Weekly Feature

2014-09-10 / Editorial

Thirteen years later, history still can be heartbreaking

Managing Editor

Someone came into our office early that bright, sunny morning and told our receptionist that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City.

My first thought was that the weather in New York City must be bad, recalling how a B-25 bomber had hit the Empire State Building during extreme fog conditions in 1945.

That was not the case 13 years ago this week. In some ways, it seems like an eternity ago. In others, it seems like yesterday.

I had never seen the World Trade Center. My first visit to New York City took place 16 months before ground was broken for it, a whirlwind visit orchestrated by my dad that included visits to Yankee Stadium, the World’s Fair, and yes, the Empire State Building.

The first tenants moved into the North Tower in 1970. It would take 15 years to finish the seven structures in the complex.

So when breaking news reached our offices that morning in 2001, my first destination was a television set. The Internet was not a prominent news source at that time, and faster means of communication such as Twitter were not yet available. By this time, we knew the South Tower had also been hit by an aircraft and that all hopes of the incident being an accident had evaporated.

We were under attack. But from whom? There were precious few places to find accurate, reliable information.

Typical of major disasters, this was an incident without a face. We saw burning skyscrapers, not trapped office workers. We saw fire engines, not doomed firefighters. We saw clogged streets, not orphans and widows.

Parched for more detailed information, I sought out additional cable news from a different location. Others were watching at the same venue. Watching the fires burn in the two buildings, I remarked to them that it would take a week to extinguish the flames. My knowledge of what it would require to evacuate a building that size was based on what I considered a skyscraper, not realizing that at 1,368 feet, the North Tower dwarfed everything west of the Hudson River.

Then in a sudden and surreal moment, the broadcaster said there was a report of a fire at the Pentagon. How odd, I thought for a millisecond, that there would be an incident outside Washington, D.C., at the same time this horror was unfolding in New York City. Then I connected the dots.

Long-range cameras reached across the Potomac and showed heavy smoke pushing from the Pentagon. About the same time, it was reported that another airliner was flying over Pennsylvania and not responding to ground controllers.

“What’s going on?” asked an anguished friend. “What’s today? Is it an anniversary or something?”

“It’s September 11. Nine, one one,” I replied. “Nine eleven.”

And I wondered if today would be the last day.

My news staff was assembled for last-minute assignments in an effort to get the local angle on a story that was spinning out of control. We had about three hours until our first of several production deadlines. And I thought about what it must have been like in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.

We were fortunate that no one in the office had been directly affected by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. For weeks afterward, we talked to families of victims and published photos of local firefighters and other rescue workers who had joined the recovery efforts at ground zero. History can be heartbreaking.

When the first anniversary of that awful day arrived, I had the honor of being where the Twin Towers used to stand and heard with my own ears the names of the victims as they were read aloud. My suburban Buffalo comrades and I wore our volunteer firefighter’s dress uniforms, although we felt unfit to be compared to the men and women of the FDNY.

After the ceremony concluded, we walked back to where our ride was waiting. People we never met applauded us.

It seems like yesterday.

(David F. Sherman is managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.)

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