Sunday, September 4, 2011

Modern History


I’m sure I don’t need to tell anyone that next Sunday is the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  I’m also sure that each of us has a story to tell about the 9-11 attacks.  As I do my genealogical research, I am often frustrated that it is only possible to get small glimpses of my ancestors’ lives and not really get to know the person.  I would like to know how their lives were impacted by what we now consider history.  I hope this blog will survive in some form for a long time and that someday future generations of our family will be interested in how major historical events impacted our lives.  Today, I will share my recollections of September 11, 2001.  Next week, I hope to share other family members’ memories of the major events of our time.
My 9-11 memory actually begins before September 11, 2001.  It starts on Sunday September 2, 2001, the day before Labor Day.  There is a carillon in Mariemont, Ohio with concerts every Sunday and on holidays.  Although I had often heard parts of these concerts from time to time, I had never actually gone to Dogwood Park (or “the Bell Tower” as it is more frequently referred) for the purpose of listening to one of the concerts.  September 2, 2011 was the first time. 

My then-six-year-old niece Alyssa joined me for the concert.  She played in the playground while I watched her and waited for the concert.  I saw the mostly elderly crowd – “the greatest generation” - drag their lawn chairs into the park.  The concert began and, as I recall, it was mostly patriotic and traditional American music.  Toward the middle of the concert, The Star-Spangled Banner was played.  I looked around me.  The woman sitting next to me was speaking on her cell phone.  A couple of young mothers were chatting.  I glanced over toward the area where the concert-goers were seated.  Around half were standing in respect to their country and the national anthem.  Many of the older crowd – most of whom were able to carry their lawn chairs into the park – didn’t seem able to stand for two minutes for the playing of the national anthem. 
I was at work on Tuesday September 11, 2001.  That morning, I heard a coworker say that a plane had struck the World Trade Center.  At first, I thought that a small plane  had struck the building in a terrible accident and didn't think much of it.  That assumption didn’t last long, as word got around that a second plane hit the World Trade Center. My mom called me and asked if I heard about the terrible events in New York.  I then heard that the Pentagon had been hit.  After a while, I couldn’t bear to just sit at my desk.  News was slow in appearing on the internet.  So, I went to the associate lounge where there was a television.  I watched the video of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center as Dan Rather emphasized that this was actual video and not an animation.  Dozens of associates stood in the lounge area in silent astonishment.

I returned to my desk and, although it seems silly now, wondered if I would ever see my family again.  It was obvious that the country was under attack and no one knew at that point what else might be in store.  News came in that a jet crashed in Pennsylvania and that there was a bomb threat at the State Department.   It was truly a frightening day.  I made it home that day, of course, and fear turned to sadness and anger as we watched hour after hour, day after day of news reports about the attacks.
I live near Cincinnati’s municipal air field, Lunken Airport, and we didn’t hear the almost constant sound of aircraft overhead for several days, since air travel was suspended.  Many companies closed for the next few days out of safety concerns and to allow their employees time to mourn.  At work, I didn’t receive a call from outside of the company for the rest of the week.  A day or two following the attacks I learned that one of my high school classmates perished in the World Trade Center. 

Prior to the attacks, my mom and I had made arrangements to visit Washington, DC at the end of September 2001.  We debated for several days whether to keep our reservations.  I would awaken in the mornings and feel determined to stick to our plans and visit DC.  I didn’t like the idea of terrorists controlling my life.  But as the day wore on and I heard more and more rumors and news reports, I would end the day wanting to cancel our reservations.  This continued for several more days until my mom and I decided to postpone our trip until September 2002.  When we finally made it to DC the following year, I was able to visit the September 11th exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. 
On Friday September 14, 2001, there was a prayer observance on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnati.  My employer allowed time off for associates to attend.  Thousands of people crammed the square.  It might have been the only time in my life I felt like I was truly part of “one nation under God, indivisible.”  As I took my evening walks in the coming days, I was struck by how much friendlier people seemed as we passed  each other in the streets.   There was a feeling that we were all on the same team.  This was the positive that came out of an almost unimaginably tragic and violent situation. 

In the days that followed September 11, 2001 and quite often since then, I have thought back to that day at the Bell Tower.  I wondered if the national anthem had been on the program for the September 16, 2001 concert if the young mothers would have stopped talking, if the lady would end her phone call, or if more people would have stood to honor the playing of the national anthem.  I believe they would have because we had all changed, mostly for the better.  But, sadly, it was only a temporary change.  If the national anthem were to be played at today’s concert, I believe the reaction would be much as it was ten years ago.  We should never forget, but it seems we always do.

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