On September 11, 2001, I awakened late in the morning to another sunny day in Calabasas. Sunlight seeped through the slats of my bedroom blinds as I put on my robe and stumbled into the kitchen to make my morning cup of tea.
I didn’t rush or worry about getting to the office on time; I was recently unemployed. My company, a subsidiary of large privately-held publishing group, laid off its entire staff a few days earlier – the result of a depressed economy.
The light on my answering machine blinked, but I ignored it – probably another call to a company that used to have my phone number or a telemarketer.
After retrieving the newspaper, I closed my front door with one hand and pressed the play button on the answering machine with the other. I froze as I heard my mother’s voice, urging me to stay calm, that she and my Dad were okay and to not be afraid… end of message. My parents live in Portland, Oregon, so many thoughts raced through my mind: St. Helens erupted again, their house was on fire or there was a car accident.
I remember thinking that if it was St. Helens, it would probably be on the news, so I looked for the television remote while punching in my mother’s phone number: busy. I dropped the phone and turned on the TV.
Sights and sounds exploded before my eyes on CNN; my knees weakened and I crumbled to the carpet. With shaking hands holding the remote, I surfed the cable news channels, only to see the same visions of panic and pain. News anchors reported assaults on the Pentagon and New York and planes crashing in Pennsylvania, it was clear: America was under attack.
I watched terrified people running, covered in gray dust; my television screen filled with images of flames and buildings collapsing, creating tsunamis of dust and debris. I didn’t know that the pandemonium and horror in front of my eyes took place three hours earlier – everything seemed immediate and confusing.
I tried to reconcile my mother’s voice mail message with the television footage, the barrage of reporters’ words and alarming sights … bombs, the Pentagon, fires … Initially, I thought our country was the target of an invasion (based on my mother’s reassurances from Portland) and tried to think of who would have the audacity to launch an attack on America?
Eventually, news reports put the words and pictures into context: there were terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center Twin Towers, the Pentagon, as well as another plane crash, its mission unfulfilled due to a courageous coup by the hijacked passengers, into a vacant field in Pennsylvania.
Professionally, I’ve been a publicist, business development executive and, now, a media consultant and writer. That morning, as I watched jet-fueled planes, filled with innocent civilians, deliberately driven into the Twin Towers, the only words I could verbalize were “oh, my God, oh my God” – literally, a plea or a prayer, but not a phrase I used frivolously or with disrespect.
Unable to move from my spot on the floor, I sat and watched the reports for hours; silent tears streamed from my eyes. I was numb with the horror of what my brain told me was inconceivable.
In the hours and days that followed, the true culprits were revealed: a terrorist group, Al-Qaeda.
2,975 innocent lives were lost on September 11, 2001 (I won’t add the deaths of the 19 terrorists to that toll; they don’t deserve, in my opinion, to be counted among their victims).
The terrorists rejoiced at their success, but I knew they had made a huge mistake. The fiends who planned and carried out their heinous attacks seriously underestimated or misunderstood America. There would be retribution for their lethal schemes and it would be swift and decisive.
While examining the rubble and remains of the Twin Towers in New York City, President George Bush draped his arm around a fireman, and, with megaphone in hand, addressed hundreds of workers and rescuers at the scene. A shout from the crowd; someone couldn’t hear the President’s words:
“I can hear you. I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
– President George W. Bush, September 14, 2001
He kept his word. On October 7, 2001, a strong and effective military strike, Operation Enduring Freedom, was successfully mounted against the terrorists and their supporters in Afghanistan.
“Now, we have inscribed a new memory alongside those others. It’s a memory of tragedy and shock, of loss and mourning. But not only of loss and mourning. It’s also a memory of bravery and self-sacrifice, and the love that lays down its life for a friend – even a friend whose name it never knew. “
– President George W. Bush, December 11, 2001
Eight years after the attacks, I can still recall every emotion I felt that morning, as well as the intensity of the anger and grief that permeated every waking moment. I remember the sight American flags flying from every house, apartment or car – even billboards. It was hard to find an American who wasn’t a patriot – an angry, indignant and injured patriot.
My personal belief system encourages me to forgive and forget, but September 11th is my personal exception. I will never forget and I pray that Americans and the rest of the world will never forget what happened on that day. Sadly, we must continue to keep these memories alive, to remember the fallen – the victims and the heroes. We must remember for the safety of our country, for the protection of our freedom and way of life.
It is vital that we remember every minute of that day, from the moment we first glimpsed those visions of horror on television, as well as the sadness, anger and resolve for retribution that we, as a nation, felt in the days and weeks ahead. We must remember, so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again.