This Sunday is the 15th anniversary of 911. This to me, is the most defining moment in our United States history post WWII, and is comparable to Pearl Harbor leading up to WWII. Pearl Harbor is one of those defining events that I only can read about, as I was not born until the war was over. It is imperative to me that we never forget it.
However, it is just now sinking in to my brain, that there are a huge number of individuals who do not personally remember 911 at all. Those are the individuals who are less than 15 years old, as well as those too young to be cognizant of the event. This article is my perspective on the event, as well as the Oklahoma bombing on April 19, 1995. I am including the Oklahoma bombing because both of these events affected me profoundly and I feel that I need to share my thoughts and feelings.
As a preface, I am a confirmed history buff, especially the history of the United States. In my genealogical research, I love reading about my ancestors in the Revolutionary War, and the Civil War. My dad entered WWII in the D-Day invasion at Normandy. He rarely talked about his experiences, but I was able to learn a few of them. He was wounded on March 1, 1945 near Cappel, France as Patton was on his well-known march. Over the years, I have wanted to learn as much as possible about what he went through, and in turn wanted to know as much as possible about my ancestors who served in the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. I purposely watch every documentary about these wars, and have read many books about them. However, none of those documentaries or books compares to the personal experience of the events on 911, 2001, and on April 19, 1995. Here is what I experienced.
First, the Oklahoma bombing in 1995: at that time I was working for the Internal Revenue Service at a regional service center in Kansas City, Missouri. I was on the job when all hell broke loose. I was fortunate to have a desk with a window view of the main entrance of the center, and the first thing that caught my attention was when a large number of police vehicles with flashing lights filled the main entrance drive. Shortly after, over the loud speaker, notification of what occurred in Oklahoma City was broadcast to us. Also we were told that the presence of the police was because no one knew for sure what was next, and if we also would be a target.
Several of my co-workers were now in tears, and fear was prevalent as many of the IRS employees/and relatives at the Kansas City Service Center, had just recently transferred to the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Obviously, everyone was trying to reach those individuals to see if they were safe or not. The intense fear was so, so palatable. Rumors were flying around like crazy, and for the first time in my life, I got physically sick because of what was occurring, and actually asked to leave for the day, which I did. I never wanted to feel like that ever again.
A few weeks later, as my wife and I were traveling back from a trip to Texas; we took the time to go to the site of the bombing in Oklahoma City. The building itself, had already been torn down and a fence around the area had been erected and filled with memorial memorabilia. That was impressive enough, but the worst was the massive destruction of the buildings for blocks around that were still standing just as the appeared after the bombing. You could stand on the street at the site of the Federal Building, and literally see completely through the surrounding buildings, as the blast blew out the windows and everything in between the windows on one side of the building, and all the way through to the other end of the building. There were many, many blocks of buildings this way. It really looked like a war zone. It was extremely hard for me, emotionally, to walk around and see the results of that horrendous bombing where so many children were killed in the preschool center in the Federal Building, as well as those family members of my co-workers in Kansas City.
Never again would something like this ever happen, right? Wrong!! On September 11th, 911 occurred.
I was at work when news came on the TV that the twin towers in New York had been attacked. All of us began watching. Immediately the knots in my stomach, that had occurred when the Federal Building was bombed came back. I struggled to control my feelings. Since I was an administrator now (no longer with the IRS), I had an obligation to help others try to concentrate on work, which in my opinion was impossible, as I too did not want to miss any of the news that was being broadcast. I was torn between the feelings that this cannot be happening, and that it has happened again (referring to the OK bombing.) That ugly feeling in the pit of my stomach just would not go away. It made me sick to my stomach, figuratively and physically. At least this time I was able to keep it together and did not have to take off work and go home. For days on end, I continued to watch everything I could about the attack and related stories.
Later, on a trip to see my grown daughter in Philadelphia, we traveled to New York and I visited Ground Zero. At that time, the site was fenced in, and the “pit” that remained after the debris had been removed, was now at the very beginning point of reconstruction. There were bulldozers and other equipment, several stories down from street level, at the bottom of the pit, and that was all that was left of the towers.
Again, I looked around and saw that the surrounding buildings had that same war zone look that I remembered from Oklahoma. No matter how I try, the images of Oklahoma surface immediately every time 911 is mentioned. I recognize they are two entirely separate events, but in mind they are tied together like Siamese twins. They cannot be separated. Those same ugly emotional feelings I experienced at the Oklahoma bombing, surface with a vengeance at the mention of 911.
Just this last week I watched several documentaries, on MSNBC, about the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I cringe as I watch the events. Fifteen years after the fact, I can watch without getting physically sick, but emotionally I struggle seeing the events unfold. I never want to forget, so I watch because first, it is my way of remembering, and second I am a history nut.
What strikes me today, is watching all of the first responders go into the towers, not knowing that they were going there to die. They are HEROES, and we should never forget to honor them. Likewise, those civilians on the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania are HEROES as they confronted the hijackers, obviously preventing another major attack on our country. Never should we forget them, even though they do not get the press coverage they deserve.
One thing I learned this week, watching the documentary about the attack on the Pentagon was how the military employees at the Pentagon reacted to the bombing. The Pentagon was a huge building and only one portion suffered a direct blow, resulting in a massive fire and potential collapse. The first fire fighters entered through the hole created by the plane, and shortly determined that the building was unsafe and issued the order that no one could enter it, even to search for survivors. In the documentary, some of those who had been trapped in the destruction did find a way to get out and immediately tried to go back in to rescue others. The fighters tried to stop them. Tension flared and at one point, according to the fire chief, he ordered is fire fighters to block all entrances to prevent anyone re-entering the building.
Why did they have to do that? Because, according to one Pentagon military employee who had escaped and was leading the effort to go back in, he stated that all branches of the military drilled into everyone that “you leave no one behind.” It’s time to honor our military as the best in the world, and their dedication to “leaving no one behind” makes those Pentagon employees HEROES in my mind, even as they were physically prevented from going back in to potentially their own death.
What a tremendous military we have. The fact that the Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, held a news briefing approximately nine hours after the Pentagon was attacked, at the Pentagon, with the stated purpose of showing that our military was still open for business as usual, is in my opinion, one of the greatest statements that could be said after the attacks.
So, Sunday is the 15th anniversary of 911. Let us never forget it. I never will.
I solicit any of you reading this to post your feelings about 911, or the Oklahoma bombing. It is important that all of those too young to have experienced either of the events to hear from those of us who experienced them. History is known to repeat itself, and we must never allow the events to be forgotten less we aid in repeating these horrendous events.
Thank you for reading, and please, please post your comments about the events. I truly want to hear your experiences.