9/11 Postscript: “This is War”

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The Freedom Tower (center) and other office buildings rise again in lower Manhattan.
The Freedom Tower (center) and other office buildings rise again in lower Manhattan.

by Gene Marrano

As the cable news network has done every year since September 11.2011, last Sunday MSNBC ran their “real time” video of NBC’s Today Show from that morning ten years ago, starting with a live shot of a burning World Trade Center north tower in lower Manhattan. There was speculation that a small plane had accidentally gone off course and veered into one of the symbols of America’s financial strength – an iconic symbol terrorists had tried to take down eight years earlier with a truck bomb detonated in the underground garage.

Then we all watched as another hijacked airliner struck the south tower. At 9:59 a.m. the south tower came down first, followed by the north tower at 10:29. As the time clicked off on the replay, one hoped that the outcome would be different, that more people would have survived, that the towers would remain in place, that all of those fallen first responders who made their way into the towers to save complete strangers would have been spared.

“This is war,” intoned NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw as clips of the second Twin Tower collapsing were shown over and over again. Then word of yet another hijacked airliner headed towards Washington was made public, more than an hour after a plane had struck the Pentagon. That fourth airliner turned out to be United 93, and at 10:40 a.m. NBC announced that a crash had been confirmed in a field north of Pittsburgh. That was the “let’s roll” flight, the words of passenger Todd Beamer, heard by his wife at the end of a cell phone call Beamer had placed to her from the air as they decided to storm the cockpit.

“Untold loss of life,” said Brokaw about what was happening in New York, “complete chaos.” NBC reached someone on the upper floors in one of the towers, who had this chilling comment: “we are (bleeping) dying here.” Those words still evoked goose bumps a decade later.

As I wrote last week in these pages, as witnessed on a visit to New York City last weekend, the World Trade Center site is finally springing back to life, after early squabbles, in true New York fashion, as to what should be built there.  The centerpiece “Freedom Tower” (One World Trade Center) will be finished in a few years – designed to be slightly higher than the Twin Towers, a sign that the American spirit may be bloodied but never broken – and at 1776 feet also symbolizing the year that the United States declared itself a free and democratic nation.

One other family connection to 9/11 that I did not mention last week: the brother of a tenant in an apartment my parents rent out was one of almost 700 Cantor Fitzgerald employees lost when the tower where their offices were located collapsed. It wasn’t hard to find connections on Long Island back then, to someone who knew someone impacted by the terrorist attack in New York.

At 11:08 a.m. on September 11, 2001, NBC ran a photo of Osama Bin Laden, speculating, as had officials in D.C. earlier, that the Al Qaeda leader may have been behind the attack. Almost a decade later we got our man, hiding out in plain sight, in Pakistan – one of our “allies.”

The MSNBC real time video was not synchronized to the actual hours of 9/11th this time, delayed for a touching live ceremony of healing at the World Trade site, as a memorial there was opened, first to survivors of those who perished. We are still “at war,” as Tom Brokaw mentioned ten years ago, on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many still debate the merits of that. Admittedly, I am still transfixed every time they run 9/11 footage on television, not believing that it actually took place on American soil. Even now, on crystal clear, deep blue-sky days, I remember how clear it was on that day ten years ago – “9/11 blue,” some call it.

Let’s hope that Roanokers who heard words of healing and reflection last Sunday, at church, at a local 9/11 memorial ceremony, during one of the pro football games broadcast that day – or just in their own minds as the day went on – strive to look for the positives that came out of 9/11, how at least for a while we all came together, instead of focusing on the unspeakable tragedy that claimed almost 3000. We’ve all moved on, of course, with our busy, busy lives, but let us never forget either.