10th anniversary, 30 before 30, 9/11, bravery, Jim Chaney, New York, news, Pennsylvania, Pentagon, police and firefighters, September 11
It took two semesters of college before I fully realized the benefits of not having class on Mondays. My love for sleep was rivaled only by my hatred for that first day of the week; so when it came time to schedule courses for the fall, I snatched up the Tuesday-Thursday combos like they were candy from a busted pinata. After two weeks of bonus slumber and 4-day-weekend bliss, I was living large without a care in the world when I woke up Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001.
Like most Americans, I was unaware of what was transpiring in the airports and skies above as I prepared myself for class that day. While I showered, hijackers were boarding planes. As I gathered up my books, they were storming the cockpits. It was just before 9:00am when I made my way down the stairs of my parent’s house and into the kitchen for a quick breakfast. The television was on and a live shot of the twin towers of the World Trade Center was being broadcast. There was smoke, lots of smoke, billowing from a gaping hole in one of the buildings.
“What’s going on?” I asked my mother who had been watching for several minutes already.
“They say a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.” She replied. “That’s about all they know.”
Two specific moments that occurred during the course of that infamous day will stick with me forever. The first was about to happen. As I sat there, eyes fixated on the television screen while attempting to pour a glass of milk, a second airplane entered the picture from the left and plowed into the side of the other building. If you had been channel surfing at that exact moment, you might have thought you were watching a scene from an action movie. A ball of flame shot out the other side of the tower as smoke began to rise and debris began to fall.
I stood in the middle of the room, frozen in disbelief of what I had just witnessed. The news anchors stammered through broken sentences, trying to describe the scene. They sounded nervous, unsure of themselves, even scared. The cameras continued to roll, switching back and forth between the live shot and a replay of the second impact. What was originally believed to be a tragic accident, was soon to be confirmed as an act of terrorism.
Perhaps it was the shock of the situation or the “Hollywood-like” feel of it all, but I don’t think I comprehended the magnitude of the events when I left the house and drove to school. By the time I arrived on campus, rumors and facts were spreading like an airborne virus. I entered the classroom to find professors and students huddled together in front of a television. I had been incommunicado for the 25 minute drive from home to school and missed the latest updates so a friend brought me up to speed about the Pentagon.
“Just incredible.” I whispered under my breath.
There was no lesson plan that day. No need to discuss history; history was happening right before our eyes. As reporters scrambled for eye witnesses and fumbled through notes of chicken scratch being handed to them, I couldn’t take my eyes off the two wounded symbols of the American dream. The smoke, the fire, the debris falling from the sky; it all looked so surreal. That’s when it happened. The second moment of that day that remains as vivid in my memory today as it did when it happened.
The cameras had been fixated on those buildings for what seemed like an eternity, and the more I watched them burn, the more I began to wonder how they would ever stop. I turned to a classmate and calmly said, “You know, those towers might just fall down.” The look on his face told me he had never even contemplated that and before he could open his mouth to respond, the first building started to crumble. I remember thinking it looked like a perfectly executed implosion.
The room gasped in unison as the top of the building collapsed onto itself and millions of pounds of steel and gypsum rained down on the city below. Within a half hour, the second tower followed suit and the famed NY City skyline was changed forever. As ash and fear blanketed Manhattan, the entire country was falling into a tailspin. Major city landmarks were evacuated, airports cancelled all flights, and for the first time in nearly 40 years, the skies above the United States of America were quiet. Well, except for one plane still hell bent on destroying another symbol of freedom.
When word of a 4th plane crash went public, the details surrounding it seemed odd. Unlike the other three attacks, this plane simply crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. What we would learn later about the bravery of the passengers on board and their determination to not go down without a fight, would become the rallying story for the country. A glimmer of light through the rubble of a battered nation.
By the time the morning gave way to the afternoon, area schools and businesses had shut down and people distraught over the events of the day sought comfort with their families in their homes. I went back to my parent’s house to follow the updates on television and began taking notes on the coverage. Despite the incomprehensible tragedy, I knew I had been witness to history that day and I wanted to remember all I could.
During the days and weeks that followed, I learned of friends who knew friends in the towers. I heard classmates talk about their relatives who lived near the Pentagon. It seemed almost everyone was touched in a personal way by the events of that early autumn day, everyone except me. I never lived in New York, nor did I know anyone who had. I wasn’t friends with anyone in those buildings or anyone on the planes. Despite my lack of a personal connection, I was affected by the attacks none the less. I have no doubt that you were too. Today, ten years after a city, a skyline, a nation was changed forever, we remember those who paid the ultimate price. We acknowledge those who sacrificed themselves in an attempt to save others. We recognize that while our country went to bed on September 11th, 2001 bruised and broken, we awoke on September 12th to live and fight another day. And everyday since.
God Bless America!
Very well said Jim 🙂
Miss Vic said:
This is your very best so far and I’m sure that everyone that reads these words will be moved. From one of your constant readers…Thanks for remembering! You rock.
Thanks Ms. Vic! Always appreciate your comments.
John Erickson said:
Well written, my friend. If only we could reclaim that feeling of unity, when all members of Congress stood on the stairs as one group, Americans. Not Democrat, not Republican, not left nor right.
We need to get back to that feeling. We owe those who died in the towers, who died in the Pentagon, who died in a field in Pennsylvania, and who died in Afghanistan and Iraq, nothing less.
Agreed! I remember that scene as well. A lot has changed since that day and I certainly hope it doesn’t take another tragedy to get back there.
Thanks so much!