9.11.01 – reality knocked on freedom’s door

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 2004

It was possibly the prettiest morning I can recall having seen in many years.

The sky was brilliantly blue, with no clouds or haze. The air was warm, yet humidity levels were very low and there was a feel of autumn stirring in the self-made breeze as I walked out to my car in the driveway of my home, then in Rich Square.

I was not going straight to the office this particular Tuesday morning because I was attending a friend’s funeral to be held around 10 a.m. at Woodland Baptist Church.

It was around 7:30 when I ventured out for the first time that day, only then to take an item to the car in an effort to not forget it later.

Because the day felt so refreshing, I took a moment to reflect upon my friend Wilma Joyner, whose funeral I would be attending later, and thought how she would have so loved the day.

I then went back inside to finish up some work and get ready to depart.

News is a must in our home each morning. My wife, Teresa, turns the television on first thing and we watch it on and off until we walk out the door for work.

Because I was home later than normal, and had been caught up on all the news that took place overnight as I slept, I was no longer watching – just catching bits and pieces from time to time as I’d walk in the living room.

Sometime shortly after 8:30 that morning, and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I turned the channel to the History Channel.

As I sat on the edge of my chair putting on my shoes, the phone rang. It was my wife, asking if I had heard anything about someone flying a plane into the Twin Towers in New York.

As she spoke, I scrambled for the remote control and flipped to the Today Show on NBC. Just as I turned to the channel, they were showing images of the smoking tower and as I watched, trying to figure out what on earth was happening, I saw another plane approach from the right side of the television screen and fly straight into the other tower.

Although it was so apparent the plane flew into the other tower, the broadcasters made no comment of what had just taken place.

I turned to another network and an announcer was saying, &uot;It appears the fuselage has just exploded,&uot; or something very similar. I remember jumping up and yelling at the television, &uot;Another plane has flown into the other tower.&uot;

At this point, I switched to CNN to see if they were seeing what I had seen and a reporter on a phone was doing some updates on the situation. With some sense of panic in his voice and apparent uncertainty, he announced that he was receiving word that another crash may have taken place in the North Tower.

As badly as I felt, I almost felt relieved that someone else had seen what I watched on NBC moments earlier.

It was at this same time that reality, or I should say, the reality of the confusion set in.

It was apparent what I was seeing was happening, but why. Instead of doing like so many other did – and obviously for the right reasons, looking back – I thought perhaps something was going wrong with computers and that pilots were simply flying off course.

The thought of terrorists and hijacking of commercial airliners was the furthest thing from my mind.

As I watched both the television and the clock immensely, it became time for me to leave to attend the funeral.

As I arrived at the church, there were a few who had not heard about the situation, but for the most part, the place was buzzing with the news.

The preacher, the Rev. Heath Lloyd, is the person who relayed to me that the North Tower had collapsed.

On the radio, traveling to Woodland, the announcers stated the possibility of the collapse, but the building was still standing from the last reports I had heard.

My mother was keeping the nursery that morning for the funeral and I walked over to see if she was up to date on the happenings. As I left her to return to the sanctuary, I heard the second tower had collapsed.

Reports, at this time, were that the estimated number of people who would still have been in those towers was in the tens of thousands.

The conversation was also shifting to terrorist attacks, and more information about the crash at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania was coming in over the radio.

I remember the feeling of uncertainty. The feeling of being totally helpless and not knowing what to expect next… would there be other crashes, how many more planes up there loaded with innocent people were going to fall from the sky?

The questions haunted me through the funeral service and through the remainder of the day as I made every effort to make sure we, as a newspaper, continued doing what we needed to do and to make sure my employees were both mentally and physically all right.

The one thing I remember most about that afternoon, was that everybody in this country was focused on the same thing.

There were other problems, just like any other day, but for this day and days to follow, the country would unite as I had never seen it do before.

All of a sudden there were no political parties, there were no trivial squabbles. The entire nation stood together as one, ready to do what was necessary to defend and retaliate.

For the first time in my entire life, I saw a complete meltdown of partisan ways and a country divided pull itself into a single group of individuals fueled with compassion, anger, determination and a desire to show what it was made of.

For the first time in my life I realized how proud I was to be an American.

It’s hard, in some ways, to believe it’s only been three years ago that our nation was attacked. It just feels to me that we, as a nation, have forgotten so much of what took place that day.

Perhaps it’s because it’s a political year, but we need to never forget September 11, 2001 any more than we need to forget December 7, 1941.

We need to stand strong together, and we need focus on where we are going to be the next time this happens.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes devastation to make us realize what it is we have as opposed to what it is we want, and in this case freedom seems to ring loud and clear in my ears on both sides of the coin.

Remember 9-11 and the innocent people who died that day. If for no other reason, remember it as the day reality came knocking on your door of freedom.