reality of post-9/11 life.
Through the passage of time, the terrorist and the terror they wrought has been overwhelmed by the courage, consistency and determination of the American people. While the terrorist and their leaders are mostly dead.
What are your memories of 9/11 and how it changed your life?