Photo above: Manhattan, on the morning of September 11, 2001, before the attacks. (YouTube)
September 11, 2015. Just an average day by any standard. In Southern California it means that the morning sky is bright, the sun is hot and we are looking to have another day of near record heat.
Fourteen years ago on this morning, September 11, 2001, the East Coast had a bright sunny day, the kind of day that makes you want to skip out of school or work and spend it outside being light-hearted and capricious. A day you’d want to spend with friends or a lover.
Here on the West Coast I was spending it with a friend, putting mailing labels on newsletters for a service organization. Before that friend arrived however, while pouring coffee, having a bowl of cereal and getting the folded newsletters ready to be labeled, I turned on the TV — MSNBC or CNN, one of the two, just happened to be what came on — and live from Lower Manhattan: smoke was billowing from the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.
Everything stopped in that little condominium as the melee of what was the only news (it more resembled televised mayhem) rolled across the screen. News crews were not reporting it as much as they were getting engulfed in the events, realizing that as correspondents they too were becoming a part of the story. Many were unable to mask their emotions as the terror unfolded.
We were under attack from terrorists. Shortly after I began watching, a third plane hit the Pentagon and then there were split screens from Washington, DC and New York City.
Then video began coming into the two news channels, CNN and MSNBC, shot earlier in the day, when the two planes hit the Twin Towers, the first one at 8:46 a.m. and the second at 9:03 a.m., Eastern Time. I had turned on the television just after the second plane hit.
That was about the time I called Carl, who had left for his job minutes before I woke up. He asked me to record some of it since he would not be home for at least eight hours.
Although the horror had begun nearly an hour before I tuned in, it was still very fresh for everyone. Information — accurate information — was scarce, so flipping from one channel to another became a non-stop activity.
After many minutes of recorded imagery — what felt like hours — the broadcasts went live once again, as the first tower collapsed and then about 20 minutes later the second tower. By this time one side of the Pentagon was on fire, having been a target for one of the planes.
Where was President Bush, Vice President Cheney, cabinet members and members of Congress? All of that was getting sorted out, in the way only live TV could: with conflicting reports. Both houses of Congress were in session, quickly adjourned once the gravity of the day was known. The president was in Florida to promote the “No Child Left Behind” bill, reading a story to young children. Vice President Cheney might have been in his office, but soon we were told he was in an undisclosed location.
He had to be, we didn’t know how many more planes had been hijacked. Every flight over North America was immediately grounded and every plane on its way to our shores was turned away. Every plane but one, United Flight 93, from Newark, NJ to San Francisco, CA. It had turned around over Lake Erie and began its flight to the nation’s capital.
United 93 didn’t make it to its target because the passengers, connected by cell phones to their friends and families, knew what was about to happen if they did nothing. So they did something, knowing that the odds of survival were so slight it couldn’t be described in realistic terms.
Although the passengers of Flight 93 didn’t gain control of that plane, they forced the hijackers to crash in an empty, almost forgotten strip mine outside of Shanksville, PA.
Memorial to the Brave
Four years ago the ceremony for the unveiling of the Flight 93 Memorial in that now bucolic field was taking place. Speakers included two former presidents, George W. Bush and William J Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.
It was a stirring memorial. All three had deep emotion in their words, but none more so than George W. Bush, the sitting president on the day of the attacks.
Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky read two poems, “Souvenir of the Ancient World” by Carlos Drummond de Andrade and “Incantation” by Czeslaw Milosz, moving pieces, one of memories of beautiful moments passed and the other en homage to the invincible spirit of truth and justice.
Then Pinsky recited the names of the 40 average, yet heroic, passengers of Flight 93 as rescue workers who were in that field 10 years ago rang the bells once for each name, including an unborn child.
The pictures of those 40 individuals were displayed one at a time on the screen as Sarah McClachlan sang her song, “I Will Remember You.” And then one more time as the ceremony ended, when McClachlan sang another of her songs, “Angel.”
Earlier in the day, former president George W. Bush, along with Vice President Biden and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, joined Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at a special memorial at the site of the attack on the Pentagon, starting this weekend of remembrance.
So, what happens now, 14 years, two wars (with continued conflict) later? The leader of Al Qa’ida, Usama bin Laden, is dead, along with thousands of his companions. The mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, is stuffed away in a military prison, which is a blight on our reputation as a nation of laws and humanity. But that reputation went out the window long ago when it was revealed we torture prisoners. Maybe before then when we learned that “we” fomented civil wars and violence in other countries if our leaders didn’t like someone or a ruling party.
The worst outcome of 9/11 is we’ve become a nation ruled by fear. We allowed a president to start an unprovoked war — based on lies — xenophobia and racism are openly and unapologetically displayed and voiced, not just by some crazy fringe groups and individuals, but politicians as well. That’s a legacy of 9/11: fear and irrational words and actions.
As a result of the 9/11 Commission we found out that a couple years before the attacks took place our leaders, President Clinton and his national security team were afraid to pull the trigger on cruise missile strikes that could have killed the leadership of Al Qa’ida — but they didn’t due to fears of killing possible innocents and they were afraid of prosecution.
George Tenet was the director of the CIA at the time and in the 9/11 hearings flat out admitted he didn’t do it because he didn’t want to be the one holding the bag if charges were brought up for killing someone, on foreign soil, without so much as a pretrial motion in a U.S. court of law. Before 9/11 we just didn’t assassinate people around the world. America just didn’t do that sort of thing and besides it is against international law.
Now we have a president who can’t get enough of drone strikes, taking out terrorists and collateral victims alike.
“Hey! This guy acts like a terrorist.”
There’s nothing else to say really, other than 2,752 died on that day and thousands more as a result. But, as a reminder of who we are as a nation, the best of America was also on display that day, with individual acts of courage so numerous, you couldn’t write about a few without slighting the memory of the hundreds of others.
There are thousands of heroes wearing uniforms, or wore uniforms when they selflessly gave themselves so others could survive. Also among our American heroes are the average folks without uniforms, but uniform in their willingness to risk their lives so others can go on living. Like the passengers and crew of United Flight 93 and Cyril Richard “Rick” Rescorla, the security chief for Morgan-Stanley-Dean Ritter on September 11, 2001.
Rescorla anticipated the attacks on the World Trade Center and started fire and escape drills for his company that eventually saved over 2,500 lives that day. After WTC1 was hit.
Rescorla ignored the building managers who were telling everyone to stay put, and started evacuating the people in his offices. Before he and the last few could get out, the second plane hit WTC2. He didn’t survive.
Ironically, Rescorla survived the 1965 Battle of Ia Drang, during the Vietnam War. A book was written about that fight, We Were Soldiers Once … And Young, that eventually became a movie.
There were thousand of heroes that day and whether or not they wore uniforms doesn’t really matter. Without intention or expectation of reward, they did what needed to be done and many of those heroes gave their lives as a result. So we remember them and all those who died September 11, 2001.
Tim Forkes started as a writer on a small alternative newspaper in Milwaukee called the Crazy Shepherd. Writing about entertainment, he had the opportunity to speak with many people in show business, from the very famous to the people struggling to find an audience. In 1992 Tim moved to San Diego, CA and pursued other interests, but remained a freelance writer. Upon arrival in Southern California he was struck by how the elected government officials and business were so intertwined, far more so than he had witnessed in Wisconsin. His interest in entertainment began to wane and the business of politics took its place. He had always been interested in politics, his mother had been a Democratic Party official in Milwaukee, WI, so he sat down to dinner with many of Wisconsin’s greatest political names of the 20th Century: William Proxmire and Clem Zablocki chief among them. As a Marine Corps veteran, Tim has a great interest in veteran affairs, primarily as they relate to the men and women serving and their families. As far as Tim is concerned, the military-industrial complex has enough support. How the men and women who serve are treated is reprehensible, while in the military and especially once they become veterans. Tim would like to help change that.