When we — meaning the group of reporters and I that work together each week to put stories into print — sat down for our Wednesday morning staff meeting this past week, the question was raised about how we were going to mark the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11.
It’s one of those flashpoints in history. You know where you were when you first got the news. Like my parents’ JFK assassination moment, 9/11 galvanized a new generation of Americans.
There will be a wide variety of services around the region this weekend, with commemorations and solemn remembrances of the day our lives changed.
Since it is my week for a column, it seemed necessary and appropriate to take a minute to look back at that Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 10 years ago.
The mere fact that it was a Tuesday — the day our papers go to press and we are busy with last minute stories and changes — meant that we had to go into quick action on Sept. 11, 2001.
I was still at home, but getting ready for work, and had my always-present news radio station on, listening to KCBS out of San Francisco as I do every morning. They broke in to their regular programming with word about something ‘going on in New York City,’ just getting reports of an airliner striking one of the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. I caught enough of that to figure I should turn on the TV because if a plane hit one of the towers, in the heart of the financial district, I knew there would soon be a reporter on the scene. I don’t even know what channel it was, but the newscasters were analyzing the situation and discussing the incident even as the cameras were trained on the smoking tower. As I sat — literally on the edge of the bed — a second jet came in to view and it almost seemed as if it was in slow motion. The plane, coming in, crashing directly in to the side of the building, then a fireball erupting from the impact. It was surreal.
Right around then, it clicked in that the first plane had not been an accident and there was something much bigger at work.
It was hard to get the kids ready for school, hard to get everyone out the door while I still wanted to see what was going on, but once they were all safely delivered to class, it was a quick drive to work and the news team here developed a plan to cover as many bases as we could regarding the tragedy, putting it into local perspective.
There were calls to the local police and fire departments, schools and city hall, to see if there were any emergency preparedness plans being made. Federal officials urged all residents to be on heightened security, as it was unknown early on how many planes might have been taken over by terrorists in the skies and how many locations across the country might be targeted.
Some residents called in, offering comments and suggestions for everyone to buy and fly American flags in a shown of national solidarity. Stories came in of people here with relatives and friends in the affected areas, including some in the emergency response teams that headed to what quickly became known as ‘Ground Zero’ in New York City.
For me, personally, being able to work was a way to not feel as helpless and vulnerable. Getting focused on the job in front of me gave me a purpose that day. I worried about my family in upstate New York but felt fairly sure that any trouble would stay well south.
Later, we learned of the plane that hit the Pentagon and then heard of one that went down in a field in rural Pennsylvania and discovered a plane full of true American heroes; those that knew it would likely mean their own deaths but fought back against the hijackers and caused the plane to go down short of another targeted building — often speculated to have been the White House.
We were a nation shocked at first, saddened and then angry; resolving to be more vigilant and find a better way to protect our country.
Planes were grounded. Sports were put on hold. Everyone watched with hopes that some would still be pulled from the New York City rubble alive.
Ten years later, it doesn’t take much to go right back to the feeling of that day. Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the U.S.A.’ still brings tears to my eyes because it became so synonymous with the single greatest tragedy in American history.
The lesson learned here is to continue that vigilance, to be on guard – even when it means being irritated when having to go through that full body scanner at the airport. Time, like life, is precious and if we don’t take the time to be safe, we lose sight of what 9/11 ultimately taught us.
Sept. 11, 2001 changed the world we knew.
Now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of that tragic date, I urge you to just take a few moments out of your day and honor the memory of those we lost … and those that have given their lives since in the ongoing ‘War on Terror.’
Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.