What were you doing the moment you learned that two jet airliners had hit the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001? I posed that question this morning on Facebook, and this response from a high school friend sent a chill down my spine:
“I was in my Manhattan apartment, which was above a fire station. Despite seeing the second plane hit on live TV, I still headed for work, where I knew I’d have a landline phone and internet access. As I left my building, I saw the fire engines roar out of the station, heading downtown. Hours later, when I returned, candles and flowers already adorned the sidewalk in front of the station, and teary-eyed people stood around comforting each other. Just about all of the men I watched depart never made it back.”
My own recollections of that day are not nearly as powerful, but they are as crisp in my mind as if they had happened last week. My wife and I had returned from our honeymoon just a few days prior, and were settling into our life together in south Kansas City. The morning of Sept. 11, I got into my car around 7:30 a.m. and turned on the local sports talk radio show. The discussion about the Chiefs’ home opener quickly turned to a plane that had crashed into the World Trade Center. From the way it was being reported, I thought that a small aircraft had hit the skyscraper. When I arrived at The Kansas City Business Journal, my coworkers were watching a television in the conference room, which beamed footage of smoke and fire coming from the North Tower. Moments later, a very large commercial jet hit the South Tower, and all of us rushed into the newsroom to figure out how to cover the story from our eighth floor office in the middle of the country.
The rest of the day was a flurry of phone calls to public officials and updates to our web site, punctuated by one tower collapsing, then the other, then the attack on the Pentagon, then the crash in Pennsylvania. At one point, all the government buildings in our city were closed and cordoned off from traffic. It sounds silly now, but it seemed very possible that, at any moment, a hijacked airliner could suddenly crash into downtown Kansas City. At some point I returned home from work, and we watched the news late into the evening.
Thinking back on the events of that day, it’s hard to believe that it happened 12 years ago. The memories are still fresh, still painful, and most of what I experienced came from television footage. I can only imagine what it was like to be in New York or Washington on that day. Sept. 11 changed everything. Its anniversary is another annual reminder that we still have yet to recover from it.
Image from Washingtonpost.com.