I remember well the day those planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City, a day that “Will go down in infamy.”
That morning, 8:45 a.m., Sept. 11, 2001, the world fell into shock as two planes hit the World Trade Center’s twin towers, leading to their total collapse, and killing nearly 3,000 people, including 400 rescue personnel who rushed in to attempt rescues and save lives. Many died later from their injuries and physical deterioration. After all of this time, the heroic rescue people, those who survived, and the families of the deceased, continue their battle for overdue reparations.
I remember that day like yesterday, as I was volunteering for the non-profit agency Helping Hands on the second floor of the Rudy Haywood building on South Main Street, here in Rocky Mount. Rudy loaned me his little radio, and I had to place it in an open window to improve reception. We all gathered and listened intently to the almost panicky reporting, as various stages of the disaster developed, including another terrorist plane strike against the Pentagon in Washington D.C., and the heroic act of passengers overtaking the terrorist pilot and crew forcing a crash in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.
As a retired Associated Press journalist, I emotionally lived the tremendous, unbelievable, news event, and all of the planning, and scurrying about to formulate news coverage. Instant coverage is tantamount; coordination is unbelievable, and communication is of the essence.
The three almost simultaneous disasters immediately changed the country and its people. There was an outpouring of sympathy, fear, anger, and cohesiveness as the news spread from eastern shore to western shore, and beyond. There seemed an immediate rebirth of brother and sisterhood. There was a national bonding. Petty things were put aside. We talked of heroes, sacrifice, helplessness, and, of course, hope. Religions of all faiths, except for maybe the Muslims, bonded in a common cause. The nation bonded as never before. There was a giant sense of patriotism, with American flags flying proudly everywhere in the nation. Yet we remain in a state of emergency and alertness to this day.
A huge piece of irony is the fact that the Muslim terrorists that brought about these disasters were living amongst us in this country. They had plenty of time to plan, and at the same time fit into their American communities.
The terrorists were agents of Osama bin Laden, of the Saudi Arabian royal family, and the leader of the Muslim terrorist group, Al-Qaida. Much later, bin Laden was sought out from hiding, and killed by two bullets in a U.S. Seals raid on May 1, 2011. His body was dumped at sea.
Al-Qaida, as such, has faded a bit, but continues to compete with ISIS, and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and parts of the middle east, for control of the terrorist world, and its battle against democracy, and freedom of the world’s peoples. It has caused a disruption of world order, poverty, displacement, livelihood, respect, freedom and a general down-play of human beings. Other parts of the world also feel the effects.
But now, 18 years later, we are continuing to feel the effects and horror of that 9/11 event. It continues to affect our politics, policy, and wars and battles of the world. Russia had been occupying Afghanistan since 1979, and for some 10 years after that, but then left in frustration and defeat. After the World Trade Center disaster, American troops were sent into Afghanistan to battle the Taliban and Al-Qaida. Our troops are still there after all of these years. It has been described as the longest war in history.
This total world discord has led to nation-after-nation being afraid, disordered, and battling for survival. The U.S. battles for its former world leadership role, but we struggle over tariffs, atomic weapons development, and other sensitive matters.
Whatever the outcome, we know there will be battles for mankind, for now and for generations to come. The tragic events of 9/11 were and are a major focal point of the world’s future.
A very salient point was made concerning attacks on the United States. Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, a leader in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1942, questions the effectiveness of the attack on Pearl Harbor, saying, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, probably said it best, “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face, you are able to say to yourself: I lived through this horror, I can take the next thing that comes along.”
Yes, we, as a nation, continue to fly our flags with pride, and we continue to gird ourselves against the next challenge to our liberty.
Herrick is a Rocky Mount resident and a retired Associated Press journalist.