As we approach the 20-year mark since the 9/11 attack, it is still fresh in my mind like other events throughout my life. And, I know I’m not alone. That’s why we asked readers to share their stories in today’s Fillmore County Journal.
It’s as fresh in my memory as when I saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explode after lift-off on January 28, 1986. I was 12 years old at the time. That was the first flight in which an American teacher named Christa McAuliffe joined astronauts for a journey into space. Classrooms full of students and teachers across America watched expected to witness something historical. Instead, it was tragic. The Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after launch, killing all members of the crew. It was one of those moments that didn’t feel real. But it was.
With 9/11, I was working at The Daily Journal, in Kankakee, Ill., about one hour south of Chicago. I was traveling between newspaper branch offices when I heard the breaking news on the radio. I couldn’t believe it, at first. At some point, the radio news anchor said there are currently over 600 planes still in the air throughout the United States, and they were being grounded as quickly as possible. I remember thinking of how we were under attack with our own passenger airplanes. I couldn’t believe that someone would intentionally do something like this with no regard for life.
All day, at the office, it was hard to stay focused and get any work done. It was as if time was standing still. Everyone I worked with was trying to comprehend what had just happened.
And, yet we had to get a daily newspaper delivered to readers, and immediately pivot to start working on the next day’s newspaper. Throughout my career, there are times when it has been hard to cover newsworthy events while also absorbing the emotional realities of the situation.
I recall the evening following the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City, I was glued to the TV alongside my wife. We watched as TV news anchors tried to unravel what happened. We saw pictures and videos of these tragic events that took the lives of 2,996 Americans.
And, the days and weeks that followed September 11, 2001, we heard stories about heroes who ran into the burning, smoke-filled buildings while others were running out. These were our emergency responders. Our police officers, firefighters, EMTs. A total of 412 emergency responders died while trying to save lives on that infamous day in New York City.
The best man in our wedding had a brother working for the Wall Street Journal in New York City during the 9/11 attacks. He watched everything unfold from the window of his high-rise apartment building. I checked in with him to see how he was doing. I feel like his experience was worse than mine, because he was there. He wasn’t watching it on TV.
Each of us will have different memories of 9/11. Where we were when it happened. How we felt. All different, yet the same in some regards.
I feel like immediately after the 9/11 attacks happened, we were all Americans. This happened to all of us. We were less divided and more supportive of each other. We were going through something together. Something we couldn’t explain. In some ways, for a period of time, what happened on 9/11 sort of brought us together as Americans.
It certainly changed the world around us. The way we travel, and our perception of our vulnerabilities. It made us think about things we never had to think about before.
In this issue of the Fillmore County Journal, we recognize all of our area emergency responders from the communities in our coverage area. They work together to respond to the needs of the community.
If you happen to see any of these emergency responders over the next week or so, please consider thanking them for their service. I’m sure they’d appreciate your kind words.