Sunday, August 30, 2015

September 11, 2001 remembered by a journalist

September 11, 2001.
With each passing year it becomes more apparent how much our lives were changed by attacks on American soil, not by another nation but by those who hold another ideal. An ideal that we cannot accept. An ideal that is opposed to The American Way of Life.
It has been 14 years and we continue to struggle to regain "normalcy." All the time we face the nagging fear that this is the new normal for America and the world.
So, what was it like on Sept. 11, 2001? For every American, there is a different story to tell. Here is mine.
My perspective is not much different than that of many reporters and editors.
I was living in Waveland and had just started a new job as the editor of a daily newspaper some miles away.
We had an early deadline. Our paper had to be ready to go to press at noon, when it was printed and distribution began about 1 p.m.
I went to work that morning, totally unaware of what the day was to bring.
The night before, my wife and I had celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary. We had a tradition of going out to eat at the nearest Red Lobster each year and over our meal we would chat and reminisce about our years together.
We had two children. Our youngest had just graduated from Southmont and was a freshman at Franklin College. Our son had a good job and was dating a great girl of whom we totally approved.
I had changed careers and was happy to be a journalist for the past seven years, though I had been involved in freelance writing professionally since 1972.
On the evening of Sept. 10, 2001, we wondered what the next years of our lives would bring.
My habit was to arrive at the newspaper between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Later, I would learn how to do what we needed to do in that paper faster and be able to sleep in until 5 a.m.
There was a TV set in my cubicle. It was located behind me while I was putting the paper together, which never seemed to make sense.
We always had one of the 24-hour cable news channels on during the day, unless one of our reporters changed channels to watch her soap opera while I was at lunch.
Our TV channel of choice was MSNBC, though I thought seriously about changing stations.
The big story every morning was Chandra Levy, a young woman who was missing in Washington, D.C.. In 2002, her body would be found in a park near where she lived and worked. But, on 9-11-2001, she was still missing.
While I put the paper together, MSNBC, the Chandra Levy story and other news of the day droned on behind me.
"And the big story of the day -- Chandra Levy is still missing. No film at 11!" I thought, wondering how no news could be such a big news story.
I was returning to my desk from the washroom when MSNBC's coverage was replaced by the "Today" show and a picture of the New York City skyline. In the center of the picture was a building where smoke was rising and the reporter talked about a plane of undetermined sized that had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center.
By that time, one or two reporters had arrived and we stopped what we were working on.
"Oh, that's too bad," someone said. "Do you suppose a small private plane got lost and hit the building?"
About then, we saw a streak and it soon became apparent a second plane had struck the same tower.
I remember we were almost finished putting the paper together and I knew our front page would soon look very different from the one that was then on my computer screen.
The big story of the day became the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the passenger plane, apparently headed for the White House, that was crashed during a struggle by passengers and terrorists in the cockpit. Those passengers would forever be remembered as heroes for their bravery and their sacrifice that others might live.
After the paper went to press and I finished what I needed to do that day, I headed home. We had bought a house near my new job and we were packing to move from Waveland.
I couldn't help noticing how clear the sky was as I drove through the countryside of Parke County that afternoon. No planes overhead and no fading white plumes to mark their trail in the sky.
Of course not! All airplane flights were cancelled. It was just one indication of how serious the 9-11 attacks really were.
Around 5 p.m. I received a call from our newspaper. Our reporters were taking photos of long lines at gas pumps and gasoline price signs that approached $5 per gallon.
There was a wild rumor that the countries of the Middle East had shut off our supply of crude oil and too many oil companies took advantage of the rumor by allowing gas prices to reach insane levels. Later, the Indiana Attorney General's office would send out faxes telling local newspapers which gas stations in their area were being investigated for price gouging.
I would call one station manager on the list and she tried to tell me she had to follow Terre Haute's lead when they raised prices. Funny that when Terre Haute's gas prices fell she and her competitors didn't lower their prices.
Over the next few years, 9-11 would impact local news in many ways. The federal and state departments of Homeland Security would be formed and across Indiana and the rest of the United States a war mentality would develop.
Sept. 11, 2001 has been called this generation's Pearl Harbor. It may be. Both events were terrible. It can be argued that one was worse than the other but why make comparisons? Both dates, Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001, left deep scars on America and to quote FDR, they are both dates "that will live in infamy." .

Next week, in a follow up column, we think about those heroes we honor each year for their service on Sept. 11.