I know I have told you this story before. But even now, after two decades, it still doesn’t seem quite real – how an ordinary fall day became one of the turning points in our American history.
I was working for a cable/fiber optic company 20 years ago this September, helping them set up a warehouse in Bemidji. A lady named Terry had just started working there putting together a computer database to keep track of parts and work. She walked out of her office just before 8 a.m. and said, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.”
Just a year or so before that, a private plane had crashed into an apartment building. This is a big world, there are a lot of planes, and it happens. The rest of the crew kept working, mostly loading up supplies to take elsewhere or getting ready to go out and hang cable.
Then Terry came back in after about 10 minutes. A second plane had hit the other tower.
Now you knew. This was no accident.
There were just a few of us left in the warehouse. We all hung around talking, trying to work. That lasted for a half an hour, until the report came in that a plane had hit the Pentagon.
That was it. We had to know. Terry went home to get her TV.
While she was gone, the first tower fell.
You know, I always thought of the World Trade Center as oversized and kind of ugly – but also indestructible. I remembered when they bombed the parking center underneath in 1993, and the building just shook a little. I couldn’t wrap my brain around something that big coming down.
Then Terry brought her TV, and we sat there. We saw the second tower come down. We saw the Pentagon fire. We heard about Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania. And over and over, from every possible angle, we saw the plane hitting the south tower and the towers falling down.
There were rumors too. The White House had been attacked. More planes had been hijacked. The president was missing. Some of it was hard to believe, but what had happened was already unbelievable. It was impossible to know how far this thing was going to go.
My brother and sister were both on business trips. Like everyone else with someone traveling by air that day, I called. They were safe.
On the TV, it was the same thing over and over, but then there would be something new – information about possible terrorists, a diagram showing how the explosion might have taken down the tower, and then again and again the airplanes striking, the towers falling.
When it was 5 p.m., Terry gave me a hug. It felt like we had just gone through a lot together.
I remember driving home that night, passing a gas station where they had raised the price to over $5 a gallon. You knew the world had changed, and not for the better. I remember seeing high school kids riding through town in the back of pickup trucks waving American flags. I remember feeling scared for, and very proud of, my country.
Mike Gainor is the editor of the Pine City Pioneer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 320-322-5241.