It’s been 15 years since 9-11.
In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago. In others, it feels like only yesterday.
If you were alive, you probably remember what you were doing when you heard the news. You probably remember the fear, the confusion, the angst, the uncertainty.
I was a 19-year-old college freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno. That night, I took my laptop to Getchell Library (since demolished) to write about what was going on. I wanted to document, in my own words, the fear I was feeling, the chaos that was unfolding.
That essay is like a time capsule for me. It takes me back to that day, to the very table I was sitting at as I wrote it. I’ve read it several times since 9-11, and it never fails to roil up those frantic emotions I was feeling — emotions I imagine every American was feeling that day, in their own way.
On today, the 15th anniversary, I felt it appropriate to publish the essay here. Only close family has read it. I usually post only humor on this site — as humor is the only way I know of grappling with an often-insane world — but this essay for me helps to mark a significant event not only in our nation’s history, but in our lives.
I was a kid when I wrote this — a kid who hadn’t yet set foot in a Journalism 101 course — so the bulky paragraphs make me cringe, and some of the historical facts aren’t accurate (the attacks killed 2,996 people, not 10,000).
However, I’m glad I wrote it, because it captures for me a time and a place — as well as the accompanying feelings — and it helps me to frame that day in my mind, so that I’ll never forget. Human memories fade, and time tends to numb pain, but it’s always important to remember.
And as a country, collectively and individually, we will always remember.
Sept. 11, 2001
9-11-01. That’s a date I’m confident saying will be of historical significance. Some people are already saying that it is my generation’s Pearl Harbor. Others are suggesting the possibility that war is both imminent and entirely unavoidable, which I sincerely hope is untrue. Many are just plain devastated over the series of tragic events that occurred this morning. I know that I couldn’t believe any of it when I first heard the news. Even now, the people around me are talking about it; if not about the attack itself, then about issues related to the topic, such as terrorism in general and who should be punished for these crimes. It is approximately 9:08 PM in the University of Nevada, Reno library, first floor, several hours after I learned of the demolishing of the World Trade Center in New York, the attack on the Pentagon building, and the four aircraft that crashed, killing all innocent civilians on board. I must confess I thought I was still dreaming when I was told of these unimaginable events.
I awoke in my dorm room as usual, feeling pretty drowsy and just generally lousy. I have an early class here at the university four days a week, and I hardly ever feel like I get enough sleep, even on the days when my periods of rest span nine hours. I slid out of bed, gathered my bathing supplies, and sauntered down the hall to the community shower to get ready for the coming day. In all truth, I did not suspect in the slightest that this day would be different from any other. It just seemed like a normal morning. I slid into the only available shower stall, drew the shielding curtain, turned on the warm spray, and smiled in pleasure as the water hit my shoulders and started to perk me up.
“Guys, guys!” I heard a voice calling. Somebody was standing directly outside the shower stalls, trying to get our attention.
What the hell? I thought. My first inclination was that it was some guy telling us the water had gone cold. My shower had started to feel significantly cooler than it had just a moment ago.
“What?” I hollered. I could basically hear nothing but murmurs over the spray.
It was my floor’s resident assistant out there. “I wanted you guys to know, the Pentagon has been attacked.”
What? I poked my head out the curtain, noticing that the guys occupying the other three stalls had done the same. We all had disbelieving looks upon our faces. “Are you serious?”
He was indeed serious.
“I just wanted you to know,” he said. “It’s pretty scary. A couple of planes also crashed into the World Trade Center, and now that’s getting ready to go.”
I got out of the shower as quickly as possible and descended into the basement of Lincoln Hall to the lounge in which was located a TV for resident use. My roommate was still sleeping, and I didn’t want to wake him up just then in a frantic panic.
There were a few other people in there besides me, all sitting with their hands placed nervously on their knees as they leaned forward, absorbing the panicked newscast with wide, astounded eyes.
I will never forget seeing the second tower of the World Trade Center collapse within itself as I watched on live television. I have seen that same footage many times throughout the course of the day (how can you avoid it?) but the first time was the absolute worst for me, especially considering it was happening while I was watching it. I saw the plane collide with the tower. I saw the flames shoot out from the backside of the building. I saw, with gaping eyes and an unhinged mouth, the plume of smoke that followed and the debris that fell down to the streets below. The anchor was reporting that desperate people were attempting to jump out the windows, but thankfully, you couldn’t see them in the footage I was watching. When the tower finally collapsed, it was then I was positive I was still dreaming. People running crazily this way and that, rubble and plaster everywhere, a symbol of western capitalism crumbling before my eyes. I was just in total shock. Total shock. I went back up to my room then and awoke my roommate. He was very disoriented upon waking, and looked at me strangely when I told him the news. When he turned on our portable TV to see it for himself, he couldn’t believe it either. The two of us sat on our respective beds in dumb shock, wondering what was going on, how something of this magnitude could possibly occur.
Yes, it started out like a normal day, but it ended up being “my generation’s Pearl Harbor.” They say about 2,900 people died in Pearl Harbor. The deceased tally for this recent incident has been estimated at 10,000. It’s absolutely horrible.
That’s what truly makes this event so shocking and tragic. You can destroy buildings, crash aircraft, and even destroy national symbols. But slaughtering innocent people just for the sake of making a statement…I know everyone will be praying for our fallen citizens tonight. If any good has come out of this disaster, it’s that people have banded together within their communities to share their love and sorrow for the victims of this incident.
Many classes here at my college were canceled. Students flocked in groups to anywhere a TV was located to catch any updates or recent reports. I stood in the library for awhile and watched President Bush’s first press conference concerning the acts of terrorism. The whole time, I was pretty much a zombie. How could this be happening? What’s going to happen next? Are things going to be radically different now after all of this?
Is there going to be a war?
That’s exactly what some people fear the most. The fact stands clear that it has been quite awhile since this nation has been involved in a major conflict. Has the time finally come?
Many fellow young men are in fear of getting drafted. As an enrolled college student, I don’t share this fear, but I understand it well. My friend is in the Navy, and I worry for him. Should the need arise, it is him they will call upon to serve in battle. I don’t know what I think about that. My friend is a strong, decent, honest young man, and it scares me to think that something might happen to him in his current position. I probably couldn’t do what he’s doing or endure some of the things he’s gone through. I just don’t have it in me.
Listening to the radio, I heard as many people called in thirsty for revenge. The majority said they wanted to bomb somebody, anybody, it seems, to retaliate against the attacks. As understandable as these raw emotions may be, they’re just not logical, I think, in a situation such as this. Many people feel pretty confident that a terrorist group was responsible for the attacks. If that’s the case, against what country can we declare a war? Are we willing to kill innocent people just to sate our appetite for revenge?
One woman insisted that she could personally kill innocent young women and children in retaliation against the terrorists, claiming that they killed plenty of our citizens, so why shouldn’t we kill theirs? This is an entirely unacceptable viewpoint. Yes, we all share the grief of our slain citizens. But let’s not worsen the problem by killing even more innocent people. That’s the same as saying, “Well, my arm’s broken, I might as well amputate it.” There’s just no logic at all to support the argument.
I heard that there was a huge need for donated blood, and so I was going to drive to the local blood bank after class to help out. However, so many other people did the same thing, and so the blood banks were actually turning people away because they could not accommodate them all. If anything, I mused, that is a true example of how reliable and sympathetic the American people truly are. In a time of crisis, we naturally bond together and form close kinships in order to help each other out. That’s an admirable trait of any nation. And that should be a sign in itself to these terrorists: You cannot kill our spirit and our ideals. You may think that you can slaughter our citizens, throw us into chaos, plague us with uncertainty, and demolish the national symbols that collectively represent us, but you can never put out the light that shines so brightly in all of us. We have more heart, more courage, more love, more passion, and more valor than anybody else in the world. Be aware of that. We are the home of the brave, and we’re the best country in the world. That’s not just a nationalist statement on my part; that’s a fact.
Sometimes, it may seem as if we’re divided internally as a nation. We have our political, religious, and racial differences, but at heart, we are all Americans, and we should take care to recognize that fact. America has a spirit, and that spirit is we the people. When we take for granted our freedoms, liberties, wealth, and envied ways of living, we kill that spirit that makes us so great. Americans are decent, hardworking, and compassionate. Those who hate us secretly fear us, or maybe they truthfully despise us, but only because their mind has been poisoned to such an extent that they don’t know any better.
I’m writing this really more for myself than for anyone. Writing helps me deal with the strong emotions I’m feeling today over what has happened. I know I’m handling it better than some people. I’m not bloodthirsty, and I’m not seeking immediate revenge. I do want the perpetrators captured and punished, but I don’t want to bomb the nation from which they came. Other people were so upset they couldn’t even talk straight, and when they did utter a few words, they were sentiments I cannot in good faith repeat here. Others were devastated to the point where they could not speak.
The tragedy has taken its toll on the bulk of us. Some people, however, don’t really care about it. From what I’ve heard, a lot of young people are apathetic about the situation. I heard one story where some high school kids stole a bunch of American flags a proprietor had placed outside his store, vandalized them, and then threw them into the street where they could be run over by cars. That’s not just kids being kids; that’s an illness. I sure hope most young people didn’t view the incident in such a vulgar and uncaring fashion. For those who think it’s no big deal, or simply don’t care at all, the only thing I can say is that you really take the freedoms you have here for granted. What happened today was a sign that even we are vulnerable to attacks from those who hate us enough to organize themselves in such an efficient manner. People died to create this country, and people have died in wars to keep this country what it is. Ten thousand may have died in one day alone. How can that not affect somebody? We hear numbers all the time in the media and think them to be no big deal, but this is ten thousand people. Those are lives that have ended due to hate and nonessential violence. We can never get those people back. They died simply because they were American.
I’ve spent most of the day contemplating what happened. The news segments I saw on TV will burn forever in my mind. Through it all, I find myself asking just one simple question:
This didn’t have to happen. It did anyway. And now our nation is suffering for an act of just a few hundred individuals.
Actually, I don’t know how many terrorists were involved, but that would be my best bet. Many were on a suicide mission. What they gained, or what they think they’ve gained is something I cannot comprehend. How can death, destruction, and the instilling of fear be considered as something productive? As an accomplishment?
I really and truly love America. I always have. My parents taught me the value of living in this country. They instilled in me a deep respect and veneration for this nation and its vast, important history. It is this respect I now utilize to pay tribute to all those who have died in this deplorable tragedy. May it be known that you will not be forgotten, that this day will live in the memories of millions forever, and within history books and accounts of the past. May God bless your souls.
I think it is only patriotic to grieve in a time such as this. As diverse a people we are, the great melting pot of the world, this is a time for us to come together. We are strong as a single, solid nation. America is my home. It’s where my ideas and opinions can be expressed without fear of persecution. It’s where the most wealth is produced, the most freedoms recognized. It has a vast and important history that, quite frankly, we all share. This nation is a home to us all. And when it is attacked, ridiculed, and celebrated when its citizens die, then something has to be done, although I know not what.
In closing, just let me say that this day is one that will live with all of us forever. God bless those who perished in the acts of terrorism. God bless our stability and sympathy in a time of crisis.
God bless all those who have helped or are helping those injured in the attacks.
God bless America, my home.