Very few days are so embedded in my mind as to recall almost every moment of the day. Among them are November 22, 1963 when I was a sophomore in High School and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, my final trip home from Vietnam and the days my daughters were born. Ten years ago, September 11, 2001 was added.
Like most of the rest in America, I went to bed the night of September 10 with few cares or worries in regards to terrorism. I recall hearing that terrorist chatter had increased in the weeks leading up to the fateful day, but our embassies and posts overseas were put on alert, not America. The idea that we were going to be sucker punched just didn’t occur to us. After all, except for the February 26, 1993 attempted bombing of the World Trade Center, all terrorist activity remained outside of our borders.
A little after 6 AM my clock/radio went off that Tuesday morning. Unlike the rest of the days, I did not hear the music I was used to hearing, but heard news of the World Trade Center being on fire, having been hit by an airplane. Like I’m sure many others did, I assumed another accident, a wayward airplane of some sort impacting the building as happened back in 1945 when a B-25 bomber flew into the Empire State Building.
I turned on CNN News and was shocked to see the smoke pouring out of the building. I tried understanding how an aircraft could just fly into the building, seeing it was such a clear day. I began thinking it was a novice pilot in small plane as even the news wasn’t saying it was a passenger airplane yet.
Being in the Northwest, much had already happened as I continued viewing CNN and trying to wrap my groggy mind around what was unfolding before my eyes.
All notions of an accident disappeared quickly when I saw the second airplane hit and explode. My wife was just waking up herself and asking what was happening. I just looked at her and very somberly said, “We’re at war,” and remembering my own time in Vietnam.
I continued watching, feeling numb, not knowing what would come next. The news spoke of the Pentagon being hit, aircraft being grounded and mass confusion it seemed as they tried to land all of the across the country.
News came out that some could not be located and fighters were scrambled to seek them out.
This is not my America, I thought. We do not come under attack like this. We learned our lesson at Pearl Harbor decades earlier.
This was not the world I fell asleep in just last night. How did we change so rapidly and overnight? How did all of our high tech defenses fail to prevent this?
Two names entered my head, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Both had been irritants to our country for some time and had been in the news frequently for a number of years.
I thought about my sons-in-law, both being of age to be called if a draft was reinstated. I thought of my grandson, one a toddler and the other an infant and would they be in danger. I thought of my daughter in Dallas, Texas, far away from where I might protect her. But overall, I was just stunned to see what was unfolding in front of me on TV. Scenes switched back and forth between New York and Washington D.C. with reports of as many as 10,000 people may be trapped in the World Trade Centers.
The TV screen switched back to New York for a breaking news moment, the reporter said. Behind him, he began describing another explosion maybe, a lot more smoke pouring out of the south tower and him saying he couldn’t tell for sure what was happening.
I yelled back at him through the TV, “My God, you can’t tell the building is collapsing?” Again, my thoughts went to all who were trapped, feeling surely no one could get out in time.
By now, it was time for me to go to work and I set off, still trying to wrap my mind around what was going on as I drove. Somewhere along the drive I realized some of my senses from Vietnam had returned as I was watching the roadside, watching the skies and looking at other people very warily.
During the time I drove to work the North Tower collapsed as well.
The radio was on at work all day as updates continued. President Bush came on speaking of the tragedy. News of Flight 93 crashing came out as well as warnings throughout the day of other buildings being weakened, leaning and expected to also collapse, WTC 7 doing just that later in the day.
I don’t think many of us accomplished much work that day, all trying to come to grips with what happened and how did it happen.
Within weeks, we invaded Afghanistan followed by Iraq a couple years later.
I saw Americans come together as I had never seen before. The divisions that still existed since Vietnam seemed to have been put aside as Democrat and Republican alike rallied behind President Bush and our Troops. The few anti-war voices raised were quickly ignored and cast aside.
For a little while, at least.
As tragic as was the terrorist attacks, those that twisted our intent in finally fighting back for political gain were even worse.
The divisions seen during the years of Vietnam returned. Those directing the defense of America were demonized and ridiculed. Incidents against our Troops were much less than during returning Vietnam Veterans, thanks in large part to Vietnam Veterans who as a group vowed “Never Again.”
Very craftily, America was changed from being the victim to being the aggressor by those who twisted events and used every incident possible to score political points, some right within America’s government.
After at least 15 Terrorist Attacks against American interests between 1979 and 2001, it was time to fight back, not score political points.