Our red-eye flight landed at 6:30 a.m., putting an end to a long spectacular anniversary weekend. My birthday is Sept. 8. My wife’s birthday is Sept. 8. And our anniversary is Sept. 8, and we planned a trip we vowed to never forget.
We decided to fly from Atlanta to San Francisco. We visited Fisherman’s Wharf and rode trolley cars on Saturday; I covered the Atlanta Falcons-49ers football game on Sunday; and, we visited the wine country in Sonoma County on Monday. After we arrived home at sunrise on Tuesday, I went home and went to bed. Pam stayed behind to start her work at the international gates for Delta Air Lines.
My nap didn’t last long. I, along with the entire world, was rudely awakened that morning. For many, the nightmare has never ended.
Pam called to say one of her passengers said an airplane had just hit the World Trade Center. I turned on the television and saw the upper third of the North Tower engulfed in flames. Suddenly, I told her they were showing a replay, but it wasn’t. It was a Boeing 757 slamming into the South Tower. Neither of us said a word for several seconds.
Then I heard a siren in the background. She had to go. The busiest airport in the world was shutting down. Employees and passengers were told to evacuate as quickly as possible. Nobody knew what was waiting for them, or when they could return.
The phone rang again. It was Pam’s ex-husband. Jim was at the hectic Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center. As soldiers and police created a line of defense around his building, air traffic control was trying to make sense of two lost airliners. One, American Airlines Flight 11, turned off its transponder shortly after being told to turn toward Southern California. The second, United Flight 175, left Boston 15 minutes later for Los Angeles.
They turned out to be the planes that took down the Trade Centers.
I assured Jim everyone was on the ground and safe. I asked what was going on. He couldn’t say.
The next call was from my son. It’s was a parent’s worst fear: a country that’s being pulled into war and a son who was in the military. He said he couldn’t tell me if, or where, he could be deployed. All could do was tell him I loved him. Then I prayed.
The atrocities weren’t finished. Jetliners hit the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. By then, the world’s emotions were numb. We didn’t know whether to hate or cry. Or both.
How could 19 men bring the world to its knees with box cutters and cans of mace? How could we be so fooled and unprepared? Will we ever be the same?
Pam eventually returned to work once airports opened a few days later, but she was subjected to a greater level of security. Her job not only included checking people in and handing out boarding cards, but she had to look for terrorists and help conceal the presence of air marshals who were planted on selected flights. The FAA added an extra layer of security when it realized passengers won’t allow an airplane to be commandeered. They know they will follow Todd Beamer’s lead to make sure our airlines aren’t used as weapons of mass destruction. Beamer was the salesman who proclaimed “Let’s Roll!” to overpower the hijackers on United Flight 93 and crash the plane into the Pennsylvania countryside instead of its intended target – either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.
Now, 20 years later, passengers remain the most formidable line of defense against future mass attacks.
Cancer took Pam away four years after the attacks. My son wasn’t deployed because he was stationed at a training base in New Mexico. Planes stayed in the sky around the clock, so he worked 12-hours on, 12-hours off shifts. He served eight years and now works in Atlanta.
Jim has retired and we remain friends.
The questions of that day, however, remain unanswered. So is the emptiness spawned by evil and delivered by degenerates.
The Who once sang, “We won’t get fooled again.” The world needs to be dedicated to making sure it doesn’t.
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