9/11’s TENTH ANNIVERSARY- On the fifth anniversary in 2006 of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, I wrote the following in The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers:
It’s hard to believe that five years have gone by since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and the downed Flight 93 that crashed in Pennsylvania.
Without question, it was a day our country, and the world, will never forget.
I was in Brooklyn, NY on Tuesday Sept 11, 2001 at my mother’s house. She was in the backyard, and I was upstairs trying to meet my deadline for The Carolinian and Wilmington Journal newspapers. I was actually supposed to be in Manhattan that day to get some legal papers for my mother so she could move to North Carolina, but as fate would have it, I ended up getting those the day before.
I had interviewed former NC House Speaker Dan Blue earlier that day about his run for the US Senate. My mom’s house was getting some exterior work done by workers of Arab descent. I had the TV off so I could concentrate.
It was after 10 a.m. when I checked my e-mails, and got a “breaking news” message from one of the North Carolina TV stations. When I opened it, there was a picture of a fireball exploding at the World Trade Center in New York.
In New York? Here?
I read further how two jetliners collided with the Twin Towers in an apparent terrorist attack.
I immediately went downstairs to tell my mother, who was in the backyard tending to the flowers she loved so much.
On my way, I stopped to listen to the all-news radio station she always had on. The Pentagon had been hit. People were seen running for their lives from the White House. A car bomb reportedly went off in front of the State Department (that report was not true), and other hijacked planes were said to be heading to other targets across the country (also not true, except for United Airlines Flight 93, which had been heading towards Washington, but had already crashed, thanks to the brave passengers onboard.
I got my mother into the house quickly, telling her what was going on. I turned on the TV, but because the Twin Tower with the major antenna had already collapsed, I couldn’t raise any of the New York TV stations, except for a fuzz.
I then called all of the workmen together, made them aware of what was going on, and told them to be careful. I didn’t know whether the cops or FBI would pull up any minute and take them away because of what was going on across the river.
From that moment on, my agenda changed. I had to cover a story that was a few miles away, but had no phone (the telephone company relay was destroyed) and only TV from New Jersey...no cable)
I had to dial literally 20 times to get through once, so I called my now-wife Markita, and my publisher at The Carolinian.
Going into Manhattan was out of the question from Brooklyn. Mayor Giuliani issued an executive order shutting down all entry to the city. All vehicles leaving were being checked. People were walking over the bridges by the millions.
It was a state of siege.
Miraculously, and I look back in wonder even to this day, I was able to pull material together from online when I could get a dial tone, and find a TV station or two that switched to New Jersey stations to broadcast (most people in New York do not have cable, so the TV stations had to find a way to transmit over the air).
As night fell, New York City was absolutely in a state of shock. The images of the planes hitting the WTC were replayed over and over again, followed by the extraordinary collapse of both towers, the toxic plume chasing fleeing people through the streets like a cheap Japanese monster movie.
The tears, the pain, the horror, and the disbelief.
I don’t know what it was like watching all of that from North Carolina, where I’m sure many were equally in shock.
But I do know what it was like to be a few miles from Ground Zero on that day, and to be both a reporter who had to get the story out, and at the same time, a son who had to protect his mother and stay close to her, not knowing what was going to happen next.
When I was finally able to file all of my stories and pictures with The Carolinian via email with very, very limited phone capability, I then exhaled and took it all in.
By that time, and for days following (I stayed in New York for a week after until I was sure all was safe), the smell of burnt electrical substance hung in the air. People were stunned.
On the afternoon of Sept. 11, after the Arab workers finished their job on my mother’s house and were paid, I’ll never forget. They pulled out a prayer rug, placed it on my mother’s porch, and began praying.
They were afraid.
Five years ago, coming back to North Carolina, and driving across the bridge from Brooklyn, seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor.
But the Twin Towers she always looked upon, were gone.
What a sad, sad and humbling sight.
Some ask if we’re any safer today than five years ago. In some ways yes, but in other ways, clearly this is a more dangerous time than ever before.
As I said, that’s what I wrote five years ago on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. I reprint it word-for-word because I’m pretty certain my memory five years ago of what that time-turning day was like, is much, much better than it is now.
But there is no question that that day changed all of our lives forever.
And certainly the lives of those who lost loved ones, as well.
This week, and particularly this Sunday, the official tenth anniversary, the world will stop to commemorate. A lot has happened since that tragic event, the most momentous of which is President Obama capturing and eliminating terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden earlier this year.
The question now is, how do we move forward in a world where anyone with enough hate and the means to manifest it, can change all of our lives once again?
I pray that it never happens again.
I pray for all of us.