While teaching 9th grade CCD, I made a comment about Islam, prejudice, and planes hitting buildings, and the students all looked at me blankly. “Do you not know what happened on 9-11?” Not really. Not exactly. “I realize you were young, but haven’t you seen the footage since then?!?” No; what footage?
I remember 9-11.
I was still in the Navy. It was a normal workday, until someone stuck their head in the door and said, “Hey, some plane hit the Trade Center in NYC.” What, a Cessna off course or something? “Nobody seems to know what’s going on, yet.”
All too soon, we knew.
Watching a grainy, tiny black-and-white TV in someone’s office, I saw the pictures of the first hit, then the second.
I stood in front of a room of young enlisted people in the school I was in charge of, breaking the news, then having to ask if they had family or close friends in the Trade Center towers or the Pentagon. We had two: one cousin worked on a lower floor of the Trade Center towers and decided he wasn’t waiting for permission to leave work early after the first plane hit. A brother worked in the Pentagon, but he was safe (sort of): he was on a plane to Pakistan that morning.
I watched the tapes of firemen who would soon be dead, gathered in the foyer of the Trade Center towers to organize their rescue attempts. I wondered what that occasional loud “thump” was… until the commentator filled in that that was the sound of bodies hitting the glass ceiling of the foyer, people who apparently decided they weren’t going to wait to burn to death and jumped instead.
The entire country was subdued for weeks. I wondered where this grief was after the USS Cole bombing. Or the African embassy bombings. Or, for that matter, when word first leaked out of Afghanistan that the Taliban had not only imposed the stiffling burka on all women and banned them from working, but was bricking widows into their houses to die if they lacked a male relative to look after them, since starvation was preferable (to the Taliban, at least) to the “shame” of having any contact with a male who wasn’t a relative. At the Naval Academy, it was a wide spread discussion among the women that any government that would do that to its own people would not hesitate to come after us.
Well, guess what? They did. And most people were surprised.
I remember watching firemen at promotion ceremonies, barely able to finish because they were crying so hard. They were being promoted because so many firemen had died, leaving the command structure half empty.
I still have a clipping of Fr. Mychal Judge being carried from the rubble pinned to my bulletin board. A chaplain for the fire department, he had gone with the firemen to the disaster. He took his helmet off to pray over and bless the dead as he started coming across them. He was struck in the head by falling debris and killed. The grimy firemen and paramedics carrying the office chair they were using to carry Fr. Judge’s limp body all look devastated.
My mother’s family is mostly Slovak, so I was raised to love Dvorak. The New World Symphony is one of my favorite pieces of classical music, and one of the few I can instantly identify by name. You probably have heard it; parts of it are very sad and somber and are often played at police and firemens’ funerals on the bagpipe. It became the anthem of the season, as we watched funeral after funeral as the bodies were found in the rubble in New York City… or the families gave up hope of ever having anything to bury of their loved ones.
I read the story of one of my former executive officers, who was in the Pentagon that day. After the impact, the lights went out. Disoriented by the shock and darkness, he gathered up the people in his office, making sure they all got out. When they had gotten to a safe area, he went back in, looking office to office for anyone who might be injured or disoriented. The firemen eventually found him and insisted he leave; the flames had spread too fast to look any farther. A year after the fact, he still questioned if he shouldn’t have looked faster, wondered if he could’ve saved someone farther in towards the impact. He looked so grim and unlike himself in the photo in the paper, I wasn’t sure it was him.
My kids have no idea what happened, nor, at this age, should they. But they will eventually see what happened.
Those 9th graders also had no idea what happened, nor were they likely to hear it if they hadn’t already. They are now almost old enough to vote; why do they think we are at war? Will they be likely to believe that the military just wanted some target practice and the military-industrial complex wanted some profits? Do they have any idea why there is a huge hole in lower Manhattan? Why the stone on one side of the Pentagon doesn’t quite match? Why we have a memorial in some farm field?
I wish I thought most Americans remembered.