Ten years to the day from the infamy of 9/11, I can remember in vivid chronological detail where I was, what I felt and what I did on that day. A dollar to a donut says you can too…virtually everyone who was a teen or older on that day can do likewise. It’s not something one easily forgets. I can also clearly recall the moment I learned JFK had been shot…and the fear that a Russian invasion might follow. The “extra” Knoxville News Sentinel, printed on pink newsprint that day, within an hour of the shooting in Dallas, has since been replaced with instant TV coverage and commentary on historic events such as these. And that is progress! Instant coverage of every inane event requiring any measure of manual dexterity and deemed a sport, such as cow-pie tossing and buffalo wing eating, is also covered instantaneously. And that’s a farce!
My 9/11 started early. I was jolted awake from a three hour, semi-sleep haze by the bleating of the alarm in my Detroit hotel room. Why didn’t I set the clock to “radio” instead of “alarm” I thought? I had watched the Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 3-2 the night before with Tiger manager, Phil Garner’s wife Carol. Phil, a Straw Plains native and UT grad, was in no mood to eat afterward, but we did. Then at midnight he dropped me at the hotel only a few blocks from the park.
Sleep was elusive and when it came it was not deep. I had an early morning commuter flight to Cincinnati where I then had a Delta flight to Chicago where I was scheduled to speak to a group at the Sears Tower at 10:30. (later it was found out that this was also a target of the terrorists). No time to waste or for delays I thought. But control of that day was not in my hands.
The Cincinnati arrival was on time and I was fully awake…well almost. From the Cincinnati DAL Crown Room I talked with my son, and business partner, until I realized that it was 8:50 and I had to go to the end of the concourse to catch my 9:15 flight. I quickly turned toward the exit as I concluded my call with David, only to see on the TV, the sight of a hole in the North Tower of the Trade Center. The ball of flame had subsided from the impact and now only smoke was flowing from the gaping hole in the building. I was shocked at what I saw but the full impact of the crash didn’t register. My mind immediately shot back to the day in the early 70’s when a small plane hit the then Pan Am Building on 45th Street in NY. I checked my watch and ran for my flight.
I made it! I was the last one on the airplane, the door was closed as I entered and I settled into my seat with my daily crossword puzzle. My concentration was briefly interrupted by the pilot’s voice over the intercom saying that we had a minor problem with a cockpit dial that would be fixed momentarily. He was right. The MD-80 pulled away from the gate in about 10 minutes and taxied toward takeoff.
As we turned onto the runway, the pilot’s voice again interrupted my mental search for an eight letter word beginning with the letter “S” that satisfied 9 Down… “good financial condition.” “There is a slight problem on the East coast and we are being called back to the gate”, he said with manufactured calmness. The 30 minute old view of the smoke pouring from the Trade Center flashed in my memory as I reached for my cell phone, which I had forgotten…that I had forgotten. What a time to leave it in the car as I kissed my wife goodbye 24 hours earlier I thought as I grabbed the airplane phone in the arm rest of my seat. A dollar a minute, plus a $2.50 connection fee…crap!
The phone connection was good, thankfully, but my wife’s voice was shaky and she was crying as I said, “what’s going on?” Her answer was almost unintelligible so I said, ‘put the phone up to the TV.” I listened and relayed the unfolding info from the announcer to the others around me in the plane. This is a world changing event….I just knew it.
There was chaos in the plane. People were trying to exchange details as they understood them. I called my travel agent in an attempt to get a rental car. No luck! I asked if anyone else had a car. A man behind me had an Alamo reservation and was driving to Atlanta. We were soon to find out that a reservation was a far cry from an actual automobile as no one with a rental car chose to turn them in. As I pondered how I was going to traverse the almost 500 miles back home two ladies, aka good Samaritans, came through the rental office saying that they had a van and were going to Knoxville and could take 8 people. A team of wild horses couldn’t have kept me out of that van. The two ladies were Pilot Oil executives whose names I do not know. But I have personally thanked Pilot Oil founder, Jim Haslam, for their kindness on more than one occasion.
Ten people drove 4 hours to Knoxville in rapt silence as we listened on a New York station to the unfolding tragedies just a block from New York University, the American Stock Exchange and Trinity Church. I knew the area well because of my time at NYU. I reflected on those days in 1969 when I spent each morning at a coffee shop directly across from the Trade Center as it came out of the ground during the beginning of construction. I scurried hurriedly through the Trinity Church Cemetery every day on my way to the daily bagel and the reflection on my previous profession as a structural engineer.
I also thought of the many days I spent only months before in the South Tower where I had an account with an investment advisor who occupied the entire 96th floor. I had eaten many times at the cafeteria in the basement, and knew of the tentacles of hallways that radiated from the center of both the South and North Towers. I wondered if anyone was trapped, but safe, back in those tunnels. The answer was no…but I didn’t know it then.
I spent that night in Knoxville with my Mother and drove to Atlanta with my brother the next day. Two other of our professionals were in Boston for the week of the tragedy but all had returned when I met with our staff a week later. We prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for our safety, and peace and comfort to the many who lost loved ones on that day. We knew the days that followed would be emotionally confusing and economically challenging…and they have been.
Such is the reflection, at least my own. Yours is equally as vivid I am sure. But what are the projected thoughts and actions that emanate from the events of 9/11? And how do they fit with KNOXVILLE HERITAGE, which is the focus of this website? I submit two for your consideration.
First, the horrific acts resulting in the devastation still felt in our nation, were not done by a committed Christian, a Jewish Rabbi or a pseudo intellectual atheist. These acts were perpetrated by Islamic extremists with an undeniable and insatiable desire to destroy us and decimate our way of life. No amount of political correctness and aversion to calling this world view exactly what it is will change this reality.
Secondly, those set like a flint to destroy us, intended to “bring us to our knees”…and they did…bring us to our knees…but not as they intended. After 9/11 the churches were filled. Congress met on the steps of the Capitol and invoked the presence and help of God. People all over the nation prayed to God. The adage goes that, “there are no atheists in a fox hole.” And on 9/11 we all knew we were collectively in a foxhole.
Ten years have passed. The Dow Jones Average closed at 9605 on 9/10/2001. It closed on 9/11/2011 at 10,992…up 14.4% over these 10 years. (Interestingly, it closed at 9605 on 9/10/2009…flat for the 9 years after 9/11) Are we better off? Hardly! We could discuss ad nauseam the condition of the world and our nation today…and probably not reach a conclusion. Time will tell.
I do think strongly that we better know clearly who our enemy is and we better return to where the terrorists drove us on 9/11…to our knees…in prayer to our Creator and Sustainer! On that day our perspective of our enemy was clear. Our view of and perceived need for Almighty God was more in focus than it had been for years. In the decade just passed our nation seems to have drifted away from the spiritual commitment of that day.
Please Dear Lord, save us…from our enemies…and ourselves!