In the course of human history, there exist days seared into our memory with such clarity that for many years after, we can recall precisely where we were and what we were doing. These days, such as the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, become days of infamy in our history.
That day for my generation is Sept. 11, 2001. Do you recall what you were doing that day? I do.
It was a sunny Tuesday morning, and I was sitting in my car outside a social services building in Meyersdale, Pennsylvania, waiting for my mother to return. Before she finished with her business, the radio interrupted its music broadcast with breaking news — a commercial airliner struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. It was at 8:46 a.m.
When my mother came outside, I told her about the news, and we quickly headed for our small trailer park home just down the road in Salisbury, Pennsylvania. When we turned on the TV, we were greeted with another breaking news headline — a commercial airliner struck the south tower of the World Trade Center. It was at 9:03 a.m.
My mother, her boyfriend Dave and I watched news footage of the planes striking the towers. Then another breaking news headline — a commercial airliner struck the Pentagon. It was at 9:37 a.m.
Dave said America was under attack.
We stepped outside to smoke cigarettes and talk about what was happening. It wasn’t long until we heard my mother gasp as the TV broadcast footage of a tower collapsing. The time was 9:59 a.m. The south tower fell. Stunned, we sat down in the backyard.
Dave looked to the sky and spotted a plane. He wondered aloud what it was doing there. The news had told us all planes were ordered to land, so I thought it might be headed to Pittsburgh. I was wrong.
We watched that plane, later identified as United Flight 93, take a nosedive and disappear on the horizon. We hopped into my car, and I floored it up Route 219 to Garrett, a small town north of Meyersdale. We learned there that people were headed to Berlin and we followed suit. In Berlin, word was the plane crashed in Shanksville. That’s where we found the wreckage.
By the time we arrived on the scene at that field in Shanksville, police had cordoned off the wreckage with yellow tape. We found a place to park and stepped out of the car. The smell of jet fuel and burned metal overpowered the freshness of the surrounding Pennsylvania landscape. It was sickening.
We stayed for quite some time, talking with others who had come to witness that unbelievable sight. We heard through radio news broadcasts that the north tower fell at 10:28 a.m.
In the days after the attack, we learned it was initiated by al-Qaeda, an Islamic terrorist group angry with the U.S. for its support of Israel. Years later, in May 2011, Seal Team 6 captured and killed the group’s leader, Osama bin Laden.
Friday marked 19 years since 2,977 victims lost their lives in what has become known simply as 9/11. It’s been 19 years since I stood by that field — a week shy of turning 21 years old — and realized that life in America was about to change forever.
I hope you participated in Friday’s moment of silence, a request of all Texans by Gov. Greg Abbott, to remember those who died in the attack and to remember the brave souls of Flight 93 who fought against their terrorist captors to help down the plane before it could reach its intended target.
God rest their souls.