Column/Six years later, memories are still fresh

Published 12:00 am Monday, September 10, 2007

Today millions of Americans will relate their personal stories to friends and family of where they were when they first heard about the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001.

What follows is my story.

It was about 7:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when I got in my car for the usual drive to work. Since the town I lived in was small, it was usually a very short, uneventful drive.

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As I turn on the radio I hear a somber news anchor report that an airplane has apparently crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

What a tragedy, I think, turning out of the driveway and heading downtown, envisioning a small Cessna hitting one of the towers and maybe killing the pilot and injuring a few poor souls who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The radio switches back to music.

Arriving at work I start my usual Tuesday task list and begin the process that is publishing a weekly community newspaper. As I sit in my office a co-worker knocks on the open door, peeks in and says “Did you hear about that plane hitting that building?”

“Yes,” I say, not lifting my eyes from the computer screen. “I heard about it coming to work.”

A few minutes later another co-worker appears at my door, her tone a little more frantic explaining what she’s just seen. “I just can’t believe it,” she says, her eyes looking at the floor, her head shaking from side to side. “All those people.”

Just then my phone rings. My wife is on the other end. She tells me two jet liners have been intentionally flown into both of the World Trade Center Towers, and another has hit the Pentagon.

A fourth plane is missing and they don’t know where it’s headed.

My mind begins to race as I hear another knock on my door. This time I look up quickly, expecting more bad news. “We have a TV now,” she says, turning and walking quickly out of my office.

“I have to go,” I tell my wife. “I’ll call you later.”

I walk quickly toward the TV, an old black and white job with a 13-inch screen working off rabbit ears. The picture is fuzzy, but the horror is crystal clear.

Two symbols of American freedom and power are on fire, mountains of smoke bellowing out of each.

The telecast switches to the Pentagon. It too is on fire, hundreds thought to be dead. Then they go to a split screen just as the south tower collapses, followed by the north a few minutes later.

I’ve just witnessed thousands of people die in an instant. I think of my family as I raise my head from the small screen and look into the stunned eyes of my staff, who themselves are trying to process in their minds what they’ve just witnessed.

“This is unbelievable,” I say, as I start a mental checklist of what we need to do to localize this national tragedy. And so the day went.

Looking back on that day, and the weeks that followed, I’m still trying to make sense of what happened and what it all means. I don’t know if I ever will. I think everything that happens to us is a test. A test that makes us evaluate who and what we are and who we need to be. Many of us will pass, many will not.

The passage of time has provided clarity as to why the events of 9-11 took place and how in the months and years leading up to the attacks they could have possibly been prevented.

I believe most Americans still wonder why someone would do something like that to us.

My hope is that someday we’ll figure it out and find a way to keep it from ever happening again. Up until now, we have. But I’m not na&ve enough to think we can keep it from happening here again forever.

In the meantime I’ll continue to keep the families of those who died on 9-11 and those that continue to fight the good fight to protect our people and our nation in my prayers.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: