Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering the Horrors of September 11, Ten Years Later

These are my thoughts on remembering September 11, 2001, and the aftermath of the terrorist attack that killed 3000+ Americans. There will be a few baseball-related comments, but most of this post is going to be about 9/11. If you can't bear to read anything more on the subject, I will totally understand -- we do try to keep this blog all about New York baseball, but I feel like I have to say something today about the 10th anniversary of September 11.

I woke up that Tuesday morning in 2001 around noon. At the time, I worked nights as a web editor for the New York Daily News. That night was a particularly late evening at work, as the Giants were on Monday Night Football, and I worked until after 3 a.m. or so, and didn't get to sleep around 5. When my clock radio went off that morning, there was a reporter on the news talking about being on the site of the World Trade Center. I didn't know what he was talking about; even in my groggy state, I remembered that the anniversary of the 1993 attack on the building was in February, so I couldn't understand what the report was about.

Then I got up, looked at my computer, and saw on the Daily News home page that the Twin Towers were destroyed, and the Pentagon hit. How could the World Trade Center be destroyed? How could the Pentagon have been attacked? It seemed like a nightmare too bad to be true; I thought I was having a bad reaction from having taken a Tylenol P.M. the night before or something. Even after talking to several friends on the phone asking what happened, I didn't quite believe the Twin Towers were gone until physically walking up Staten Island's Richmond Terrace until I could see the skyline. When I saw two huge plumes of smoke where the Twin Towers used to be, the horrific truth was confirmed, and my jaw dropped.

I had moved to Staten Island the year before when I started working at the News, and one of the things I cherished was seeing the skyline every day on my drive to work. I used to make sure and look for the Twin Towers each time I passed it by. Now I would never see those buildings again. For years afterward, I couldn't even bear to look at the skyline, finding it too sad. Come to think of it, the New York City skyline has never looked quite right to me since the World Trade Center was destroyed. Still doesn't.

I never made it into work that day, as all the Staten Island bridges were closed, and the Staten Island Ferry wasn't running to Manhattan. But Squawker Jon did. He was called in early by our boss after the second tower was hit, and worked all day, putting up stories on the web site about the horrors. Back then, it was expected that maybe 10,000 of our countrymen were dead. We also didn't know at first about Flight 93.

The next day, I went back to work after a very long commute into the city. You could smell the burning Twin Towers from West 33rd Street. That first evening back, there was an emergency evacuation of the building. I remember a big, burly guy from the sports department barreling past me on his way down the stairs. People were scared out of their minds then, and rightfully so.

Some of that time after 9/11 is a blur. Other things I remember clearly, like walking around town and seeing all the handmade "Missing" signs. Or seeing Staten Island firefighters in formal dress over and over, them attending yet another funeral. (My borough lost close to 300 citizens, a good portion of them firefighters and police officers raising their families in Staten Island).  The sound of bagpipes. You couldn't get away from thinking about 9/11 every minute, especially working at a daily newspaper. While we didn't lose anybody we know, we lost almost 3000 of our fellow New Yorkers. I think I might have cried every day for a good two months afterwards.

(Note: After reading this, Squawker Jon reminded me of the anthrax attacks on media companies during that time, and how we were all afraid to get the mail at our office. That's something I had kind of blocked out over the years!)

But there were moments that we cheered, like when watching the defiant, passionate "Concert for New York" on TV.  Even Yankee fans like me rooted for the Mets to beat the Braves that Friday night (although I knew things had changed forever when I saw Chipper Jones get hugged by Mets players!)

Then there was the Yankees' playoff run, with even some Red Sox fans cheering for New York. My memories of the World Series that I like to remember are President Bush throwing out the first pitch for a strike in Game 3, Challenger flying into Yankee Stadium that night. And, of course, the Yankees going deep against Kim two nights in a row to win Games 4 and 5. And the gut punch that was Game 7 of that World Series just seemed cruel, although it did put a smile on Squawker Jon's face!

In the months following the horrors, we all kind of waited for the other shoe to drop. People were scared, and sad, and angry. The latter is something I think has been forgotten since 2001. There's been a mountain of news coverage this week, most focused on the sadness back then, and very little about the anger many of us felt back then. I remember how filled with rage I was that those bastards attacked us. This morning, when I saw Google's "Remembering September 11" link today describing the day this way: "The events of September 11, 2001 changed the lives of so many people around the world," and never mentioning that it was a terrorist attack, not just some random sad thing, I got ticked off all over again. Spare me the euphemisms, please.

We also don't do enough remembering of those who lost their lives in the wars after 9/11. The closest thing to a memorial that they have now is Section 60 of Arlington Memorial Cemetery. I went there with my brother on Christmas 2007, to see our father's grave there -- he had died on September 10 that year. I held up okay after seeing our father's tombstone for the first time, but completely lost it when I saw the graves of those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of them in their teens and early 20s. In addition to thinking about those who lost their lives in 9/11, today I'm remembering those who lost their lives after 9/11 in service to their country.

What do you think? Tell us about it!

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