Today there are several letters to the editor (page 4A, 5A, and 4AA) concerning the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001. Newly released tapes of flight attendants, air traffic controllers and civil and military agencies communicating with each other about what was happening and trying to understand the events of that day have just been released by the Rutgers Law Review. They can be heard at nytimes.com.
In the Boston Globe, an article appears about the people at Boston’s Logan Airport where two of the ill-fated flights originated. It is called, “Little noted or known, they bear scars of that day.” The reporter, Eric Moskowitz, interviewed a flight attendant who called in sick that day, avoiding being on American Airlines Flight 11, but causing a flight attendant friend, who was on standby, to take the flight. There is a United Airlines ticket agent who checked in the highjackers that day — as well as two of her friends and co-workers — on Flight 175, and two baggage handlers who were friends of the pilot of Flight 11, and also responsible for Mohammed Atta’s bags not making the flight, leaving chilling clues as to the perpetrators. There are others, as well, and you can read it at boston.com.
Newspapers from Los Angeles to Washington D.C., from Chicago to Dallas, are devoting massive coverage to the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Foreign newspapers feature commemorations of the day as well. Television abounds with specials. Movies have been made, books written. All about the day that the United States was attacked on its own soil, and our national innocence died.
I remember that day in 2001 when John turned on the Weather Channel as we were getting ready for work. The broadcast began with a long list of airports that were closed. At first it was incomprehensible. How could the weather be closing airports all over the U.S. at the same time? Then it became clear what had happened, and images of the planes and towers began to be aired. We remembered a recent trip to NYC and our brunch at the restaurant at the top of the North Tower — Windows on the World.
Soon images of the rescue attempts and eventual collapse of the towers were shown. We saw brave rescue workers arriving, only to die in their attempt. We saw people jumping from the 100-plus story buildings rather than die in the fires. These images are difficult to forget.
But we tend to forget the depth and breadth of the effects of 9-11.
I think of that day as a huge target, with New York City’s World Trade Center towers in the double bullseye, the Pentagon in Washington D.C., the field in Pennsylvania in the bullseye, along with Newark and Boston, where three of the flights originated.
But that day, and from then on, the rest of us are on that target as well, scattered within the double and triple rings. Even after the government abandoned broadcasting the color-coded threat levels, we can’t relax our vigilance. We will all remember where we were when we heard about the planes flying into the World Trade Center towers.
When we fly anywhere we are reminded, by the lines of people waiting to be screened, by people standing in stocking feet and beltless, by the body scanners and agents with wands. We now need passports to travel in North America, where before this our birth certificates or even drivers licenses would be fine.
Air travel isn’t all. Access to our national monuments is restricted. We have been at war ever since. We’ve come to learn that the events of 9-11-01 were part of an ongoing series of terror attacks aimed at us and our friends. Even the capture of Osama bin Laden hasn’t made us breathe any easier. A culture of terrorism exists, and the U.S., along with anyplace else housing “infidels,” is a target of that hate. We’re not used to being hated in such a visceral way. Sure, we’ve been called the “Ugly Americans,” but no one killed us for that embarrassment.
This trauma will live in our national consciousness for many years, long beyond the death of the last people who were alive on 9-11-2001, like the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
But we will survive. It is not, as many pundits opine, the end of the United States. Its people are too strong to let our freedoms and democratic way of life pass into history.
Judy Schmidt, R.I.P.
We didn’t have a chance this last week to say goodbye to Judy Schmidt, one of the stars of the regional theater scene, who died Tuesday. Judy had not only talent, but an energy and vibrancy that shone through the productions she directed in various high school and community theaters.
Her son Jim wrote, “She had invited family and friends to her home Monday for a holiday gathering. It included a meal and a card game with grandchildren running around the house and the yard. Her mother was even able to join us that day. I count that time with her as a true blessing.”
We count our time knowing Judy as a blessing, too.