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Column: Memories of that terrible September day still strong

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Another Tuesday in Americus, Georgia. Sunny and pleasant. I head off to the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University, where I teach in the School of Education. The kids are safely at school and my wife is already on campus. She has a course to teach today. I am enjoying the prospect of a teaching and meeting free day. Of course, I need to prepare for the classes I will teach the next day.

As I am preparing lessons in my office, a colleague shows up and sticks her head in my door. She says, “Did you hear about the plane crash in New York?” I had not. She said a plane had slammed into one of the World Trade Center buildings. Recalling the bombing attack of the Trade Center eight years earlier, I immediately asked her if it was an act of terrorism. She said the reports were mixed. Some say it was a small plane and others say it was a passenger airliner. Neither of those situations sounded like terrorism to me. More like pilot error. I returned to my work.

My colleague was a bit more worried about the circumstance. She decided to continue to monitor the news. Her instincts were correct as she returned 15 minutes later and said it was a passenger airliner that had been highjacked and that the Pentagon had been struck also. I knew I would never be able to concentrate on my lesson plans. Instead, I jumped in the car and hurried home.

Americus is such a small town it only took me about eight minutes to drive home. I switched on our only radio station. It was affiliated with CBS, so CBS news was broadcasting live from near the Pentagon. They described a massive explosion that took out a huge section of one of the walls. Eyewitnesses said a plane had flown into it. Other buildings around the District were being hastily evacuated, including the White House and the Capitol building. Now I was not worried, but instead I was mortified. What was happening to America? I sped up some.

When I arrived home, I switched on CNN on the TV. There was Aaron Brown, on a building a ways away from the World Trade Center, updating viewers as the two towers burned in the background. Debris seemed to be falling from the towers. A report came in that said people were jumping from the buildings to escape the fires. My heart sank with this news. Reports of an airliner crashing in a field in Pennsylvania filtered into the broadcast. As I continued watching the program the second tower seemed to shiver and then peel back like a banana. The obvious implications of what had just happened caused my stomach to turn. People were dying in New York City and elsewhere. I was filled with worry and dread for my wife’s cousin who worked for the EPA in D.C. Would she be okay? Was the Metro still running and also the Manassas rail line? She needed those to get to her home in Virginia.

When the second tower collapsed, it was almost too much for me. I was old enough to remember the day President Kennedy was assassinated. This felt much worse. I felt helpless sitting in a family room in our home in Georgia. I felt incredible sadness with a dose of anger. Who would do all of this? To what end?

I was hollowed out by the afternoon but could not stop watching the news. I knew that my day would not get better. Our three children were 10, 9 and 5. All three are intelligent and inquisitive. They would want answers. I wanted some too. It would be a long evening attempting to explain how some people are evil and desperate. It is why we all need to be kind, even when it is difficult. I hope no one will experience another day like 9/11 in their lifetimes. God bless all the heroes from 9/11 and the ensuing days. Oh, how my heart still aches thinking about the passengers on those jets and the people who just went to work like every Tuesday, until it wasn’t. I cannot forget that day. What about you?

Doug Hatch is an associate professor in the Illinois State University College of Education. He moved to Normal in August 2002. 



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