And In This Way

By Robert Bateman

Each of us has our own story about where we were and what we were doing on that bright September day seven long years ago. "Where were you?" is a question that will follow everyone who was alive and sentient at the time. We will tell our stories to our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and each story will be unique. Together, however, these fragments constitute a whole. A mosaic of personal tales which, taken together, will help future generations understand.

I will put on my historian's hat for a moment to tell you that reassembling the mosaic that can explain the people of the past to those of the present is not simple or easy. It is all the more difficult when the shards are wildly inconsistent. But it is downright impossible if you do not have at least something to work with. I know this from experience. I fear this for the future. Please, then, bear with me as I wax a tad pedantic in this entry.

I would like to ask something of you, and I hope that you promulgate this request as well. Take some time out today and write your account of what you saw, heard, felt, said and thought on Sept. 11, 2001.

I do not ask this for my benefit. Indeed, it is not even necessarily for someone you know. Really, you are doing this for an anonymous somebody 100, or 300, or perhaps even 500 years in the future. You may be related to that person, you may not, but your memories are important.

Humanity builds upon the past. This is a part of what makes us human. The ability to pass on complex thoughts, ideas, memories, is very much a part of what makes our species different. We do not know, we cannot know, what will follow us in the centuries to come. But we can, in some small way, contribute to their humanity by recording, for them, our own.

Now because of the accident of my education, I know something of the troubles historians have with sources. This is no dig on you, but actually upon all of our forefathers. Those guys left cruddy records. Seriously. Accordingly, I have a few additional requests on behalf of the future. I ask that you make this record of your day in a very specific way, or as close to it as you can come. If you are willing, read on, as I drop into "full professor mode" for a moment.

For starters, you have to make this record on paper. You can do that with a pencil, or a pen, or printed out from your computer, but it has to end up on paper. Why? Well, anybody who started using computers for "word processing" (I hate that term) back in the late '80s or early '90s can testify that today, a mere 20 years later, they have lost nearly all of what they wrote back then. Sure, some people still have boxes of old floppy disks laying around in their basement, but even those who do probably do not have a computer that can read those disks anymore (even if the data has not been corrupted), nor a computer program that can decipher their 1s and 0s into text. So paper, it must be. Your words, your memories and thoughts, should endure.

Next, a word about what you should write. Please, for the sake of that macaroni-and-cheese-eating-living-on-a-starvation-stipend future graduate student who is writing his dissertation in the year 2217 and who wanted to do backflips when he first stumbled upon your brief manuscript, follow something like these instructions.

Assume that this is the only thing that you will ever write that will outlast you by centuries. That means you need to say who you are, and who you believe yourself to be. Taking myself as an example, society defines me as a late-20th-early-21st century white, Midwestern, middle-class male, a husband and father, who has travelled extensively and is both a professional soldier and an academic. Looking at myself from inside, I would add the descriptors "rider of motorcycles" and "sailor" and "beach bum." That would be enough for the historian centuries hence to get a grasp on the "who" of his source. It is not all of me, but it helps.

The next part is the toughest. Concentrate on exactly what happened, to you, that day. Start at the beginning, with when you woke up. Move forward through your day, as it occurred, without embellishment. Be as exacting as you possibly can be and, believe me, that will not be easy.

As a historian, I can tell you that memory is a tricky, plastic thing. It can bend, it can warp, and there will be gaps.The noted military historian Carol Reardon found that in post-battle accounts of Pickett's Charge, during the Battle of Gettysburg, some soldiers recalled a famous bombardment as lasting four hours, while others believed the whole event took only 20 minutes. I cannot think of a better example of the flexibility of our minds. But by sticking to only the specifics of what you can absolutely positively recall, you will be creating something useful.

Please, try to fight the natural inclination to add in things that you learned later. For example: We did not know, that horrible morning, who was behind the attack, so leave that out. (Hell, we did not know that we were even under attack at first.) The same goes for any inclination towards politics. Save those for a later part of your memoir. For the moment, I merely ask that you record your memories of that single awful day.

Record the curiosity you had that morning, then the confusion as it built, then the other emotions as they occurred and in each case explain what prompted the reaction. Place them in sequence. Write down, as best you can, what you heard, when you heard it (or saw it), who you were with, what those people said or did, and in all of these things confine yourself to the smallest parameters. Only what you knew. Only what you saw. Only what you thought, heard, said and did.

These thoughts, memories, observations can be about the mundane ("the garage door was stuck that day, so I had stayed home"), the personal ("I wondered how my grandmother had felt on 7 December"), the internal ("I felt sick, I could not eat"), or the external ("I watched, in awe, as people in New York streamed on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge"). Do not limit yourself. Explore your memory, and record it for posterity.

And in this way, we will remember.

(This entry is dedicated to my friend and hero, Rick Rescorla, May 27, 1939 - Sept. 11, 2001. Garryowen.)

By washingtonpost.com |  September 11, 2008; 11:30 AM ET
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Thanks for making this suggestion. This is a most worthy project to participate in.

I was an RA officer on AMEDD Recruiting in NYC that terrible day and scheduled to meet with an applicant in the Bronx that morning. Instead, I wound up for several days at Ground Zero with the NYARNG's C/342nd FSB.

Posted by: IRR Soldier... | September 11, 2008 11:59 AM

Oh Christ...oh, yes.

In this way...

I hate this day. I hate every second. But "In This Way..." I will try. I will.

Thank you.

Posted by: JRR | September 11, 2008 1:02 PM

I remember this day. It began like any other. I had moved to Denver 10 months earlier, so I was getting ready for work with the T.V. on and the sound down. I looked over at the screen and saw an airplane hit a building. I was busy, and thought that must be a preview for another Arnold movie, and did not give it another thought. A couple of minutes later I noticed they were still showing it over and over so I turned the sound up and heard the news. A horrible aviation accident or who knows what. I woke my boyfriend and we were watching the T.V. and a second plane hit. I got a horrible feeling that this was obviously something bigger. Like many people I did not know whether or not to go to work. I did. My job involves driving and client contact. I noticed the roads were less crowded, and people had their lights on as a radio station had suggested. It was a very odd day interacting with my clients. Nobody knew what to say or think. There were people on the radio making speculations about what might happen in Denver. Were we next? I remember getting busy signals trying to call my family to make sure they were O.K. and wishing they lived in Denver too. The silence was deafening. The mood was somber.

Posted by: DD | September 11, 2008 1:38 PM

DD,

That is a *start*. You have an eye for details. Now, take some paper, grab a pen, and fill in the rest. Then seal it, put it somewhere safe, ect.

Good luck.

BB

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 11, 2008 1:41 PM

I was getting dressed in the bedroom that morning. The TV was off, and my wife came in and turned it on. That always annoys me, but she said, "You have to see this." It was a replay of the first plane hitting the WTC. I got sick to my stomach and told my wife it must be an accident, like the time that B-25 flew into the Empire State Building. Then we saw the second plane hit, and we knew the world had changed forever. I finished dressing and went to work (I'm a corporate travel agent) and started fielding calls from clients who had become stuck at airports all over the country, and overseas. Our first priority was finding places for them to stay, and finding some way, any way, to get them home. I remember that I was constantly on the verge of tears, and every time I saw the pictures again, rage just welled up in me. I wanted to come to grips personally with the people responsible. I called my parents, and they had no idea any of it was happening. We worked 12 hours a day for the next two weeks, trying to get our people back home.

Posted by: Ed | September 11, 2008 2:05 PM

I was running late for my job in the alumni and public affairs office at the University of Toronto but not so late that I didn't stop for a coffee after I got off the subway. When I entered the office, a few minutes after 9 am, I thought it odd that the television from the associate director's office had been pulled out into the hallway and a small group of people gathered around. I saw the second plane hitting and, like DD above, figured it was a movie trailer and thought it strange that my colleagues would be watching that instead of starting the work day. It soon became very clear that it was not some Hollywood fantasy. And at the same time, in a surreal moment, it was just that. One of the senior people made a comment that it was unbelievable that such a thing could have happened and that even the most creative author could not have scripted such a thing. I recall locking eyes with another colleague (who was ex-military) and we simultaneously said, "Red Storm Rising", the book by Tom Clancy that lays out a very similar scenario.

As the morning went on and the crowd grew, we realized that many of our alumni worked at the WTC. It also occurred that we had a fair number of American students who would suddenly feel very far removed from their homes and their families. We didn't know to what degree any of our students would be directly impacted.

What struck me most was the utter juxaposition of such a beautiful sunny day and the horror besetting our neighbours.

I had only quit smoking the week before and felt the urge to light up again many times in the days and weeks that followed.

Posted by: Jamie | September 11, 2008 3:32 PM

DD and Ed's recollections are a perfect example of the plasticity of memory. They both mention seeing the first plane (American 11) hitting the North Tower on the morning of Sept 11th (it happened at 8:46am), before seeing United 175 hit the South Tower minutes later at 9:03 am.
Two French filmmakers who were coincidentally filming a documentary on a NYFD unit that morning, heard American flight 11 approaching low and fast and managed to get the only video footage I have ever seen of the South Tower being hit. This footage was not seen on TV until days later, and certainly not before the second Tower was hit. They are no doubt recalling the sickening sight of flight 175 hitting the South Tower, which was seen over and over that horrible day

Posted by: KW | September 11, 2008 4:29 PM

xyz

Posted by: ddd | September 11, 2008 5:03 PM

3 buildings in NYC fell that day and only 2 were hit by planes.

The third building came down due to controlled demolition. It was not mentioned in the government's report either. That was World Trade Center 7. It emploded at free fall speed, piling inward upon itself.

Would the USA have gone into Iraq and Afghanistan if it were for 9/11?

Would the patriot act been passed if 9/11 hadn't happened?

Why was the supposed "airplane" that hit the pentagon only seen on ONE CAMERA? Wouldn't dozens of cameras had seen it?
Wouldn't dozens of cameras been watching every angle of the US military's headquarters?

What ELSE might have hit the pentagon?

Is it not very suspicious that the moment George Bush was notified about the first plane, he had no facial expression of a reaction, and continued to read to children as if nothing happened for nearly 20 minutes?

Posted by: James White | September 11, 2008 5:25 PM

James, you are doubtless a good man in many other ways. But you are just downright strange in this one.

Your suspicious mind gives us nothing here. Record, for yourself, what you saw.

What others saw, say, directly outside the Pentagon, was that flight coming straight into my building.

What my friends saw, recovering parts and bodies, was the remains of that plane and the people who were on it, and the people we used to work with. There are hundreds of pictures out there of these things, if your conspiracy-laden mind can wrap around that fact. Moreover, there are hundreds of people who *saw* it come in. Hundreds who, in consensus, say that it was exactly what it was. You doubtless cherry-pick a few who say differently. I remind you, some soldiers at Gettysburg also were convinced the bombardment lasted 20 minutes. Others were firm in the belief that it was four hours. It was, in fact, between 1 hour 50 minutes and two hours. Like I said, the mind can play tricks.

No, there were not "dozens of cameras" pointed at the Pentagon. It had never needed any. X-Files theories like your own notwithstanding. It was, and is, essentially just a really flat office building. Not a super-bunker.

Your assertion that #7 WTC came down by "controlled demolition" is equally strange. Do you suggest that the thousands of people who worked there did not notice, at all, in the weeks before, your presumed hard-hat crews drilling to place charges between their desks?

In short, friend, take your Ritalin and lie down. Your ruminations about how our friends, families, and co-workers died are not only strange, they are flat-out insulting. They also display a serious deficiency in your own grade-school education.

No go away. I do not want to debate you. I do not want to talk to you. I do not want to listen to your overwrought fantasies about how the CIA, or President Bush, or VP Cheney, or whomever, secretly planned this, and then pulled it off without a single person ever talking about it. That's just strange, and for even raising the issue, I believe you are strange. Now go away.

Posted by: Bob Bateman | September 11, 2008 6:04 PM

Minor correction Bob. There were probably hundreds of cameras "pointed at the Pentagon" - all the security cams recording GROUND access and entrances. Not much good for detecting mid-level instrusions by a plane...

Anyway - I was driving to my office in Bellevue, WA. Listening to the local radio station (KMTT). Got the first report of a plane hitting the WTC, then almost immediately the report of the second hit (suspect they'd held the first report a bit, the as they went live they got the second).

I called my wife, told her that we might be at war, and to turn on the radio. Decided to continue in to work.

I was a manager of a small office of a storage company working with a big PC software company (how's that for obfuscation). And I had some pretty panicked people to deal with.

What got me really depressed was the alternating "we're going to die" and "we have to kill someone, anyone" reacttions. I had a premonition then that it would not go well with a target focused fly-boy in the White House...

Posted by: Butch | September 11, 2008 10:34 PM

I appreciate the value you give to these memories that, more often than not, are more the intruder than the welcome guest. I was in front of the WTC when it happened. Close enough to feel the triplicate succession of shock, heat and sound wave. Was like a metal spring got sprung inside me. Everything hurt. Was the cloud beginning to mushroom? Soon as I realized I wasn't dead, I ran. As I was already a writer before 9/11, my concern was not so much that the stories wouldn't have voice but that my story wouldn't be part of it. As the first round of stories began to hit the market, I felt left out. Yet, the stories being told were primarily non fiction or fiction lighly masked as non. I couldn't watch the stuff. It was still too close for me. Plus, the stories seemed to possess too sequential and linear a form for me to identify with as my memories weren't particularly linear ones. Despite the differences, my play was performed and workshopped in several venues throughout New York and on the West Coast. It was included in dissertations and put on European syllabi, yet still, no major production offers. In 2008, to my great pleasure and surprise, copies of my began to be requested again. I would, in fact, have to say that more copies of the script were requested this year than ever before and I still have no idea why. Even Disney had a read. Their response, as well as others, have been tremendous enthusiasm about the script itself, yet a lot of trepidation in talking ownership of the responsibility of bringing it to fruition. Do they fear the murky emotional terrain that the play itself demands be colonized? That raw and visceral series of sensations, reactions and iconographic allegory-scapes? No, I don't think that's the reason for the apprehension. I say this because I have faith in the healing power of art; this play has demonstrated the healing power of art every single time it was presented to an audience. My fear, then is quite simple. I fear that the script might never be given the opportunity to reach its full potential. It is therefore now the absence, rather than the presence, of 9/11 that I fear.

Susanna Speier
www.susannaspeier.com

Posted by: Susanna Speier | September 12, 2008 3:11 AM

I was working for a construction company putting in municipal water lines in Northern New York. As we were so close to the Canadian border we picked up the Canadian radio stations. It was my turn to buy coffee that day and as I was driving to the gas station, the radio announcer said that there were reports of a plane flying into the World Trade Center. I hesitated to believe the announcer because he had just finished telling a joke and I figured it was some crack about Americans.

I got the coffee and went back to work. I was digging a hole in a man's front hard and he ran outside and implored us to come inside and see what was on TV. I hesitated because I wasn't supposed to do that, but went in and was mesmerized and appalled at what I saw on the television screen--replay after replay of the destruction. I then saw the second plane come in and hit the other tower.

I couldn't move for a few minutes...I didn't really know what to think. My boss made us all go back to work, but I remember the one thought that went through my head. "The world will never be the same."

I was fortunate enough not to lose anyone family members or friends in the attacks or the ensuing war on terror, but my heart goes out to all of those who have been more directly affected than I have by the infamy perpetrated on our country that day. May God be with us all.

Posted by: Josh H. | September 12, 2008 9:20 AM

I had a 0930 meeting high up in the John Hancock building that day. I came out of the company cafe a minute or two past 0900 and saw all the huge TV screens, that usually just funneled Hancock's stock price across the board, were on the events unfolding that morning. Hundreds of people were watching, transfixed. The first plane had already struck one tower. Within a minute the second plane hit....the entire hall uttered a loud and erie gasp. I was stunned...but instantly knew this was no accident. I waited a few seconds...looked to my right at another man and simply said: "We're going to kill a lot of arabs because of this" He appeared a bit stunned and moved away.

I went to the 0930 meeting...that was my mission that morning. The meeting lasted only perhaps 10 minutes..at which point the Hancock building was ordered evacuated. When I go back to the ground floor there was pandimodium...confusion, a bit of panic, and many women in tears. I left went to my office and turned on the tv in my office...there was little being done at tha point though.

I had another afternoon appointment which my customer insisted would take place inspite of the events of the day. I went back to Boston for that meeting and discovered that build too had been shut and evacuated....I called my customer in the building. He was there and did not know his building had been evacuated !

I left Boston and headed to my home and young son (I was concerned about how all this was being presented to the youngsters) Boston at that point was largely empty of workers and folks on the street. Not surprisingly I was out of the city more quickly than I had ever experienced before or since.

I remember the details of that day as clearly as I remember the assinations of both Kennedy's and that of Martin Luther King.

Thanks for your advise to committ all these memories to a piece of paper. I will do that as much for myself but also my son--now 15--for whom so many of the transformative events of my life: my time as a Marine, VN, assinations, 1968 elections and such are just pieces of un-connected words and data.

Posted by: Phil M | September 12, 2008 9:25 AM

I was at Fort Leavenworth attending CAS3. I had just left my quarters to go to class and was waiting at the crosswalk when one of my classmates Pete came running up and said a plane had hit one of the twin towers. We simply thought it was an accident. In the space of the time it took for us to walk from the crosswalk to our classroom, the second plane hit. As we watched the images on the TV in our classroom our instructor walked in. Pre-sciently he said the pentagon would be next. It was. We sat there in shock, feeling impotent as we watched our country burn. We were days away from graduation, all were ready for war that day. We then heard that another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania. My aunt and uncle lived there. After a frantic phone to my dad we figured out they were okay. He gave some words of encouragement that day, I forget what they were, but they were comforting. I then called my wife back in Oregon and told her to be careful on her way to wrk. She had just woken up and did not know what was going on. I did my best to reassure her it would be ok. I hoped my words didn't ring hollow that day. We were dismissed early and told to stay in our quarters at Hoage Barracks until further notice. It was surreal to say the least. We pooled our resources that night, offering food to one another, those of us that had it since we were all on TDY and most choose to get their food from the restaurants, and well, they were all closed. I doubt little sleep was had by my classmartes, Officers who would lead the new war effort where the rubber met the road. The next morning, classmates who were assigned to CENTCOM had already packed up and headed back to Florida. We all graduated two days later, not sure what to expect. I made the long drive back to Arizona. It was lonely indeed.

Posted by: M | September 12, 2008 10:10 AM

To give some personal background information, I was born in New york City in March, 1947 and grew up in Queens and Nassau counties in New York. I am a Vietnam veteran, who enlisted post-Tet, after graduating from college. I have lived in New Jersy since 1975 I am a civil engineer, working in New York City, and was at my desk when the news of the attack first broke.

I began the day at breakfast with my wife, walked the mile to the train station, and took the train to Penn Station, Newark, where I transferred to an electric train going to Penn Station in New York. Some of the other pasengers who got off my train boarded the PATH to the World Trade Center. It was a normal working day, with beautiful weather.

I was working at my desk, when I first headr that a "small plane" had hit one of the World Trade Center Towers. As the morning progressed, I learned that each of the towers had been struck by airliners and that each subsequently collapsed.

I remember police cars, ambulances, and fire apparatus roaring across 34th Street, and heading downtown. I remember the smell when I went outside for luinch, and looking down Seventh Avenue from 34th Street at the cloud of smoke where the towers were.

I tried calling my wife, to let her know that I was OK, because i often visited the World Trade Center to meet with Port Authority engineers, but couldn't get through because land lines and cell phones were overwhelmed.

The situation was clarified over the course of the day, and I was relieved that, although an unknown number had dies, the Fire Department and NYPD and PAPD had managed to safely evacuate most of the tenants. At that time, we did not know that almost 400 fire fighters and police officers had died in the rescue attempt. A substantial number of them were Irish Catholics, born in "the boroughs", like me. I subsequently learned that two of them were men that I knew.

Initially, all rail traffic into the city was suspended. However, by rush hour, NJ Transit was running, and I took my normal train out of Penn Station, New York. The train was standing room only, and I was sitting on an aisle seat near the vestibule.

I was sitting next to a youn man covered in gray powder, who was finally able to reach his mother on his cell phone, when the train exited the hudson river tunnel en route to Newark. He had worked in one of the towers and had survived, Until that time, his mother didn't know if he was dead or alive.

Prior to the attack, you could see the Towers rising above the skyline from the NJ Transit trains. I couldn't see out, but I saw people standing in the vestibule whose jaws literally dropped as they stared out the window, looking at the smoke rising from the void on the horizon where the Towers were.

I finally understood my father's emotions after Pearl Harbor and the hatred for Japan and the Japanese that he carried to the grave in 1999. I have the same hatred for those who perpetrated the attack on the Towers and have absolutely no scruplesabout inflicting the most horrific damage on them, wherever they might be.

I actually enquired about returning to active duty as an Engineer officer, but was told that I was overage. I was and am frustrated because of that.

Posted by: William F. Daly | September 12, 2008 10:23 AM

Wow. There must be something in the air, as I wrote up (in brief and not too well) my own experiences that day on my blog. My own somewhat unremarkable tale is posted here. I guess I need to clean it up and add some details.

http://spacer1.blogspot.com/2008/09/seven-years-later.html

Posted by: spacer01 | September 12, 2008 2:11 PM

I had been laid off by my management consulting firm less than a month earlier. On September 10th, I mailed my first cover letter and resume and planned, after sleeping in a bit, to send some more out on the 11th.

Sometime between 8:45 and 9:00, my cell phone rang. I silenced it and tried to go back to sleep. It rang again. Who is it? Oh, it's just my girlfriend, calling me from work to get me to start the day at a reasonable hour. Silenced it again. Ring! Jesus, I guess I have to answer.

"Turn on the tv," she said. "What channel?" "Any channel, it doesn't matter." I didn't understand; maybe she heard that the cable was out -- how could it not matter what channel I watched.

"What do you see?" she asked. (They had no TV at the lab where she worked, and the only news was delivered by the DJs at the hard rock station favored by her male coworkers.) CNN happened to be the channel that came on. "I don't know, it looks like maybe a smoke stack or something." Then I realized what I was actually looking at. "They said that a plane hit the World Trade Center, that it might be terrorism," she told me.

Just then, the second plane hit. Or maybe it was a replay in the minutes after the second strike.

From that moment on, the day is a jumble. My roommates came home one-by-one from their jobs in Boston. A couple of other friends came over to watch on our couch. Sometime in the afternoon, I realized that I hadn't eaten. We heated frozen french fries in the oven and just watched and watched the TV.

While it was still light out, the sound of a jet brought new fears -- hadn't the entire skies been cleared? I raced outside and looked up to see a lone military jet patrolling Boston.

I don't remember anything else about that day.

Posted by: Adam | September 12, 2008 4:17 PM

I would like to send you my memories of that day.

However, when I first turned on the television and saw smoke coming from one of the twin towers, my VERY first thought was of Osama Bin Laden. That is the truth. I had been reading about him a lot on the internet, and immediately drew lines of my own from 1993 through the Cole and the embassies to 2001. I had read about the Day of Hate and how it was stopped. I knew exactly what had happened the second I turned on the TV. I even guessed about the flight schools. Does that disqualify me from writing? I can't really say what I felt without writing those things.

Posted by: Steve Gregoropoulos | September 12, 2008 5:38 PM

I was in a meeting. I heard a hustle in the background both at my office and in the office of the people I spoke with on the phone several states away. The message was the same. The coffee area had a small TV. There were two hundred people in a room designed for maybe twenty at a time watching the news.

Posted by: Kelly H | September 12, 2008 5:45 PM

I had gotten up early for college at the University of Oklahoma. I had changed my major from Engineering, at which I sucked, to Political Science and specifically wanted to study international security issues. I was about three weeks into a couple of classes about terrorism and security issues. I was going to school on the GI Bill. My wife had gotten the kids around and I took my shower in the same cold water I always had when I went after her and our son. I got dressed, poured a cup of coffee, and started to head out the door of our cramped apartment. The Today Show was on, and just as I was walking past the TV, one of the people said that they were switching to a local affiliate in NYC for a tragedy they were following. The shot changed to the WTC, one of the towers (I learned later the north one) was on fire, and the local news person saying that a small plane had hit the tower. I didn't know anything about aviation or high-rise office buildings, but it didn't feel right, and I still don't know why. Maybe it was the large amount of smoke and flames, maybe it was the burgeoning security guy in me, I don't know. My wife got back from taking our son to his elementary school up the street watched with me, as the second plane struk the other tower. She asked me "what does it mean? What's happening?" and I remember saying "We're under attack. We're at war with somebody. Probably terrorists." I told her to go and get our son from school, gas up the car, and go to my parents' house out in the country a couple of hours away.
I don't know why I sent her away, but she did this without question. I went to school in my truck. When I got there, I found televisions set up all around the student union. Several of my friends were sitting at one table. We all sat there quietly. A girl I knew was crying and shaking. I realized that my coffee was cold. I went over to the coffee bar and filled up. The guy who ran it said it was free today. I remember having this disconnected feeling all day. Somebody told me that the University President had said that classes were optional. Somebody else told me that I needed to call my National Guard unit. We had just gotten back a few months prior from Bosnia. I went to a payphone and tried to call my unit, but the phone was busy. I went back to my table and asked a friend who was in my unit what he thought we should do, and we decided to drive into Oklahoma City to our armory. We got there and the full-timer didn't have anything for us. We came back and I went home and packed a suitcase and gassed up. It was about noon or so by now, and the price of gasoline had shot up to what I thought at the time was a terribly high level.
My dad was in the city for a meeting of some type and he came over to my apartment. We watched the news together. He suggested that we go and donate blood. It seemed to make sense, so we went to the Red Cross in Norman, and there was a huge line out the building and into the parking lot. At one point, a TV news crew was there, and asked my dad why he was there and he said "because I can't do anything else" and the camera man just lowered his camera and they walked away. I don't remember driving back to my parents' house with my dad. I just remember coming in the house and kissing my children and my wife and mom. My sisters had come up from Lawton with their kids, and we all just sat around watching the news coverage and not saying a thing.

Posted by: Michael Galletly | September 12, 2008 11:15 PM

I think it was on the clock radio, NPR. I turned on the television and saw the pictures of smoke, conjecture about what happened, then the second plane. I went to work at one of the federal buildings in Sacramento, but when I got there people were coming out saying work was called off. Nobody seemed particularly upset. There was a television crew getting live shots of the people leaving, the local angle.

It felt like a particularly bad train derailing or ferry capsizing. I went home and caught the buildings falling down on television, and it seemed more like the Union Carbide plant leaking in India, really a major disaster, with thousands of people probably dying. It seemed to me that the buildings falling in on themselves like that was going to make this a celebrity event. The people who flew the planes into the towers were very lucky, because in their business the more people you kill the bigger the effect you will have.

It didn't look at all like Pearl Harbor, which although I wan't around then was a wildly effective military operation by a great navy. It wasn't anything like Kennedy getting shot, which was having a large part of your consciousness taken out, like a mother or father dying. This was just some nuts who got lucky and killed a lot of people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I watched more television through the day, and killed some time in a discussion board on the internet. The right-wingers were all excited, of course, and it was amusing to keep posting about what Bush was up to, because it seemed clear that he was running away, looking for a place to hide. Back on the tube, we had the confusion in the streets and the wild speculation. The developing casualty estimates were interesting, as they usually are in disaster reporting, and I watched to see whether they'd keep going up or drop back down as the confusion settled. In my experience it was best to wait a few days to get an idea of what the real story was.

The next day it appeared that there would be no work at the federal building at least until Monday, so I went up to the mountains and worked on my cabin, with only NPR for news, so I pretty much missed out on the drama. Bush sounded weak through the radio, sort of the way Haig had sounded after Reagan was shot, scared and blustering. The talk and news were, of course, interesting. The event was going to be dignified as an "ättack", although it still seemed to me like a one-off shot, like a bad hurricane or tidal wave, something to clean up after and not brood about. Without the video, the Smoke Them Out of Their Holes business seemed pretty corny, especially since the politicians always stand up next to the cops and say that we're going to catch them and make them pay, make no mistake about that. It was clear that there were a lot of holes in Afghanistan.

So my first definite reaction to the Arabs flying the airplanes into the buildings came several weeks later, after we'd gone back to work and after the national hysteria had started to thicken. I was walking in the hall and saw an Arab-looking guy who was obviously lost and trying to figure out where his meeting was. My first thought was to find a cop and turn the guy in, and I was immediately ashamed of it.

It hit me pretty clearly that it was all wrong. I reflected that if my old man could land with people shooting at him at Omaha Beach for freedom or whatever it was he had to land there for, then I could run the risk of getting blown up to protect this guy's freedom to not know where he was supposed to go in the federal building and not get hassled for it by rent-a-cops. It was a relief to figure that out, because the alternative role of a trooper on the home front was to drive around with an American flag flapping off your vehicle. And all over the streets there were American flags half-shredded in the slipstream in a distressing display of flag-code ignorance.

I don't think it's probable that anyone 100 or 300 or 500 years in the future will care much about how anyone felt about the Arabs stealing the airplanes and running them into the buildings. Maybe a few historians will wonder why the country seemed to go so crazy when it happened and will want to get the yokel's eye view. But on the other hand, if we don't figure it out in the next few years and get control of it to a degree that will satisfy history, no one will much care what happened to this country. 9/11 will just be the skirmish that showed that by the early 21st century America was no longer equipped to survive.

Posted by: A. H. | September 13, 2008 4:08 AM

Mr. Bateman- Thank you for this. I spent the 11th at the Firemans Memorial and then down at Ground Zero where those of us who survived and/or worked in the recovery get together to remember (or sometimes forget).

I lived in Brooklyn Heights- that morning I was going to work. It was a beautiful day and I looked up at the sky, there were flocks of birds wheeling in the air. Since I was a kid I loved how the pigeons would fly in circles, going from white to black to white again depending on their relationship to the sun. So the birds made me feel light hearted.

I only lived a block or 2 from the subway. On the way someone said a plane had hit a Tower. The first assumption was a private plane, but someone else said no, it was a passenger plane. I went on, wondering what was true and with that ghastly feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when you just know something awful is happening. I kept thinking, how could it be a passenger plane? They never fly that low over Manhattan.

The train was right there and I was under the World Trade Center within minutes. They held us there and when the doors finally opened a Black man came in. I remember he wore a light colored suit and a bowtie and he told us another plane had just hit. And we just didn't believe him. We were all talking at once- kept trying to convince him it must have been an explosion from the first Tower but he insisted.

In the meanwhile, we weren't moving from Cortlandt St. Finally, after about 10-15 minutes the train left the station. The man sat down next to me and told me exactly what he had seen, then he began to talk about the elevators, how they wouldn't work in a fire (they go to the first floor automatically in case of fire) and he became increasingly upset. I tried to comfort him as much as I could but had to get off the train in midtown. When I got to work and saw their faces- I knew he was right. I had been on one of the last trains to get out from beneath the Towers, thanks to the common sense and foresight of an anonymous mta dispatcher. She let them shut down the system only when she knew all trains were out of the station. In December I would learn from a firefighter that they found a number of bodies in the station. That was the first time I really understood how lucky I had been. I got so shaky I had to sit down and all I could do was cry.

The rest of the day - I remember nearly everything- was horrible. When I got home, my neighborhood (which bordered the largest Arab neighborhood in Brooklyn) looked like an armed camp. we had roadblocks, the Guard, Police, even the FBI. Every driver was being stopped and showing id. Everyone manning the blockades had guns and rifles, even on my corner.

On the 12th I was next to the subway stop in my neighborhood waiting to donate blood when the police came roaring up sirens screaming, yelling at us to get out of the way. They were told there was a bomb in the station.

I lost my job and for several weeks I did nothing but sit in front of the TV and computer poring over every speck of news. I was terrified to go into the subway again. Finally one morning I just couldn't stand it anymore. I got up, got on the train and volunteered with the Salvation Army. I was on site for nearly 9 months full time. The memories I have working there are among the most precious I have. The people I met, the community that grew- have added so immeasurably to my life. I can't begin to tell you what an honor it is to be able to feel for once in my life I gave back to the cops and firefighters and soldiers who give so much to me.

And the birds I saw on 9-11? They didn't exist. What I saw were the papers from offices blown out of the first Tower. The wind carried them over Brooklyn. I've never looked at birds the same way since.

Posted by: dmjackson | September 13, 2008 11:22 AM

You said, in your fourth paragraph, "Really, you are doing this for an anonymous somebody 100, or 300, or perhaps even 500 years in the future." I'm not so sure. I have my doubts as to whether this horrible event will be such a big deal a century or several in the future, the way it is now, so fresh in our memories.

I have, I'm sorry to say, a fair bit of confidence in mankind doing something so much worse, so vastly bigger, that 9/11 will be little more than a footnote, on the same order as Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Two possibilities come to mind: Another terrorism attack with a nuclear weapon — Hiroshima & Nagasaki were designed to induce capitulation via gross terror — or a big-time war including nuclear weapons; or destruction of our environment through insufficient attention to global warming, letting a thermal runaway take us past the tipping point to a brave new world of higher sea levels, more violent storms, and extreme changes in weather patterns.

Posted by: Fred Yontz | September 13, 2008 7:17 PM

On Sept. 7 2001, I was admitted to the psych floor of the local hospital for treatment of severe depression.

The morning of Sept. 11, just before I headed into a group therapy session, one of the nurses said something about hearing that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I was mildly curious, but assumed that it had been a small plane and an accident. An hour later I emerged from my group and walked by the common room, where I saw a crowd of patients and staff standing in front of a TV. I walked in to see what they were watching just in time to see one of the towers collapse in a cloud of dust and debris. I don't know if it was happening at that precise moment or if it was a replay, but it doesn't matter. I was instantly seized by an overwhelming sense of horror -- fear and immense sorrow -- and fled from the room in tears, followed closely by one of the counselors. He talked to me calmly for quite some time before I could even think straight.

It was only hours later that I learned that both towers had been hit and collapsed, and even later before I was told of the planes that had hit the Pentagon and crashed in PA. It was over a month until I found out that the New York office of the company my sister worked for in another city had taken a direct hit from one of the jets, and everybody there that morning had perished.

I remained in the hospital for a month, until I was released numbed by medication and ECT treatments. My memory about much of that time has largely been erased, with the exception of that horrible Tuesday. Every time I would see a picture or televised replay of the towers, the billowing fireball of the second impact, the smoke trailing for miles, the huge cloud of debris racing down the canyons of the New York city streets, I would experience the same feeling of desperation and terror that I had felt that first day. I literally couldn't make myself watch. Even reading about everything -- the huge loss of life, the policemen and firefighters lost as they tried so hard to help, the continuing fire in the ruins -- made me feel ill.

Finally this year, for the first time, I overcame my horror and watched MSNBC's replay of NBC's live coverage of the events of that morning, from the initial confusion about what was happening through the growing realization that this was a terrorist attack, with one startling and terrible bit of news following another. It is still incredible in its sheer awfulness.

I know that I will never be able to put these memories out of my head.

Posted by: Sally1860 | September 13, 2008 11:09 PM

I'm with A.H. and Fred Yontz. 9/11 is very personal to me: my best friend's son, my godson, perished in the WTC. The next day, I volunteered for recall to active duty (retired RA officer) or to sign up in some other capacity, but was never even called back, even though I still had a current TS security clearances, something that's pretty important for an intelligence officer.

I doubt I'll ever put pen to paper because my impressions of our reaction as a nation are so negative. It was mission accomplished for those 19 guys: they may ultimately have ruined us as a nation. That's arguable, but one thing that isn't is that we've been exposed as a nation of pathetic bed-wetters.

Posted by: Publius | September 16, 2008 10:11 PM

I was there. I was there for the bombing in 1993 as well. I worked one block north at 100 Church Street. I should also mention that I lived during the 1980s and early 90s in Jersey City near Journal Square, in the same neighborhood as the blind sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and many of the other co-conspirators. I walked past his Masjid al-Salaam on my way to the PATH train each morning. I recognized the man escorting the blind sheikh in the photo broadcast on the local news. The guy holding his arm was the guy who owned the grocery nearest my apartment -- the place I used to go to buy my pita bread and olives. By the way, the WTC was visible from that neighborhood.

I had just come back from my honeymoon two days before the attack. I saw the twin towers as the plane approached JFK.

On 9/11, I was on my way to work from my home in Brooklyn. The first plane had just hit as I walked up from the Park Place subway station on 9/11. A stream of horrified people escaping from the WTC through the subway station from the arcade near the terminus of the E train confronted me as I came up from the platform level to the mezzanine. People were shouting about a fire in the WTC. Their faces were contorted with a terror that I couldn't understand. I had no idea what was happening 100 yards away.

I rushed upstairs and down one block to see the horrific scene. The south tower had been hit and the horror of what I saw was beyond describing. I had a sense that it was not safe to be so close, so I walked toward my office. As I did, there was a loud roar which I now know to be the jet engines, and a rush of air as if it was being sucked into a vacuum. As I entered the building, the second plane hit the north tower with a massive crash spraying debris up Church St. and onto the Post Office building next door. A man, apparently in shock, smoked a cigarette in the entranceway as the scene of horror unfolded. I will never forget his expression of complete disassociation from what was transpiring.

What I saw after fleeing from 100 Church doesn't correspond with the usual story about people coming together to help each other. Yes, I saw that. I saw the firefighters rushing toward the twin towers where many would give their lives in an effort to save others. But I also saw people oblivious to the suffering of my companion that morning, a disabled woman who had difficulty walking. Not one car or truck would give her a ride. One NYC employee actually said "that's not my job. I work for the Housing Deparment." I also saw people listening at top volume to the Howard Stern playing at top volume on the radio of a SUV parked a few blocks from the limit of the dust storm after the first of the buildings collapsed. I saw a guy in the middle of the street yelling up at the sky saying "this is me, God! It's Andy!" in what he thought was a prayer / comedy routine as the thousands died. Worst of all, I saw a gang of teenagers approach a young woman walking on the street; one punched her in the face without warning and grabbed her jewelry. Later, when the N and R trains began running and I made my way to Brooklyn, two teenagers without shirts got on the subway and began talking at top volume about how they could rob anyone on board the train at will.

I haven't yet put all this on paper, but people should know that the truth of the day is gray, not black and white. There was a lot of indifference to the suffering taking place as well as the deepest compassion and greatest sacrifice.

Posted by: Adam Holland | September 17, 2008 3:28 PM

LTC Bateman, you say that we did not know that horrible morning who was behind the attack. Well, anybody following the news for the previous 5 years could easily deduce who it was. In 1996 or 97 Bin Laden bombed the Khobart Towers in saudia arabia and killed 19 us servicemen. He claimed responsibility because americans were defiling his holy land by drinking and reading playboy, etc. In 1998 he bombed the 2 embassies in africa because he could and took credit. Clinton tried to take him out with a cruise missle in 1998 but missed. Now, knowing all of this (for after all, you are a historian) how could you possibly claim ignorance of who was behind this attack? I knew it was bin laden after the 2nd plane hit and then the pentagon plane for sure. I remember explaining to my supervisor at work who bin laden was as we watched the events unfold.

Posted by: randy jewett | September 17, 2008 4:37 PM

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