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Day before the horrors

Day before the horrors

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THE AUTHOR is a freelance journalist and a former Hub staff member.

Today, Sept.10, is a “day before.” Most such days are footnotes in history books and background noise in our memories.

Do you ever think about Dec. 6, 1941, when Pearl Harbor’s skies were clear; Nov. 21, 1963, when a young president and his wife prepared for events in Dallas; April 3, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. told a Memphis audience that he’d been to the mountaintop; or Jan. 27, 1986, when we looked forward to seeing the first teacher in space?

Tragic, horrifying “days after” are what forever change America. For the rest of their lives, people who were living on such days start most conversations about them by lowering their eyes, sighing and saying, often in whispers, “I remember ...”

We all wish they never happened. We’re torn between wanting to forget and needing to honor those who died by remembering. Such emotions will be raw tomorrow, the 20th anniversary of one of the most terrible days in U.S. history.

I was in the Hub newsroom the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when someone — probably seeing an Associated Press news alert — said to turn on the TV because something had happened to a World Trade Center tower in New York City. When the reporter said a plane hit the building, I was among those who thought he meant a small private plane.

Then, on live TV, a commercial airliner flew into the second tower. News reports followed about a third plane slamming into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth jet crashing in a Pennsylvania field after the brave crew and passengers fought back against the hijackers.

Nearly 3,000 lives were lost in those terrorist attacks, including many heroic first responders who rushed to rescue people and became victims when the towers collapsed.

Investigators determined that the 19 hijackers had passed through existing airport security, then provided by private companies, that allowed small knives to be carried on some flights. Safety measures then didn’t require locked cockpit doors.

I was grounded by the temporary grounding of all commercial flights to, from and throughout the United States. I had a Sept. 12 plane ticket to Indianapolis for the 2001 National Federation of Press Women Conference. Organizers went ahead because some members already had arrived or were driving there.

Later that week, I got an email that Troy McCain, then of DeWitt, sent to the 29 other members of the Nebraska LEAD class of 2000-02. It had information about the officer who was our Pentagon tour guide during our February 2001 national travel seminar.

Troy, who had introduced him, had the officer’s business card. Knowing that we had been in the part of the Pentagon struck by the plane, Troy emailed a message of concern. The officer replied that he was OK, but knew some of the people killed and injured.

The Washington itinerary for future LEAD classes had to be changed because of the security measures implemented after 9/11.

An international travel seminar in January of the second year is part of the ag leadership program. Four months after 9/11, my group was the first LEAD class to go overseas — Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. TSA handled U.S. airport security by then, but the changes at home and internationally weren’t as great as we expected.

Investigations were ongoing in January 2002. So when we were in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, it wasn’t known yet — publicly, at least — that the hijackers had met there to plan the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Many media stories about the 20th anniversary are about survivors, first responders, families who lost loved ones and others with the biggest heartaches. I read the stories, look at photos taken on that dark day, hear Garth Brooks’ version of “The Dance” in my head and think about how different their lives had been on Sept. 10.


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I stared, trying to comprehend the blank space in Manhattan where the World Trade Center towers used to be. The towers were simply gone, as if someone took a pencil and erased them. It was Oct. 27, 2001. My twin sister, my cousin Betsy Vershay and I visited Ground Zero that day, six weeks after the towers fell.

George Washington would stop in awe if he could see today’s rural Nebraska. He’d gape open-mouthed at the thousands of acres, the pivots and tractors and combines and technology that farmers rely on these days.

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