Some tragedies one never forgets

By Karl Terry: PNT managing editor

Historic events good and bad stick in our memories but tragic historic events and where we were as they happened are burned onto our souls. So it seems with Sept. 11, 2001.

Anyone who was school-age or older can quickly recall the horrible details of that day, the despair we felt as our world unraveled and the determination realized as a nation picked itself up and began working hand-in-hand to try and put things back together in our lives in the months and years following.

I have memories of when John F. Kennedy was shot, but not strong ones, because I wasn’t in school yet and didn’t fully understand. I knew that everyone was very upset, I knew the TV and radio was broadcasting news non-stop, but I didn’t know it would be a day that would be remembered in such detail by people of my parents’ generation.

For my grandparents it was the same way with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. They were days that brought the nation to a stop and brought us all to our knees in prayer.

I thought I had experienced a few of those days for myself prior to 9/11, but I’m not so sure now if they really rose to the same level.

I can remember where I was and what I was doing when the news of the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan broke in 1981. Same thing with details of the 1986 Challenger space shuttle disaster and the start of the first Gulf War to liberate Kuwait.

On reflection, of those three big national events, only the Gulf War left me uneasy about the fate of my nation by day’s end. The war took itself out of that category in pretty short order — it just took a little longer to regain our national balance. In none of those cases was I concerned about the immediate safety and well-being of myself and my family. Not so with 9/11.

I had the feeling that day that the world was going to change drastically. It felt like the beginning of the Apocolypse or the start of the nuclear World War III we all worried about through the 1960s and ’70s.

I was getting ready to go into the newspaper office when my wife, who was already at work, called me with the first news of the plane crashes. I turned on the TV and watched in shock as the pictures of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center were shown. When the second plane crashed into the other tower I knew it was an attack as did everyone else watching and with the news that the Pentagon was hit I was unsure of what might be happening all across the country.

When the first tower came down I remember falling to my knees in my living room and praying as the news on the television droned in the background. I knew the other tower would probably fall too and thousands were going to be killed in a few hours.

The attack occurred on-cycle for the weekly paper I was editing — and I knew it was time to get into work and get things organized. I grabbed the bedroom TV and went to the office.

One of my reporters called about the time I got to the office. I called the other one and soon we were huddled up putting together our coverage plan.

It turned out to be a long, hard day, so tough to stay focused on the nuts and bolts of our job of putting out a paper. By day’s end we had a pretty good package together, however.

I remember feeling that day that the whole world had somehow changed instantly. Indeed, it was a lot different for all of us for a long time.

Did 9/11 really change things in the permanent and sad way I felt it would that day?

Probably not. But it did change us all. I think the change would have been more devastating to everyone’s personal lives if we hadn’t come together so closely as a nation in the months following the tragedy.
Our love of, and need for, freedom kept us strong. Let’s all pray for that same binding love as we remember 9/11 five years later.