On this, the upcoming 15th anniversary of the worst act of terrorism on American soil, I came across a frightening fact: Freshmen, entering their first year of high school right now, weren’t even alive when the Twin Towers fell. They will learn about it as part of their history curriculum. The impact of that day has been lost on my 15-year-old nephew; he will just never know.
15 years ago – It can’t be, can it? In my mind – in all of our minds, I think – the events of September 11, 2001 just happened yesterday. Even now, I turn on the news, expecting to see that black smoke billowing, the desperate people jumping, the buildings falling in an impossible, gargantuan explosion of ash, mortar and gypsum.
I have been a paramedic since 1996. On September 11, 2001, my police officer husband and I had gotten off of the midnight shift and were sleeping in our Florida home by 0730, recharging for the next night shift. When the phone rang just before 0900, I leaned over to nudge him to answer it, but his side of the bed was empty. I hadn’t heard him leave, and he hadn’t had time to fill me in. Just geared up and ran out.
It was him on the other end of the phone. “Turn the TV on,” was all he told me. Which channel? I wondered. “Doesn’t matter,” he had said. “And listen to me: Do NOT go anywhere. Stay put at home.” Then he hung up.
I, like the rest of the world, tuned in. Something unfathomable had happened at The World Trade Center … a fire, an explosion. Possibly a commercial passenger aircraft had struck the North Tower. I watched with Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel and the rest of them as they kept those cameras trained on the Towers, constantly talking, trying to make sense of it all. It was just two minutes before 0900.
But I had a sinking sense of foreboding. If the police department had recalled all of their officers, then what was happening in front of me on live TV was no accident. Then, at 0903, US Airways Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower. Then we all knew. And none of us were ever the same again. How? How could this happen over American soil? And when American Airways Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon, then Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, an entire nation was united in fear. A profound evil had found its way into our daily lives on a staggering scale.
When that South Tower collapsed, just a few short minutes later, I was in between screaming and crying. When that North Tower fell, I went to my knees. All those people trapped, all those first responders … you just knew they were all gone. Five years as a medic; to me, in five years, I’d seen just about everything. When The Towers fell, I realized I hadn’t even been born yet.
There are details from that day and the subsequent days after that I am still hyperconscious of; the look in the eyes of President George W. Bush as he sat reading with the Emma E. Booker Elementary School students, just south of me in Sarasota, when an aide whispered the news in his ear. America was under attack.
Every time I tried my husband’s cell, I got only a weird buzzing. When I finally reached him, he told me that in the confused whirlwind of rumors flying around, that MacDill Airforce Base in nearby Tampa was possibly a target. MacDill AFB is home to two of the U.S. military’s joint wartime command centers: United States Central Command (CENTCOM), and United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM). This wasn’t the case, but at the time we were all on such high-strung alert, that anything and everything seemed plausible.
I was recalled for duty like all the rest of the medics. They staffed and overstaffed, not knowing what to expect. I packed a three-day jumpkit, defied my husband’s orders and took my place on the rig. We were tense, ready to jump at any sound, and paced around charged on caffeine. No one slept. Everyone talked nonstop.
In the days to come, our nation learned that 2,977 people lost their lives when the towers fell. 75 stations in the FDNY had lost someone; 343 fire fighters and medics gave their lives that day, running into what everyone was running away from. The NYPD lost 23 officers. The Port Authority of NY and NJ Police Department lost 37 officers. And 8 EMS workers from private services that rushed in to help also perished.
And those numbers do not even begin to encompass those who succumbed to various illnesses contracted while they pieced through the rubble, looking for anything, anyone. So we may never know the true number of casualties that day.
19 hijackers and four commercial passenger aircraft were involved. The planning that went into this act of terrorism is almost beyond comprehension. And we all lost pieces of ourselves that day, and in the days to come. When my brother was deployed for the first time, in answer to these events, I was terrified. He went back twice more, and I cannot even count the sleepless nights.
There are many remembrances and memorials planned for the 15th anniversary of 9/11; and I will go to as many as possible, just like the rest of my brothers and sisters in uniform. We will light candles, have moments of silence, send up balloons, release Japanese lanterns from the beach, and have countless conversations of ‘remember-when.’ We will read the names of the victims.
When The Towers fell, I knew the true meaning of fear. But I also found the true meaning of strength that lies at the core of our America. It was bittersweet.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.
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