Honoring the fallen means feeling the pain again September 11th shall never pass without thoughtful reflection.

There are very few days from elementary school that I remember with such clarity. That day was different.

I still remember standing in a long, narrow hallway that ran along the side of the gym. My class had just finished with morning phys ed and the teacher had lined us up to head back to our normal classroom. It was hot in there, I remember that. Most were sweating and I could hear the heavy breaths of my classmates. I had this quick daydream about cold snowflakes falling from the ceiling. I could feel the relieving chill on my skin.

And then we marched out into the main hallway. The gym was right across from the open staircase, which was beside the main office, and as we headed up to our second-story room we watched a small group of teachers gather around a TV in the office. They had stunned, scared looks on their faces, and we just wondered what could possibly be wrong with them.

When we got back to our class, with all the kids whispering about the teachers downstairs, our own teacher briefly excused herself. Now the whispers were open conversations. “What was going on with those teachers?” we curiously asked one another. Then our teacher returned. She looked as disturbed as the others.

Our nation was under attack.

She tried to explain, as best a teacher could to a group of fifth graders without knowing the full picture herself, that there was a bombing in New York, that terrorists were attacking our country. We didn’t know about Pennsylvania yet. We didn’t know about the Pentagon. All we knew was that we were terrified. When the people in charge are concerned, it’s a natural feeling to reciprocate.

We were told we couldn’t go outside for recess, as a safety precaution. We couldn’t turn on the TV. We were told that some parents would be picking up their kids early.

My mom showed up at the regular time and took me straight home. She told me everything she knew, as delicately as she could, on the drive home. Just being in her car felt safe.

At home, my dad was sitting in the living room watching the news on TV. By that point, I knew about the planes. But the safety of being back with my mom began to shift back to concern when I saw my father. He was never home at 3:30 in the afternoon on a Tuesday.

I looked at the TV coverage. “Where are the Twin Towers?” I asked. “I thought the planes crashed into them.”

All I saw was smoke.

 

That was my experience from 629 miles away. What’s powerful is hearing a story from inside the devastation.

When I went to the University of Michigan for college, I met several friends who came from the New York area. For them, the attacks on September 11th were personal.

On last year’s anniversary, one of them shared the first-hand account from his father, Jon Forstot, who was in the second tower when it was struck. This was his description of watching the first plane approach:

At that moment I saw an American Airlines plane to the north heading south. I could see clearly that it was an American Airlines plane and that it was unusually low. My first reaction was annoyance, that the pilot was being obnoxious by flying so low and I muttered “Jesus”. It kept flying at this very low altitude and I believed it was a plane that was having trouble gaining altitude. I saw that it may not “clear” the World Trade Center as it approached — as it got closer I clearly saw the nose, the cockpit windows with the sun reflecting off them and as it drew close the underside of the plane. All I could say was “Holy shit, holy shit” and then just “shit”. I saw the plane from the underside as it disappeared into One World Trade Center.

You can read his full first-hand account here.

He survived. He was one of the lucky ones. But there were nearly 3,000 who weren’t so lucky.

Today isn’t about letting our differences divide us, or debating the wars that followed that day, or arguing about politics.

Today — and every day, for that matter — is about remembering the fallen, the innocent victims, the brave men and women who gave their lives trying to save others. Remember the courage, the resolve, the American pride that resonated throughout this land following the tragedy.

And may we never forget how blessed we are to live in this nation.

 

9 thoughts on “Honoring the fallen means feeling the pain again September 11th shall never pass without thoughtful reflection.

  1. There are moments in history you know exactly where you were when they happen. I’d just driven into work, and since I’m a System Administrator, I’m almost always among the first to arrive. That morning, one woman had beat me, and as I came in, she said, “Have you heard?”

    I asked, “Heard what?”

    “An airplane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.”

    Stunned I looked at her. I knew the approaches to the airport there avoided the big towers, and my first thought was maybe a small plane, and I asked. She said, no, it was airliner.

    And that’s when I knew this wasn’t some terrible accident. The first words out of my mouth was, “Bin Laden is behind this. This was no accident. There will be more.”

    I got on the phone, called my wife, and while we were talking, the second hit. I was on CNN website, watching this terrible event unfold before my eyes. She said she’d heard from both our daughters, and both were utterly stunned. While she was talking, my other line rang. I picked it up, and it was my son calling from Ft. Jackson where he’s just completed Basic Training. We were scheduled to fly out a couple of days later to attended his graduation ceremony, but couldn’t now.

    He was a little panic stricken because they were dressing out for battle, drawing weapon and live ammo. They were being marched out to taken up a perimeter defense of the base, and they couldn’t understand what was going on. He wanted to know if what was really happening, and I told him. I told him, tell your platoon to pay attention to your training, and listen to your NCOs. You already know what to do, you just need to do it.

    Feeling better, he hung up.

    The thing I recall most was I stayed at work, keeping an eye on the networks and etc. I was thinking this would be the perfect time to launch a cyber attack against everything in sight, and if it even looked like a breach was coming, I was prepared to drop the internet connection (fortunately that never happened).

    But I recall having to drive to an office down the road, and the normally extremely busy streets of Denver was empty. It was like driving through one of the 1950s end of the world movies, with no cars and no people about.

  2. Your perspective as a child on that day is interesting. I’ve never heard that point of view. I was up extra early and caught the news after the first plane had hit. I saw the shock and fear of the reporters, as I felt it myself, when the second plane hit and we all felt the knife of attack rather than accident slice into our minds and hearts. I will never, never forget seeing the towers fall and the thump of my soul once, and then again, in instant understanding and grief for those losses. It was devastating. The reason I was up was to get a mole removed from my upper back. When the surgeon cut it out later that morning, I thought of the symbolism of carrying a physical scar from that day, and I appreciated the reflection of the one I would always carry inside regarding what I had witnessed – even just by live media all the way on the other coast of the US, I felt it to my core.
    As the accounts poured in over days and weeks and many years of the scared, brave and heroic people who gave everything to help and to try to survive, I was healed by knowing of those who made it, those who didn’t, and all those who loved them. I was healed by all the people who gave with all their hearts that day and for uncounted days afterward. And I’m still healing in each year of remembrance.

  3. I was oceans apart that day. On a different continent.
    To see the Breaking News reports was terrifying. And it was not just one attack. The Pentagon… My mind was going a million miles an hour. There was a moment when I thought the USA were going to get annihilated that day. My mom lived in a big city at that time, so I was very concerned for her, but she was safe and so was everyone I knew.
    I still ache for all these who did not survive and their surviving loved ones…

    1. Oh, let me add that I witnessed people in countries outside of the US, without any real ties to that country, watch it all happen while holding their breaths. The closely followed the search for survivors. They mourned those that died. It was quite beautiful… in a sad way.

    2. Heartbreaking day. I had a similar thought: Are they going to attack Detroit? Of course, I was 10 so I didn’t realize that Detroit was probably very low on the threat list, but in the fear of the day we had no idea. I remember thinking, when the teachers said we couldn’t go outside for recess, “Are they going to crash planes into the playground?” And it was a legitimate thought. Just terrifying.

Thoughts?