Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Remembering 9/11

I have a newspaper from 15 years ago that news outlets reported on and captured the horror that we faced as Americans and the resiliency we later felt.

In seventh grade I saw on the news the terrorism that we only learned about in history classes. Now I’m reporting on schools hosting ceremonies to honor the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11. Many students who participated in such ceremonies were too young to remember it or weren’t born at the time of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. It still surprises me to realize they are studying history that others learned about in their own way by watching the broadcast in school as the attack unfolded.

My middle school principal announced that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. I wondered if it happened by accident. He gave teachers permission to turn on the news, and that was how we learned – our principal didn’t want to be the one to tell us. Instead the reporters informed us that terrorists hijacked airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the pentagon.

You can’t help what happens on a live broadcast. We saw objects fall from an opening in the Tower. It caught the attention of the broadcasters who asked each other what we had wondered – what was that? They thought people tried to get the attention of first-responders to alert them of their location. They asked the cameraperson to zoom in. That’s when we saw it live, that people jumped from the building. Everyone said the same thing: they didn’t jump to their safety, mistakenly thinking they would live. They jumped because whatever was behind them they deemed much worse.

Some people stopped taking shelter in nearby buildings, and they joined the action to help. They offered what they could – medical assistance, water, a hug – anything to help and show they cared. The amazing part of the broadcast was seeing people come together as Americans. Friends, neighbors and strangers joined together with candles and American flags to stand strong. United we stand.

My teachers told my classmates we would always remember where we were on 9/11. In a sense, they didn’t want us to forget. A faded memory would mean forgetting how you felt and how you reacted to it.

I attended a journalism seminar two years later to hear broadcasters talk about their careers. When asked about handling difficult news, one of the reporters said he nearly froze during the 9/11 broadcast. Someone off-camera held up a sign with a note. His voice cracked when he announced the second Tower had fallen. He told our group of the disbelief he felt and the emotions that came when they knew the death toll became that much higher. Being a live broadcast, he had to keep going without knowing what to say next. I remember being shocked when we saw the first tower fall, let alone the second.

Firefighters raise an American flag at the site of the World Trade Center in New York in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. Photo by 2001 The Record (Bergen Co. NJ/ Getty Images)
I reported on a 9/11 event at an elementary school in 2015. The principal called for a moment of silence. God, was it silent. That gave me the chills. The first through fifth grade students respected the solemn ceremony to honor those who died. Many students were a few years younger than I was when I watched on the news of something terrible that changed us as Americans before they were born, and yet they respected those who died and those who serve in the military and as first-responders.

I attended fire school later that night at the Delaware County Emergency Services Training Center. The lead instructor talked to us about 9/11 and the 343 New York firefighters who were killed. With the attack just after shift change for the career departments, firefighters stayed after their night-shift and responded because of their desire to help when their community needed them the most. They responded when the nation needed them the most.

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