Most people of a certain age can tell you exactly where they were on Sept. 11, 2001.
Like the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., or the explosions of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles, vivid sights and sounds enrich our memories of that day in ways that make it unforgettable.
I remember it was a Tuesday morning, and I had just risen after working late the night before at the newspaper. I rolled off my side of the bed and reached to grab the remote for the little television atop the dresser. I pressed the red power button and waited to see what the news of the day might be.
My wife had left the house already to take the children to school, and my only company was the little flatscreen coming to life.
The “Today” show was responding to reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. Images on the screen showed smoke pouring from the North Tower. Early speculation was there had been some sort of horrible mistake by air traffic controllers. I flipped channels, trying to see what the other networks were broadcasting.
I heard my wife’s keys jingle as the front door opened at the other end of the hallway. She called out, “What is going on?!? The people on the radio are saying …”
As she spoke, a second plane appeared on the television screen and vanished into the side of the South Tower.
“Turn on the TV!” I yelled. “Somebody is trying to blow up the World Trade Center!” A fireball erupted from the other side of the building and debris rained onto the street below.
We watched with the rest of the world as smoke billowed from the burning buildings. Later came the terrible sights of desperate people trying to escape the flames. Then came the collapse of the towers, first one and then the other, and the manic crowds evading the rubble and soot.
I had called the newspaper office and asked whether I needed to come in. “Not yet,” was the answer. “They’re working on a bulldog.”
I didn’t know that term at the time, but a bulldog is the early edition of a daily paper. Bulldog editions are the ones you see in movies, dropped on street corners for vendors to hold up and call out to passersby, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”
It was unusual for us to do a bulldog, but the news warranted the special effort. I was sure my immediate supervisor in online already had a plan for the newspaper’s website. In the whirlwind of the day’s news cycle, I realized my call to the newsroom probably was as much of a nuisance as anything.
I was watching from the sidelines like so many others. I felt useless, but my feelings didn’t matter that day.
As we come to the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, which will be commemorated. I ask myself, what about Sept. 12? What about Sept. 13 and the days, weeks and months that followed? Didn’t we try to get along then? Didn’t we forget the usual silly things that divided us? Didn’t we unite in the face of a common foe?
Sure, there were snags. It wasn’t long after the tragedies before conspiracy theories started: The president knew beforehand! The Pentagon was hit by missiles, not a plane! The military shot down that plane in Pennsylvania! The Twin Towers didn’t fall, they were blown up from the inside!
But we brushed aside that ignorance to rally behind the notion the terrorists would not win, that they would not change us and make us give up our ways of life. They would not make us forsake our freedoms.
Years later, that kind of unity feels like a relic of a bygone era. Why can’t we come together now like we did then? We face a foe that’s claimed 600,000 souls, more than 200 times as many who died that horrible day 20 years ago. Why aren’t we all chipping in?
When President George W. Bush declared, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” some criticized the provocative divisiveness of his statement. At least back then we looked abroad for threats.
Now we can’t even get along with ourselves.
We owe it to ourselves and the memories of the many people who died that day to remember the commonality we sought after they perished. We should remember and seek it again.
Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CITY TO MARK 20TH ANNIVERSARY OF 9/11
The City of Beaufort invites area residents to a ceremony Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Henry C. Chambers Waterfront Park to mark the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.
The 7 p.m. ceremony will pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the attacks and those who saved countless lives. The ceremony will feature the Parris Island Marine Corps Band and the Beaufort Mass Choir. USMC Col. Timothy R. Dremann, chief of staff at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, will speak. Luminarias will be lit in the park as part of the ceremony.
Attendees are encouraged to bring their own chairs and blankets to the ceremony.
– Staff reports