BY NORBERT RUG
Most people will remember where they were when a historic event occurs. I remember that I was in high school machine shop on November 22, 1963 when I heard that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald. They announced it over the public address system. I flew to my locker to retrieve my transistor radio to hear more.
When Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the office of the presidency on August 9, 1974, my wife and I were celebrating our 5th anniversary in a hotel in Toronto. I took pictures of the TV screen with my camera not realizing that the images from this press conference would be preserved by everyone for all time.
At 8:46 on the morning of September 11, 2001 however, the whole country became a changed nation. I was digging a ditch at my employer so we could install some new equipment when my boss came out and told me an airplane had crashed into The World Trade Center in New York City. Because he was a jokester, I didn’t believe him and went back to digging. This was just too farfetched.
Then at shortly after 9:00 a.m., he came out to tell me a second plane had crashed into the other building of the World Trade center. I thought he was carrying this joke a bit too far so I climbed out of the ditch, went into the shop and went to my radio. First thing I noticed was my music wasn’t playing and there was someone talking about these plane crashes. Sure enough he was telling me the truth.
As I listened, the newscaster announced that a third plane flew into the west face of the Pentagon in Virginia. Then at 10:03, a fourth airliner crashed in a field in southern Pennsylvania. It was headed toward the United States Capitol or the White House. It was initially reported that more than 2,600 people died at the World Trade Center, 256 died on the four planes125 died at the Pentagon. However weeks after the attack, the estimated death toll was up graded to over 6,000. Over twice the number of deaths originally estimated.
Someone had brought the first war to United States soil since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 3rd 1941.
The September attacks caused a lot of confusion between news organizations and the air traffic controllers, including the unsubstantiated and often conflicting news reports that aired during the day. One of the erroneous stories that circulated that day said that a car bomb was set off at the U.S. State Department’s headquarters in Washington. Delta Air Lines Flight 1989 was believed to have been hijacked, but the aircraft radioed to controllers and it set down in Cleveland, Ohio safely.
At 9:42 a.m., the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) would not let all civilian aircraft within the continental U.S. to fly, and the airplanes that were already in flight were told they had to land immediately. All international civilian planes were turned back or redirected to airports in Mexico or Canada, and were banned from landing in the United States for three days.
The world seemed strange to me after that. There were no planes flying in the skies. I was used to seeing the jet contrails during the day and they were noticeably absent. The skies seemed slightly yellow to me and the world was eerily quiet.
Thousands of tons of toxic debris holding over 2,500 contaminants, including some known carcinogens, mushroomed across Lower Manhattan because of the collapse of the Twin Towers. Exposure to these toxins is suspected to have been a factor in fatal or debilitating illnesses among the people who were at Ground Zero. The Bush administration instructed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to issue statements about air quality after the attacks, naming national security, but the EPA did not conclude that the air quality had gone back to the levels previously to the September 11 levels until June of 2002.
Health problems effected students, residents, and the office workers from Lower Manhattan and nearby Chinatown. Many deaths have been connected to the toxic dust. The victims’ names were all included in the World Trade Center memorial. It has been estimated that roughly 18,000 people developed illnesses because of the toxic dust. There is also scientific theory that the exposure to the various toxic products that were in the air could have had negative effects on fetal development.
Every September 11th, in New York City, the names of the victims who perished are read out loud while somber music plays in the background. The standing President of the United States attends a memorial service at the Pentagon, and they ask all Americans to celebrate Patriot Day with a moment of silence. A smaller service is held in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Typically the President’s spouse attends this observance.
Norb is a freelance journalist from Lockport.