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September 11, 2006

Where Were You, Daddy

I suppose it is inevitable that, like my parents' generation before me, I will be subject to the question "where were you on September 11, 2001 daddy?" or words to that effect.

I was driving to work in Minneapolis at about 8:00 am or so Central Time. I was listening to KTIS, the local Christian radio station. Between songs, one of the DJs, Chuck Knapp, mentioned that it was being reported that a small plane had hit the World Trade Center. This was not a "we interrupt this program" report, just a between songs break for regular news.

I remember my thoughts: A real tragedy, especially for the occupant(s) of the plane. I hope nobody inside the building was hurt. I did not, however, think it was a major problem.

I recalled that, in 1945, a B-25 bomber hit the Empire State Building. I thought this was nothing more than a modern, but perhaps smaller, version of that tragedy.

I parked and walked to my building. As I stood on a corner waiting for the light, I overheard a woman and a man talking excitedly, with the woman saying that "two planes" had crashed into the World Trade Center. I scoffed in my head at the way in which a story quickly gets blown out of proportion. Of course, I had just heard the news report, and the real story. So, I shook my head (without saying anything) and crossed. One small plane hitting the World Trade Center is a tragedy, but a routine tragedy. My mind, of course, could not comprehend, or accept, two planes hitting the Towers. Because, of course, that would not be an accident.

In the event, I got in the elevator and went to the 27th floor. People were talking quietly and nobody appeared to be working. There were snatches of conversation that I overheard that made it clear that something was definitely wrong, but I was still none the wiser.

I entered my office, powered up the computer and tried the CNN website. It was down, as were the other news sites. I called my wife at home and asked her to turn on the news.

She turned on the television--"oh my God, the building is on fire, there are going to be people dying in there" was what I heard next. Then, "both buildings are on fire."

I knew then that we had been hit by terrorism (as did everybody else, of course).

I hung up a few minutes later and walked around the floor. I spoke with people, we were all dazed of course. It was still beyond comprehension.

Some time later, I went to the office of one of my partners who had a TV in his office. Right before that, the first tower had collapsed and we were watching the immediate aftermath. My partner said something to the effect of "who did this." I knew. After Khobar Towers, after the embassy attacks and after the Stark, I knew exactly who did this. I was also aware that US intelligence officials had announced a few days earlier that signals were indicating that al Queda was actively planning something, and that another Stark-type attack was possible. Of course, that was a feint to draw attention to the Arabian Gulf, and away from home.

So many images from that day linger. One personal image occurred when I was looking out of my office window. My office overlooked the Mississippi, and the contrast from looking out over the deep peaceful blue of the river, and the images on the TV, was stark. I looked up, and followed an airplane high overhead making a puffy contrail as it flew from West to East. Abruptly, however, it made a 90 degree turn north, and headed for Canada. US airspace had just been closed. Today I can imagine the frustration of those people over the next few days, as they tried to get home--their trips interrupted. Today, such an interruption would be a major event. That day, though, it was a very small thing in a world that changed in an instant.

I don't know what to say, five years later. As a country, we have gone back to business as almost usual. That is good and bad. We are not nearly as focused on terrorism, or al Queda, as we were then. That, too, is good and bad. We cannot ever go back to before September 11. However, we all need to work together on how to live past September 11.

Posted by Mark at September 11, 2006 08:00 AM

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