It happened a year after my family and I moved to Long Valley, NJ from The Netherlands. It was early in the morning on a crisp autumn day. Other middle schoolers on the bus were talking, laughing, and listening to music – any ordinary day. When we gathered in eighth grade home room before classes began, it was “zero period.” Teachers guided us to the library and we learned about several attacks on the U.S. – on the World Trade Center (the heart of the financial center), and the Pentagon (the symbol of the U.S. military). Guidance counselors offered the chance to talk, and usually crowded and noisy hallways fell silent as we proceeded to class. Some students left school, and I later learned a classmate’s mother died when the first Twin Tower collapsed. Our Language Arts teacher instructed us to write a journal entry expressing our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and fears. We had much to process. Why did terrorists strike (at all)? What agenda were they hoping to accomplish? What about the thousands of innocent lives lost and their surviving family members? How will America emerge from it all?
Seeing the images and news on TV is when it sunk in. The haunting photographs of people leaping to their deaths from the Twin Towers. The terror on New Yorkers faces as they chaotically ran. Firefighters, police officers, civilians, and first aid responders scrambling to rescue survivors and alleviate the pain and fear. It was a bad nightmare that you wished you might still wake up from.
My father was working in N.J. with a view of the New York City skyline. He later told me he could see the second tower collapse from his office building. My mother was traveling around Europe at the time, couldn’t reach us for days and was unable to travel back to the U.S. for some time. To say she was happy to hear our voices over the phone was an understatement. A Dutch friend of mine was also glad to hear we were okay. We visited the World Trade Center together before, and the images of the Towers engulfed in flames brought her to tears.
To this day whenever I visit NY, I still envision the WTC in the skyline. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to break that habit.
Former NY mayor Rudy Giuliani and President George W. Bush reacted quickly to the devastating news. Giuliani received extensive praise for his warmth and actions to instill a sense of calm in New York. President Bush addressed the public, stating, “This is a day when all Americans from every walk of life unite in our resolve for justice and peace. America has stood down enemies before, and we will do so this time. None of us will ever forget this day, yet we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.”
In the wake of 9/11, security heightened dramatically. Airport TSA procedures have been adapted to meet unpredictable threats. Admittedly, some people felt they were unfairly profiled – Arabs, particularly. But, “fighting for freedom” is a powerful reminder of American resilience in the wake of tragedy.
In September 2011, The National September 11 Memorial & Museum opened to commemorate the 9/11 attacks and the 1993 WTC bombing.
News announcements today revealed that 70,000 heroes – firefighters, police officers and first responders exposed to toxins while working at the World Trade Center site – will receive coverage for exposure to at least 50 cancer types through the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed the air was “safe” and not contaminated.
A few years ago while working at the Emerson College radio station, WERS, I did a post 9/11 story. Have a listen below:
Where were you on 9/11? How did the events impact your life? What other questions does terrorism raise? Can anyone feel safe? Do you feel America is different now?