Saturday, September 11, 2004

Past and Future

Today is the third anniversary of 9/11.

There's a lot packed into those 7 words. Like most people, I can remember that day with crystal clarity. I suppose most people can do that, just as our parents can remember where they were when JFK was shot, or when they heard Pearl Harbor was bombed.

Like most people on the East Coast, I was at work. I work in IT (Information Technology), running a small IT shop. The day was beautiful--sunny and temperate. No one particularly felt like working, and all of us were sort of cutting up and goofing off. The phone rang.

"Do you suppose we should put out an announcement over the network?" It was the boss's boss's administrative assistant.

I asked her "An announcement about what?" She sounded upset, and I went on guard. I don't deal well with upset women.

"A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. It's on fire, and they say a lot of people are dead."

I told her that I didn't think that was necessary, but if her boss thought I should do it, I'd be happy to do so. She told me that I was probably right, and hung up.

I had no idea that I'd just received notice that the world had just irrevocably changed.

I told the people in the office with me what was going on. One woman rushed upstairs to our marketing department, where there was always a TV. I started looking on the Internet for news or New York City webcams. I found news on several sites, but it was sketchy. Web cams were mostly unreachable. I did find one in New Jersey that looked at Manhattan. It showed a plume of smoke rising over the lower part of the island.

I finally found a stream from WABC-TV, and kept it on. By the time I found it, another plane had hit the WTC, and rumors of other crashes was rampant.

I remember that when I heard of the first crash, I wondered how any idiot of a pilot could hit a building on a clear day. When I heard about the second, I knew that this wasn't an accident. I called my wife at her work, and we decided that neither the kids or ourselves were in any immediate danger.

The woman who had went upstairs came back to the office, in tears. "One of the buildings collapsed" was all we could understand.

Bullshit. These things are built to withstand planes crashing into them. The Empire State Building was hit by a B-25 and survived. I went upstairs to marketing, and was greeted by the instant replay. I couldn't deny the evidence my eyes gave me. By the time I got back to my desk, WABC was playing it on the stream.

Then the second tower went down. Reports of the Pentagon attack were showing up. Rumors of others kept flying. The Air Force was in the air, with orders to shoot down any plane that looked like it was going to crash into a building.

Word was spreading rapidly through work. I don't remember who had the idea, but we scrounged a TV, got our big LCD projector unit, and threw the local FOXNews affiliate up on a screen in our largest meeting room. All but the most essential work stopped as people gathered.

By the end of that day, we were all emotionally exhausted and in shock. All air travel had been stopped, and we had people stuck in a couple of places around the country, trying desperately to get back to their families.

It continued. The TV in the meeting room ran all day, every day. People ate their lunches there. We kept hoping for survivors in the wreckage of the towers, but none were found. We wanted hard news--who did this to us? Suspicions of Al Queida were voiced, but we didn't know. And we wanted to know.

My employers draw employees from all over the country. We found out that one of us had a niece in one of the towers. She was safe. Another had a brother-in-law in one of the towers. He was missing.

We all speculated. Many of us wanted blood. A few misguided souls tried to say that we had brought this on ourselves, that it was our fault. Those of us who were angriest decided that free speech wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and told them exactly what we thought of them and their ideas.

Friendships were broken in those days, and new ones formed. I suspect one of my employees left shortly thereafter because I crawled down his throat when he voiced one of those opinions. Sorry, but I simply can't stomach those who won't open their eyes. I wasn't that sorry to see him go.

The brother-in-law was found, in a hospital, 3 days later. He had head injuries and no ID. (He has totally recovered since then. Another 9/11 miracle, I guess.)

Our lives continued. In October, a long-planned trip to the beach went on as planned. Some people thought we were crazy. I told them that if we stayed at home, the SOBs won.

Emerald Isle, NC is near Jacksonville, home of Camp Lejeune. The day after we arrived, one of the MEUs returned home from deployment. We watched it from the beach. The planes and choppers flew overhead. I had a big flag where they could see it--I hoped.

My kids complained about the noise. I used the old line "That's the sound of your freedom." I had been in the Army, and had heard these noises before. But they meant a lot more to me now. The howl of a jet engine sounded comforting. I prayed for all these men passing overhead. I suspected what was coming soon. I tried to explain to my kids that these men were why we could come to the beach in safety, even with what had just happened. I hope they understood--understand.

Three years later, I still fly my flag on my house. I've went through 2 of the magnetic ones on each vehicle. I still pray for those men and women overseas who fight over there so we don't have to fight over here. I work, in my small way, to see President Bush reelected so we can win this war.

I've made other preparations, just in case. I've always believed in being prepared, I'm far more so now.

Normal means something different now.

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