Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Yesterday was America’s twentieth anniversary of “9/11,” the day a handful of terrorists took down New York City’s World Trade Centers and damaged the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Yesterday was also just a few days after all American forces left Afghanistan, a nation we attacked in retaliation for 9/11 twenty years ago.
I’d like to share my personal remembrance of 9/11 twenty years ago.
On Monday, September 11, 2000, I woke up at home in the Mississippi Gulf Coast town of Gautier. At the time I was in the middle of a drawn-out and painful divorce. My soon-to-be-ex wife had already moved out, and we were in our six-month “reconciliation” period waiting for the divorce to become final. With my pending divorce status, I was already dating and had a sort-of girlfriend who was also in a divorce-pending status.
I had quit a job the previous February, and in April accepted a nominal six month temp job working as contractor at the local Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. This made for a precarious work situation, but I was confident things would work out ok.
I had been retired from active Navy service since April 1996, transferred to the Fleet Reserves. Between my 22-plus years service and over four years of Fleet reserve service, I was still under the thirty-years total service and technically available for recall. I normally didn’t think much about this because I didn’t see why the Navy would ever want to recall an old Senior Chief Electronics Technician.
On this Monday morning, while cleaning my ears, I noticed blood on the q-tip end, and knew that wasn’t normal. I also suspected I wouldn’t die from this so decided to stop by the hospital at Keesler Air Force Base after work. At the time I received all my medical care as a retiree at Keesler hospital.
All-in-all, just another regular Monday morning.
Something Is Not Right
Work started at 7:00, but the shipyard was only about ten miles away down non-traffic-clogged streets, making for an easy commute. I arrived at my office about 6:30, same as always, and settled into routine of software development.
Around 8:00 AM, a local friend working at another company emailed me, telling me he’d heard an airplane had just hit one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I immediately thought about the airplane that ran into the Empire State Building back in 1945, when my Mom had been working there. My snarky response to my friend was “someone is having a bad day.” Then went online to check the news.
There wasn’t much news yet, so I went back to my work. About thirty minutes later, my friend emailed me again with the news a second airplane hit the other tower. Again, I responded with a snarky “Some airline CEO is having a really bad day.” But I also knew something was very wrong. I went back online to check news, and then saw the pictures. Both World Trade Center towers in flames.
By now, my colleagues were also getting the news. There was no television in our building so we sort of clustered around larger computer monitors and stared, in shock, as what was unfolding. About one hour later, we saw news that the Pentagon had just been hit by a third plane. At that point, any doubt America was being attacked by terrorists dissipated. We all knew.
Spending a Day in Shock
The rest of the day passed by in a daze. One of my office-mates, a right-wing nutcase who’s concept of deep thinking was parroting anything then-radio commentator Rush Limbaugh ranted about, suddenly became an expert on terrorism after Rush Limbaugh’s radio show. I clearly remembered that the previous Friday, Limbaugh spent the entirety of his show mocking New York City for some not-remembered reason, with my office-mate laughing and mocking New Yorkers all day, knowing damn well I was a native New Yorker.
But this Monday afternoon, in Limbaugh’s Dittohead World, New York City was the greatest city in the world and we needed to go kill whomever attacked us.
Meanwhile, during a break from watching news and trying to work my software project, my manager approached me. He reminded me that I had been hired on a six-month project, and that six months would be over at the end of September. He explained he had been trying to get more funding to extend the project, but it didn’t look promising and advised me to start looking for new work. This was just one more shock on top of my pending divorce and the on-going day’s events.
I also remember my other office-mate’s radio, dialed into a New Orleans station. On that station, I heard a New Orleans’ disaster-preparedness official endlessly repeating “If they attack us here in New Orleans, we’re ready.” By 3:30PM this New Orleans’ “We’re ready” endless loop superimposed on my office-mate parroting Limbaugh’s Ditto-head insight into terrorism and news footage of on-going events took on a surrealist aura.
Hearing about President Bush’s Air Force One hopping around the country was – disconcerting, and added another layer of surrealism to that day. No one even suggested letting us shipyard workers leave early.
I still had the issue with my ear, so after work as planned I headed over to Keesler Air Force Base, not knowing if I would even be able to get in. The gate guard looked at my ID a bit closer than normal, but otherwise just waved me through. Once in, I found the base essentially deserted. I walked into the hospital emergency room as the only patient. I was seen right away, and the doctor ended up treating me for impacted ear wax. As he worked, we talked about the day’s events and what would happen next.
I returned home just in time to catch President Bush’s newscast. Now finally ensconced at the White House, Bush gave what I consider was a moving speech. I actually, momentarily, choked up as the day’s event caught up to me.
After Bush’s speech, I started making phone calls. First, I called my Mom, then still living in the Hudson Valley region of New York state. We talked for a few minutes. Then, I called my girlfriend to see how she was doing. She was in shock, and we talked for a long time. She had never been in New York City, and my insights seemed to help her.
After I got off the phone, I went to my closet and pulled out all my old Navy uniforms. At this point, I fully expected I would be recalled to active duty and decided I needed to update my military wardrobe.
My recall to active duty never happened. In January 2004 I hit my thirty years total service and was discharged from the Fleet Reserve.
About one week after 9/11 another shipyard manager, whom I had done some occasional work for while there as a temp, found funding to hire me into his project. So I stayed employed as an Ingalls contractor. Two years later, the shipyard opened up hiring and I was brought in as a regular shipyard employee (aka:”Ingalloid.”)
My divorce became final six weeks later and life moved on. My girlfriend and I drifted apart amicably and I lived the life of a middle-aged bachelor until marrying Winnie in October 2003.
On a national level, America entered a dark time that still hasn’t ended. We invaded Afghanistan to “Get Bin Laden.” Then lost him, and collectively decided “getting him” wasn’t important any more. We invaded Iraq because something-something 9/11 weapons-of-mass-destruction and Rush Limbaugh demanded we start more wars. Our government expanded wiretapping to include virtually everyone in the entire fucking world who owned a telephone. The Department of Homeland Security was created, with new agencies that routinely prove they are completely out-of-control and stomping all over civil liberties American’s once took for granted.
In 2011, ten years after we invaded Iraq (a second time), our troops nominally left. Last month, August 2021, twenty years after we first went in, our troops finally left Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the memory of the 9/11/2000 horrors remain; now superimposed with all the horrors we inflicted on the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and our own splendid little war within America.
As a native New Yorker, growing up in Surburban Long Island, I watched those towers go up. They weren’t “beautiful “ the way the Empire State Building or Chrysler Buildings are, but they were impressive. They were a symbol of pride and confidence.
Watching those buildings burn, then collapse, was heart wrenching. But hearing of how survivors helped each other get out that day, and the sacrifices made by first responders, were stories describing the best in us.
Edited: September 13, 2021