The day started out horribly. Two days beforehand, my wife’s grandfather, Samuel Ginsburg, passed away after a long and valiant battle against Alzheimer’s Disease. That day, we were going to attend his funeral.
My wife Vicki was already mad at me; I had scheduled the week off so that I could attend the inductions of the newest class of the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and was planning to leave Albany for an eight-hour drive to Sharon, Pennsylvania for the induction ceremonies immediately after the funeral. I would be attending the funeral, going home, changing my clothes and jumping into the car for a long drive – all as part of an article for Goldmine magazine.
So as I’m trying to get ready for the funeral – and check my e-mail in my home office at the same time – Vicki comes running in to tell me, “Chuck, Chuck, oh my God, I just heard on the news! Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center!”
A quick check of CNN’s website confirmed it; a big headline about planes crashing into the World Trade Center.
I ran into the living room, where the television was already broadcasting the horrible sight – one smoldering tower, where previously two mighty towers stood against the New York City skyline. What happened to the other tower, I silently whispered as I watched the screen.
Five minutes later, the other tower fell to earth.
How we ever made it through Vicki’s grandfather’s funeral, nobody knows. It was a mixture of grief at the loss of a World War II veteran and patriarch, and the total confusion as to what happened and what buildings were hit and the like. Someone said the Capitol had been hit. Another person said there were reports the Pentagon was destroyed by a falling plane. Why were these planes falling out of the sky?
As the funeral procession transported Vicki’s grandfather to his final resting place in the cemetery across from Crossgates Mall, with our car just three vehicles behind the Hearse, I snapped on the car radio – a blatant violation of funereal protocol, but I think on a day like this God will make an exception – and heard more chilling, sorrowful news about what happened – and who might have been behind the attack on our people.
We arrived home after the funeral. Nobody knew what to say, what to do. My editor at Goldmine called me, said that all the planes were grounded and that the inductions at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame were being postponed until a later date. I decided to run over to the Albany Red Cross to see if they wanted a blood donation. Three hundred people were already in line, waiting to roll up their sleeves.
Almost immediately, anyone who owned an American flag of any kind or vintage hung them and flew them outside their houses. We hung a flag outside our door. A day later, someone stole it. Finding another flag that week was nearly impossible, as any merchants with a flag for sale would be sold out of stock in moments.
We cried over the loss of not only the civilians in those planes and those in the towers, but of the loss of brave firefighters and police officers, who chose to go into sheer terror to save people, no matter what price – including the ultimate one – they would pay.
Today is the eighth anniversary of that terrible, horrible moment in human history. It affects all of us. Some of us knew a person who perished in the towers; or of a person who happened to fly on that day. Some of us tattooed our body with 9-11-01 and the words “Never Forget.” Some of us volunteered for military service. Others volunteered for civilian service.
Over the years, we heard other stories of bravery and courage on that horrible day. Stories about the dozens of boats that evacuated people from the shoreline around Ground Zero. Stories about the ham radio operators who kept communications alive when cell phone coverage was clogged and useless. Stories of doctors and physicians who ran to those in shock and in pain, and said, “I’m a doctor, what can I do to help?” Stories of restaurants who threw open their doors and became shelters and care centers. Stories from months afterward, about college students foregoing their Spring Break plans to spend Spring Break with charitable organizations at Ground Zero.
A friend of mine from New Zealand e-mailed me a day after 9/11 and asked if I was near the World Trade Center when it fell, not realizing that Albany is no closer to New York City than Christchurch is to Auckland. She also worried about her brother, who was on one of those flights on his way back to New Zealand – only to contact me a couple of days later, happy that her brother had missed his connecting flight and avoided the tragedy – and half-angry because he didn’t think of calling his worried sister and letting her know he was all right.
The tragedy of September 11th still affects me to this day. As a personal tribute to those who were called to Glory all too soon, I always wear a souvenir American Airlines “junior pilot” toy pin on the anniversary of that tragic moment. It’s my way of remembering – and hopefully never forgetting – what happened to all of us.
These are the memories I have of September 11, 2001. Nine hundred eleven words.