Twelve Years Later and it Still Feels Like Yesterday
Ask me what I had for dinner last night and I can't tell you. Ask me when we're supposed to bring snacks for my son's soccer team and I can't remember. Ask me where I was when I first saw a plane slam into the World Trade Center and it jumps to the front of my brain instantly.
It's been twelve years. We've killed Osama. We're winding down our war in Afghanistan. The memorials have been erected. We've suffered through other unimaginable attacks both at home and abroad, and yet this date stands out like no other since Pearl Harbor. This was the first time several generations of Americans had felt the pain of an attack on American soil.
Sure, we got hit in the early 90s at the exact same location, but other than seeing the news footage of people walking out with (mostly) minor wounds most of us didn't think too much about it. Maybe it was because I was only a 14 year old boy, and I didn't have the capacity to allow that affect me in the way I was affected twelve years ago. I lived right outside Washington, DC at the time, yet I felt completely insulated against the worst the world could throw my way.
That attitude changed, not when I was first told a plane flew into the WTC, but when I flipped the channel to see the second plane fly into the second tower live on TV. I was on the air in Waco at the time, and we had just come across a "this date in history" tidbit weeks earlier about a plane that crashed into the Empire State Building by accident during World War II. My first thought was that it was an accident. As soon as that second plane hit, my world changed forever.
I can't remember the exact wording my brother (my co-host at the time) and I used to describe what we were seeing, but I do remember the song we were playing right before we came on to inform our audience our nation was under attack. Pink Floyd's "Mother". Even if you're not a fan of Floyd, it's still worth a look at the irony of the song's lyrics. My wife (-to-be at the time) is the one that told me about that song playing because she had been listening when she heard us announce the news.
Soon after news of the attack on the Pentagon and the subsequent crash in Pennsylvania we all realized this wasn't just some lone nut jobs with an ax to grind. We knew this was a coordinated, well-planned attack, but we didn't know whether or not it was all over. People were scared. The images of dust-covered victims running for their lives, live on TV, was one of the most powerful images that stick in my head. Yet, through all the passing along of news of the attacks and then the rumors that more planes could be in the air and possibly heading for the Western White House in Crawford I never once felt scared.
I've always wondered how I'd react in an emergency situation. Would I step up? Would I shrink from the moment? Neither. I'm apparently best at talking about it, because as long as I was behind the mic I was on a mission. This is a time before the internet exploded onto everyone's phones, and for the listeners of my radio station at the time I was the sole source of information at the time. I took pride in that. I felt as if I'd done my part for the day. Little did I know it was all just beginning, both for me and for the country.
A plan was soon put in place to take live news coverage from one of the TV networks through our satellites, and I went from being on the "front lines" of the news to being just another spectator. For the first time I had a few moments to collect my thoughts. I met up with my wife at Pancho's for lunch. We sat and talked about what we'd seen and heard. We talked about our upcoming wedding, and how our honeymoon to NYC might not happen. We talked about what it would be like to bring a baby into this new world sometime in the near future.
I wouldn't be back on the radio for several days. We stayed with non-stop satellite coverage for what felt like forever. When we finally came back on-air it wasn't anything as emotional or poignant as SNL's first show back, but for those in Central Texas that gave their ears to us for four hours a day it brought back the first sense of normalcy. For those directly affected by this attack, the normalcy would never return.
As we went back to our lives, thousands bravely volunteered to hunt down the men responsible for the attacks. Many from that day, and many thousands more to come, would lay down their lives to ensure an attack like this will never happen again on our soil. We'll never be a country impervious to outside, or even inside, attacks against our freedom and way of life. As much of a beacon of light as we are for the poor, the hungry and the weak, we're a lightening rod for those that want to see that light extinguished.