Eleven Years Ago Today

It was a beautiful morning in State College.

I remember being woken up by one of my fraternity brothers.  I questioned him as to why he was waking me up well before I had to actually get up for my classes.  He jokingly said, “It’s not like you were going to class anyway.”

“Touche.  So what’s up?” I responded, as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.

“Come out to the dining room and check out the TV. An airplane crashed into one of the World Trade Center buildings.”

Slowly, I got up.  In my mind, visions of pictures I saw from the 1940s when a plane crashed into the Empire State Building filled my mind.  I figured this was more of the same; a neat tidbit of history that would fill a few news cycles and then be over.

Boy, was I wrong.

Once in the dining room, the images on the TV still led me to believe what I was thinking.  There was smoke and flames coming out of WTC 1.

It was only a few short minutes later (9:03am) that a second plane smashed into WTC 2, this time live.  “Woah! Something different is going on here,” was all that I could say.  Seeing both those buildings burn left not only myself, but the anchors on the news broadcast wondering what exactly was happening.  The name Osama Bin Laden was being mentioned.  I remembered the name. President Clinton tried to get him back in 1998, launching 66 cruise missiles into Afghan training camps, but missed him by mere hours.

Scattered reports were coming in of another plane. At 9:37am, a third plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington, VA.  Shortly thereafter, reports started coming in that U.S. airspace was being shut down.  The gravity of that hit me immediately.  This is something that I would probably never see again in my lifetime: a sky completely devoid of aircraft.  No sound of them flying overhead.  No contrails crisscrossing the sky.  It’s not like we were sent back to the Dark Ages, but a fundamental aspect our our lives as a nation had been altered, compromised even.

For the people inside the towers, their fate was sealed.  People were jumping from the buildings.  Better to die quickly than be consumed by fire and panic, I suppose.

At 9:59am, what we feared most began to happen.  WTC 2 began to collapse.  I was on the phone with my mother.  She was working in downtown Pittsburgh, in One PPG Place.  While on the phone, there were reports of yet another plane that had been hijacked.  This one seemed to be heading her way.  We thought perhaps the U.S. Steel Tower, headquarters of U.S. Steel, could be the target.  After all, when it comes to American industry, U.S. Steel is a major symbol.  Only minutes later (10:03am), that plane went down in a field in Somerset County, some 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.  It was being reported that President Bush authorized the military to shoot down planes.  I thought perhaps that was what had happened here.  Little did we know at the time of the bravery of the passengers of Flight 93, who fought the terrorists to keep from hitting its probable targets: the U.S. Capitol or the White House.

Our eyes were still glued to the TV.  At 10:28am, WTC 1 collapsed.  Those of us gathered in the dining room were not surprised.  The damage was too extensive and we knew that after the first tower fell, it was only a matter of time.  The only question that remained in my mind was when we would, as a nation, begin to hunt down the bastards who did this.

We wouldn’t have to wait long.

That day is etched onto our memories just as December 7th, 1941 was etched onto the memories of our grandparents and the Apollo moon landing onto our parents.  It was a day we cannot, will not, must not forget.  And we never will.

Before going to sleep that night, President Bush wrote into his journal, “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today… We think it’s Osama bin Laden.”

September 11th, from the ISS

Our enemies have made the mistake that America’s enemies always make. They saw liberty and thought they saw weakness. And now, they see defeat. – George W. Bush

 

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