We, in Athens, watched history unfold on live T.V., along with everyone else in America. A jumbo jet, loaded with jet fuel, plunged into the World Trade Center in New York City.
Anyone who had a television, tuned it to the catastrophe. Later that morning, on Sept. 11, 2001, another Boeing 767 slammed into the second WTC tower. A little more than an hour later, a third jumbo jet crashed into The Pentagon in Washington D.C. And there was a fourth jumbo jet crash (more on that later).
Those who were watching these horrific events happen, which was almost everyone, were devastated beyond words. All airports were immediately closed and security was tightened in big cities.
Here in Athens, most people felt that we were safe in a small town in the Ohio hills, at least for the time being. But many felt that we should do something. We couldn’t just sit idly by as our country is being attacked by foreign forces.
So what did we do? We lined up at the gas pumps to fill our tanks. This might seem like a panic reaction, but it was probably a good idea. No one knew if the electric power would be cut or if any more foreign oil would be coming in. While some were waiting in long lines at the gas station, others were glued to their televisions, hanging on every word the news anchors had to say.
As the world stared at the two burning building, the unthinkable happened. At 10:05 a.m., the South Tower collapsed followed by the collapse of the North Tower about 20 minutes later. The buildings fell straight down into themselves. It was an unbelievable sight. It looked like those videos everyone has seen of controlled precision building demolition. The destruction and loss of life of innocent Americans and firefighter heroes all happened within a two-hour period on a Tuesday morning. It was almost too much to take.
Here is a story featuring great American spirit and great American heroes. There was a fourth jumbo jet hijacked by the same group of terrorists. Flight 93 was headed west when the hijackers killed the pilots and made a U turn with the objective to crash into the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. The hijackers herded the passengers to the back of the plane. Some of these passengers used their cell phones to call home and soon learned of the World Trade Center crashes.
At this point the passengers knew that their plane was about to be used as a weapon against America. So they got together and came up with a heroic plan. They knew what they had to do. After a search for anything to be used as a weapon, many prayers, and a final goodbye to their families, one passenger called out: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” and they stormed the cockpit. The plane’s voice recorder recorded a loud struggle and soon the plane went into a dive and crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
All on board died. And at the same time, because of the passengers’ bravery, countless lives were saved and an American symbol of freedom was saved from foreign terror.
After the initial shock of 9/11 had passed, there was the anthrax scare. It was really more than just a scare. American Media Inc., Microsoft, the New York Post, and many high profile individuals received deadly anthrax spores in the mail.
One such letter was sent to Senator Tom Daschle. The return address, printed in childish block letters, all caps, read: “4th GRADE, GREENDALE SCHOOL, FRANKLIN PARK, N.J.” It looked like an innocent school project. It was really an anthrax-spiked letter. There was a “Suspicious Mail Alert” from the United States Post Office posted at every business.
The scare even came to Athens. The Oct. 16, 2001 Athens Messenger headline read: “Powder scare hits McBee.” McBee Systems on East State Street was investigated because of the suspicious powder sitting inside of an envelope along with a letter. McBee was quarantined during the investigation, until it was concluded that the suspect powder was most likely printer’s typeset dust.
In the wake of 9/11, there was a surge of Americanism. Many people flew their flags. The red, white, and blue was everywhere, even in fashion magazines. Patriotism showed up even in the most unlikely places. There is an October 22, 2001 cartoon in The New Yorker. The scene is a sophisticated apartment. Two upper Westside looking couples are talking. A woman with a modern short haircut and a big triangle earring is serving drinks. The other woman, holding on to her husband’s arm says: “We’re still getting used to feeling patriotic.” There was a feeling of unity with all Americans in that first year after 9/11. And that was a good feeling.
Just after the tragedy, The New York Times began a great on going memorial tribute to the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives at the World Trade Center disaster. They featured each person who had died in a short upbeat article with a photo. The write-ups were personal and positive. This is typical line in one of these articles. “…she met Peter Gyulavary, a strapping Australian graduate student 11 years her junior, who in an instant convinced her that soul mates do exist. They were married and had a child, Genevieve.” There were hundreds and hundreds of the tender stories. Several write-ups were published each day. Each one was touching.
Right here in our hometown, there was a heartwarming “Day of Prayer” held on the steps of the Athens County Courthouse on Sept. 14, 2001. Many community members, public officials, firefighters, and law enforcement officers and personnel gathered for prayer and reflection. At the same time, over on the College Green, many Ohio University students met in small groups. They sat in circles, sometimes singing or reading comforting pieces out loud, but mostly grieving in silence.
There are ups and downs in everyone’s personal life. There are ups and downs at work and in every family. There was a saying in England during World War II, “Keep Calm and Carry On.” As people headed toward the safety of the shelters during the nightly bombing raids in London, as the German planes passed overhead, they would pass signs saying “Keep Calm and Carry On”. The Londoners did just that. After the war was over, they rebuilt their cities from the rubble brick by brick.
When tragedies happen, the name of the game is to reestablish peace and balance. It may take a lot of fortitude, but it’s worth the effort. Americans made that effort, and after 9/11, were able to rebuild and carry on.
If anyone has any comment or memories about 9/11, please drop me a note. I will add it to my files. John Halley email@example.com