My daughter-in-law’s cousin Peter Goodrich, 33, of Sudbury died on Flight 175 that crashed into the World Trade Center South Tower. It seems that almost everyone in Massachusetts is connected in some way with one of the victims of that terrible day. And today, ten years later, hearing the names of the 3000 victims read at the memorial observance, it seems as if we are connected to all of them. As New York Michael Bloomberg said, “Each had a face, a story and a life cut out from under them.”
My husband and I were scheduled to leave Boston later in the day on 9/11, bound on American Airlines for Paris for the wedding of a dear friend’s son. Our bags were packed, and I was getting in a last-minute workout on the treadmill, watching the horror unfold on the morning news.
Our friend Barbara, her son the groom, and one brother were already in France awaiting wedding guests who were never to arrive. When the ceremony took place a few days later in Normandy, there were five from the groom’s side and 300 from the bride’s. The groom’s other brother was in New York, just exiting the subway near the World Trade Center.
Ironically, my husband was in a Boston hotel, at an early morning seminar on crisis communications, considering how best to respond to a simulated building disaster event, from legal, engineering, rescue and public relations perspectives. He left to the reality of people gathered at the hotel bar watching the first tower under attack and arrived at his law office to watch the hit on the second. Cell phone service between us was impossible.
Our older son, practicing law in New York, was in his office near Rockefeller Center, and I, not certain exactly where he was, tried frantically to locate him. His building was evacuated, and he and thousands of others were fleeing Manhattan on foot, walking hours to reach their homes. Again, cell service was impossible.
A month later, when my husband and I visited the stubbornly smoldering site, you could still smell the acrid odor of smoke and dust blocks away.
As with JFK’s assassination, virtually everyone can remember where he or she was at the time of the September 11 attacks. As Brian McGrory wrote in this morning’s Globe, “They are moments that were never meant to be memories, fleeting bits of life trapped in time.”
It was more than the unspeakable horror of the moment. More than the individual connections or associations. In that moment, America lost its innocence, and things changed forever.
The ceremony this morning at the beautiful World Trade Center memorial was profound. Coverage by the major networks was varied. It was great to see Tom Brokaw involved in NBC coverage to remind us of a time that network news had real gravitas. But most of the media provided too much commentary. CBS stayed longest with the reading , by a group of survivors, of the names of the victims, accompanied by the pictures of each. The simplicity of the names, seeing pictures of their faces, amplified by some personalized tributes, was powerful and spoke reams about the loss. And it reminded us of the diversity of this country, which is such an amazing source of strength.
CNN used graphics effectively, not only scrolling the names of the victims at the bottom of the screen but also printing out what was happening at that hour and minute on 9/11.
Touching in a different way was Paul Simon singing “The Sounds of Silence,” “people talking without speaking.”
Among the other powerful moments was Vice President Biden’s speech at the Pentagon, as good a speech as I have ever heard him deliver. He spoke of American resolve, and the fundamental misunderstanding by the terrorists that they would buckle our knees and crush our spirits. But, he said, they didn’t know us. Since 9/11, 2.8 million signed up for the military, showing up though they knew they would be in harm’s way. And they took the fight to Bin Laden and his affiliates. This has been the longest military engagement in our history. “The 9/11 generation of warriors ranks among the greatest America has ever produced, and it was born on 9/11.” Over 6000 have died, many thousands more have suffered life-changing injuries.
And he said, “The true legacy of 9/11 is that our spirit is mightier, the bonds that unite us are thicker, and the resolve is firmer” than the millions of tons of limestone and concrete the terrorist targeted.”
Eighty American soldiers wounded yesterday in Afghanistan (and two Afghanis killed) remind us that the changes in America - and the challenges it faces - endure. Seeing President Bush and Obama together with their wives make us grieve for the bipartisanship that prevailed briefly in the immediate wake of 9/11. That loss can be repaired if there’s a political will to do so. The losses sustained ten years ago cannot.
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