A few days ago, one of my cousins in New York City, Justin, sent me a photograph he had recently taken aboard a power boat sailing in New York Harbor. It featured an American flag fluttering over the stern, with the cityscape behind.
However, I wasn’t sure it was New York City.
I sensed it was NYC because of the color and texture of the water – but not from the skyline. The sparkly-yet-muddy-brown-green water was very familiar, after all many of New York’s 114 sewage treatment plants discharge into it, but I didn’t recognize the buildings onshore.
Could it be Chicago? I mused. Nah. This has got to be a 9-11 thing from Justin, and this picture was probably taken by lower Manhattan.
Nevertheless, I couldn’t find one familiar land mark. I searched the left-hand margin for the Chrysler Building or even the Empire State Building– sure giveaways for the Big Apple.
Nope, couldn’t find them. They’re too far north and out of the photo, I thought.
How about the Battery? Again, the picture was too tightly cropped, and the southern-most tip of Manhattan was excluded.
So, I emailed my cuz, and he confirmed it was the new view of Ground Zero with condos on the riverfront and the new testimonial structure rising from where the World Trade Center towers once stood.
Wow, I thought. The tenth anniversary of 9-11 is as much a personal time capsule of how we have changed as it is a remembrance of the many dead in one of America’s most tragic days.
Hence, I wrote back to my cousin and started gushing about how I have changed since September 11, 2001. Then I solicited comments from family, friends and colleagues – both in my old home of New York and here in Eatonville and Graham. Here’s the gist of my commentary and what others have told me.
Email to Justin:
On 9-11 I was still married, and was five years away from newspaper work. I weighed thirty pounds less and my truck had 150,000 fewer miles. I was working as a carpenter and a union stagehand, labor that I haven’t done since 2005 due to health issues with my lungs.
I was driving to work when I heard about the first tower. I was pulling onto I-5 northbound at the SR 512 interchange, listening to my rock station, 103.7 KMTT, “The Mountain.” The morning DJ cryptically said, “We’re going to switch over to our sister station KIRO-AM and get an update on the strange happenings in New York.”
The reporter told us about the first plane, and then during that broadcast they announced that a second plane had just hit the other tower.
It’s a terrorist attack,” I said to myself.
By the time I got to work at 8 am Pacific Time, it was on everyone’s lips. We hung around and talked for about 45 minutes and then we all collectively decided we better get some work done. I was working as a carp on the Facility Management crew at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma.
I felt stunned; rich and thick with emotion. I was upset, and a little angry. I felt attacked – we all were – and I went into defensive mode. I went passive and quiet. Wait, watch, listen. Look for the next attack. What will happen next? I was furtive.
It was a beautiful day in Tacoma. Not a cloud in the sky. My college campus was directly under the flight path of Sea-Tac and McChord AFB, and the planes stopped landing at Sea-Tac by mid-morning; then fighter jets started descending into McChord, normally a military transportation hub. I heard one little job screaming like a banshee, and it was real tiny. I had never seen a plane like it before – or since.
Guys at work wanted to know what the WTC buildings looked like. There was another guy from New York, in fact he hailed from the town next to mine, but I was the only one who had ever been to the top of the WTC. Back in the 1980s I had eaten a meal in the restaurant. What was it called? Windows on the World? It was for one of my parents’ wedding anniversaries in the 1980s. I was scared to stand next to the windows and look all the way down to the street. It was a long ways; the people looked like ants and the taxies like little yellow beetles.
Speaking of which, in 2001 Dad was still alive.
After work, I went over to the elder care home where my wife worked. That was the most painful. She didn’t get it. She was not feeling what I was feeling. She was detached. She’s German, I thought. But nah, that was only a small part of it. She just didn’t have the emotional capacity, or desire, to know what I was feeling. Honey, New York is my home town. My family still lives there…… Nope. Nada, or rather, Nein.
I knew instinctually that it was Al Qaeda and Bin Laden; pre-conditioned by the news? I wasn’t angry, per se, just shocked, and saddened by what I saw rising about me. My boss said, “I just want to turn the whole place to glass. I want to nuke the whole country of Afghanistan- I know that’s crazy and we won’t do it, but that’s what I really feel I want to see happen.”
Over time I became unsettled, even scared, seeing all the firefighters and crowds rushing to Ground Zero to help. Part of me understood it – gotta do something. Save who you can. But, it slowly dawned on me this was the work of obsessed people. Where was the organization; the coordinated, reasonable responses? Radios didn’t work? That’s why all those firefighters got trapped? Figures. No respirators, either, being worn by the first responders into the pile. Double crazy. Then they are called heroes, but they didn’t even protect themselves. Then their actions became glorified. That hurt me deeply, in a quiet way. Still does. 500 NYFD firefighters are now on permanent disabilities with pensions – all because they didn’t wear protective gear and none of their officers insisted they take five minutes and do the job right.
I felt drawn to the news. It was NY after all. But I also felt detached. It was somebody’s else’s craziness – the politics, the underlying causes, the over-reaching of American corporate power, the profound cultural and financial impoverishment of the Arab masses. The silliness of vilifying Osama when his whole family is reportedly in bed with the Bush family. Oil. Power. Greed. It’s not for me.
I never knew that WTC Building 7 also came down – not for another two years. Then I learned lots more, compelling information that suggested 9-11 was an inside job. Videos like “Loose Change,” or “Pilots for 911 Truth,” told me plenty, such as explaining the process of controlled demolition and showing how it could have been used on 9-11.
My best buddy in the IATSE Local 15 really started ranting about the Inside Job. Then I saw the movies “United 93” and “Flight 93” and they showed the inconsistencies in the military response that day, and the red flags about the passenger phone calls and the mysterious activity in Shankersville, such as the lack of a significant debris field at the impact site. The little things, they didn’t add up. Then we had The Patriot Act, the warping of American life and I knew a lot more people were afraid of people like me. Anybody weird in any way was suspect.
Then we had the invasions into countries that I knew would cost us dearly. It just felt we had another Vietnam. Here we go again, I said to myself. I protested on street corners. I made a sign that spoke to my despair: “I’m already against the next war!”
When Obama was elected I physically felt a heavy weight come off my chest. I wept with relief. Now, I wonder where we go next. Even my telephone repair guy is asking if we are going to have a civil war here. I ask the cops if they are talking about that. My friend Deputy Bill says no, “But we sure do in the military.”
Along those lines, there is an Army combat battalion stationed at Fort Campbell, KY, ready to go. Its primary mission is to quell civil unrest in the United States. Great, my tax dollars are paying for somebody to shoot folks I care about. What a 9-11 legacy.
My cousin Justin’s response:
truly do not have time to answer all of this Bruce- sorry
involved with fashion week here and just getting home after being up at 4:30 am to get there by six – tomorrow same schedule and this continues until next Thursday – way past 9/11
Life sure goes on, doesn’t it, I thought. My cousin is also a theatrical stagehand, and his life – and New York’s – is so filled with the activities of the global extravaganza known as “Fashion Week” that he doesn’t even have time to sleep, let alone remember 9-11.
But he did send me the pix….
My other NYC cousin, Gay:
On 9/11/01 I was working for a foreign airline and it happened to have been my day off.
I was listening to the radio when suddenly the regular reporting was interrupted to say that a plane had gone through the WTC. I immediately thought, What? I turned on the TV and watched the 2nd plane go through the 2nd tower and I was totally shocked to see this.
At this point all the airports were closed, so I called the office to see if we were going to be operational the next day, Wednesday, and they said, “Why not?” and I explained what was happening. They said “We’ll call you back.” An hour later I had not heard from them and the next day, when I did actually go into work, they told me they had been evacuated from Trump Tower and had to walk down 18 flights of stairs.
It may sound like a lot but compared to friends of mine who worked on the 52nd floor of the Empire State Building it was a short walk.
Sadly, I also knew a few people who did die in the building that day.
I had to turn off the TV when the towers collapsed. The worst part of it was watching those people jump from the building and seeing their horrified faces as they fled from the site.
We were all shaking and, of course, totally paralyzed after this event.
It is a day no one will ever forget.
Later, when I asked her about the extent of the trauma people felt in Manhattan, she added: “Not only Manhattan, but all NY’ers, NJ people, Conn., etc. This is all we talked about for months ‘where were you on 9/11.’”
Deputy Fire Chief Gary Franz, Graham Fire and Rescue
I wondered what the reaction to 9-11 was by local first responders, so I called the Graham Fire and Rescue and spoke with Deputy Chief Franz.
Chief Franz told me that in 2001 he was not with the Graham department, but rather was the Chief of Key Peninsula Fire and Rescue, which is headquartered in Key Center, southwest of Gig Harbor.
Surprisingly, Chief Franz was not at work the morning of September 11, 2001, even though it was a Tuesday.
“I had left the house at 4 am to drive to San Diegoto visit with my son,” Gary told me. “I was listening to a musical tape, so I didn’t have the radio on and didn’t know what was happening in New York.”
At about 8 am Pacific Time, Chief Franz’ cell phone rang. It was his sixteen-year old daughter calling and she was “hysterical.”
“’You have to turn around and come home,” she told me. “We’re under attack.”
Gary said that his daughter gave him the gist of what was happening, and then he turned on his radio and got the latest news.
“I was glued to the radio,” he said.
Nevertheless he continued driving south, heading first to San Francisco to stay with his brother overnight. From the first rest area, though, he called his staff at the KPF&R and they strategized what they should do.
“I knew we had a good crew, and the primary thing we are taught as firefighters is: “’Don’t panic,’ whatever the circumstances,”Gary told me.
Continuing, Franz said that he had the utmost confidence in his department , so he stayed with his traveling plans. However, Gary told his staff that if the attack spread westward or involved Seattle or Tacoma in some fashion, then he would immediately turn around and head back to the Key Peninsula.
With that understanding, Gary directly drove the 700 miles to San Francisco – not stopping to see a TV until he arrived at his brother’s home.
“The scenes I saw on the TV screen were so far beyond what I had heard on the radio all day long. My intellectual imaginings just couldn’t match what I saw on the TV…it was so much more frightening when I saw the pictures.”
Gary had strong professional reactions as well.
“It was bittersweet – to be a fire chief and not be with my firefighters and medical personnel.”
Further, Chief Franz’ private and professional lives changed significantly after 9-11.
“Personally, I’m much more vigilant, and I’m more aware of the mortality of life,” Gary said. “Part of that is just life – my sister died of cancer a couple of years ago, and that was a transformative moment for me. From it I had a ‘born again’ experience, so my spiritual life is much more developed now…However, I feel that life is less secure, and I take less for granted, too.”
In particular, Chief Franz’ professional life has changed dramatically since 9-11.
“The scope of local fire service has widened considerably,” he said. “Before 9-11, our department dealt with only fires and medical responses; but now our mission is to handle what is best termed ‘All Risk.’”
Franz’ explained that the All Risk mission means being the primary responders to a broad array of incidents, including hazardous materials and natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes. As such, fire departments are now more fully integrated into regional emergency response efforts, such as the Pierce County Task Force One disaster team.
“All this has meant increases in funding and the procurement of specialized equipment,”Gary said, adding that fire services also have to allot for the training of firefighters and medical personnel in how to use all these new resources, and to develop the proper response strategies.
“It’s a lot; it takes a lot of training, time and money.”
Lastly, Gary said, “My professional world is radically different since 9-11. It was a big wake-up call. But, now we’re way-more capable, way-more smarter and prepared – as a department and as a nation.”
Jay Brower, Bethel School District
Jay Brower is the Director of Community Relations for the Bethel School District, but in 2001 he was a fifth-grade teacher at the Graham Elementary School.
“I got a call from a friend in Texas, telling me to turn on the TV,” Jay said. “That’s how I first heard about 9-11.”
Jay said that his experience was similar to his students; most heard about 9-11 as they were preparing to go to school and their parents were getting ready for work. Word spread quickly and most children and teachers knew what was happening in New York by the time they got to school.
“When I heard, I was shocked, stunned,” Jay said. “And I was really feeling for the families of those who had loved ones in the World Trade Center buildings…a feeling of patriotism also came up for me.”
Jay continued on the latter theme, describing how the country had to “band together” and that this was a “difficult time for the country.”
“I also felt for my students, how they had lost their sense of innocence,” Jay added. “People had come to our soil to inflict pain.”
Jay said that the first part of school on the morning of September 11 was devoted to “debriefing” the children – sharing what they knew, what they had heard, and expressing their feelings.
“We gave them a lot of time to talk; there wasn’t any TV set on, we just had a lot of questions and answers.”
Mostly the questions echoed the theme of “Why?”
“Why would someone do this kind of thing,’ was a big question,” Jay said, “followed by: “’Can it happen here?’ or ‘Will it happened again?’”
Jay also described some very astute responses.
“One kid held up his history text book and showed us the front cover. It had a picture of the New York City skyline, showing the Twin Towers. ‘Mr. Brower,’ he said, ‘these aren’t there anymore.’”
Jay, a social studies teacher, and his students knew they were living though a momentous historical moment.
“This is living history,” I told them. “This is a day you will always remember…This is history in the making.”
Jay also said that his class had several children from military families and already they were talking about how the attacks would impact them personally.
“The kids told us that their families were already discussing the military’s response. They wondered if their parents would have to go away and fight somewhere.”
After a healthy period of time to talk, Jay then commenced the day’s academic instructions.
“It was important to keep a routine, too,” he said.
Through the day, and those that followed, Jay and BSD teachers kept watch over their students.
“Some kids got very quiet,” he said, “and we watched the bathrooms, the playground and the lunch rooms – to see if any child was having a problem.”
On a personal side, other changes were wrought from 9-11.
“Debbie Henry was teaching in the classroom next to mine,” Jay said. “Now, she’s gone from cancer, oh, about seven years.”
In commemoration of this beloved teacher, the Debbie Henry Memorial Fund hosts an annual event to raise money to support Ms Henry’s family, and to also fund cancer research.
“We also have the Day of Service on Saturday, September 10,” Jay added.
Locally, this national commemoration of 9-11 is being manifested by area churches this weekend, who are performing landscaping chores at Graham-Kapowsin High School, Spanaway Junior and Spanaway Elementary, and Liberty Junior High in Frederickson.
The social media phenomena known as Meetup also got its start in the aftermath of 9-11. Meetup is widely used by journalists, especially online reporters, and others endeavoring to weave a stronger social tapestry.
Meetup was started in the days after 9-11 by a New Yorker named Scott Heiferman, and today he sent an email to the Mountain News describing how and why he started Meetup.
“When the towers fell,” Heiferman wrote,” I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
“A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the Internet — and grow local communities?”
Nine months later Meetup was launched and now, ten years later, hundreds of thousands of meetups have occurred. In fact, at last week’s Graham Self-Reliant Community meeting, speaker Kelda Miller mentioned that Meetup is one tool she uses to pull her permaculture classes together.
Simply, Heiferman says:
“Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form powerful community. It’s powerful stuff.
“…Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11.
“9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!!
“The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started with these Meetups.”
© 2011 The Mountain News – WA
Picture of the NYC riverfront and Ground Zero is the property of G Justin Zizes Jr, and used with his kind permission.