In just over a week, we’ll mark the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.
It’s hard to believe that ten years has gone by that fast yet like most of you, I can recall it very clearly.
[Funny—I wish I could remember everything in the past so clearly—well, most things. Some I have pushed out for good reason.]
On the morning of 9/11, we were buying a car. My wife and I left home to trade in our Jeep Cherokee because we had owned it for a few years and were having electrical problems with it—including the AM/FM radio which didn’t work. We left the house without turning on the television so we had no idea what was going on.
We left around 9 a.m., which was some 14 minutes after Flight 11 hit the north side of the North Tower and about a minute or two before Flight 175 hit the South Tower.
We drove to Gainesville from Forsyth County and stopped at the Nissan dealer first. This was about 9:50 a.m., some 13 minutes after Flight 77 crashed into the side of the Pentagon.
I hate buying cars. I envision the pending “Attack of the Sales People.”
I slowly opened the big glass doors and walked into the showroom expecting that “they” would see us, turn, and come at us like zombies with cheesy grins and business card in hand.
We walked in, stood, looked around, and saw nothing. No sales people standing around, no cheesy grins, no zombies, nothing!
The reception desk was empty. There were no sales people pushing each other out of the way to get to us, no one at all. I looked at my wife and said, “Where are they? They usually start running after your car when you hit the parking lot!” Then I thought: “Oh God! We’ve walked into a robbery!”
I thought about dropping behind the new car on the floor and low-crawling around to the side to get a good shooting angle like they do in the movies but Sandy reminded me that our guns were safely tucked away in the car.
All we heard was the echo of a television. The sound came from the rear of the showroom and around the corner. We followed the sound until we came upon a dozen or so people, huddled up in front of a small television in the customer lounge. I looked at the television screen and saw the smoke from the two towers.
“Two planes hit the World Trade Center Buildings,” said a woman who never took her eyes off the screen.
We sat and watched for a while until we pulled ourselves away. After all, we needed to at least look at some cars.
We looked, didn’t find anything to our liking, and then moved on to a couple of other car dealers, each time stopping in to watch the updates on the television in the customer lounges.
They were reporting the Pentagon had been hit and now I was thinking that maybe there were more targets that were going to be hit—maybe dozens of targets. Maybe here, Lockheed or worse, the CDC Center could be on the list. This was the first time that I actually felt that this country was vulnerable and someone was coming after us.
It wasn’t a good feeling.
Later in the day, we headed home with a newer model Jeep Cherokee (one that would have the same electrical problems in a few years) and we listened to the radio. Everything was about the attacks. We arrived home, parked ourselves in front of the TV, and just watched. After a couple of hours I realized that I needed to get away and find some temporary sanity.
I plucked a cigar from my stash, grabbed a beer and the closest domestic animals from the herd, and I took a position on the back deck, watching the trees and listening to nothing in particular.
When your mind is bouncing around from bombardment of something so significant, and you have the opportunity to sit in silence, your mind continues to race.
I remember thinking that nothing would ever be the same.
The last time that I can tell you exactly what I was doing on a certain day is when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
[I know what you’re saying: “Steve? Impossible, he doesn’t look that old.]
I was in the fifth grade and outside playing when the teacher came out and told everyone what was going on. I don’t remember if we were sent home or not but I do remember some kid laughing about it. Blissful juvenile ignorance I guess. I remember sitting in the living room with my parents, watching the funeral procession going up Pennsylvania Avenue. What I remember most was the sound of the drumbeat, as a horse-drawn cart took the casket to the Capitol.
I also remember sitting in the living room and watching Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald as they took him through the basement full of reporters, camera crews, onlookers, and a guy who wanted to kill him.
I remember feeling really insecure about all of that. Life wasn’t all “everything is okay at the end of the day” anymore.
9/11 taught us countless lessons including the fact that there are people out there who hate us and they want us dead and they want this country to go down the tubes. For those reasons, we should always remember how we got to this point and how nothing should ever get in the way of our preparation of the next 9/11 which many people in the intelligence community think is only a matter of time.
In 2006, then-SSPD Polic Chie Gene Wilson placed a fallen hero Sept. 11 decal on every patrol car believing that we were beginning to forget about 9/11, and going back to the mindset that nothing would happen to us on U.S. soil.
SSPD Chief Terry Sult created a Homeland Security office within SSPD and provided then, and now, very good training by experts in the field of terrorism, gathering intelligence, recognizing the signs, and communicating with one another in law enforcement. There is no excuse for not being prepared. On the Sandy Springs Police website (www.sandyspringspolice.org) you’ll find a piece on the Department of Homeland Security’s campaign:
Take time and read it and know that this is not something to see on television that is happening to someone else, but something that affects all of us. Those victims, who that morning went to work at the World Trade Center, not thinking that they would later have to decide to jump to their death rather than burn to death, were you and me—just plain folks. Just imagine what they went through the last moments of their lives.
If the security line at the airport is a pain in the fanny or you’re offended that you got a pat-down when you didn’t get one the time before, remember almost 3,000 people died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Keep your personal inconveniences in perspective and above all, don’t ever, ever forget what you felt on Sept. 11, 2001.