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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering 9/11

Seven years ago this morning, I was driving to work in Atlanta, listening to WKHX 101.5 country radio. I remember the morning DJ prefacing his remarks by saying something like “we like to be careful how we report these kinds of stories, but there are reports that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center”.

I remember continuing to listen, thinking like many that some small plane must have had an accident, lost control. I don’t think it was clear what happened until I got to work. With no TV access, we were all on our computers trying to get news from the internet. I remember giving up on connecting to the national news sites, and successfully connecting to WashingtonPost.com.

I still remember when a colleague walked into my office to say that the first tower had fallen.

They sent us all home just before lunch.

What I remember most about my reaction to that day is captured in Allan Jackson’s song, “Where were you”. In one verse, the song asks: “Did you… Close your eyes and not go to sleep?” With the whys, the hows, and the what will bes that apparently went through many of our heads, it was hard to turn it all off and rest. And I didn’t even know anyone personally who was killed that day.

Still, when you don’t have a personal connection, it’s easy to forget the details, the impact.

However, now, living and working in Arlington, VA, I now have friends and colleagues who have vivid memories of that day at the Pentagon. One was on the way to the Pentagon from Maryland for a meeting that was to include a friend and fellow naval officer… at a location in the Pentagon that was destroyed by American Flight 77. Another colleague was on the phone talking to her husband speculating that “we [the Pentagon] have to be next” and hearing a loud noise and not immediately connecting the noise to the impact of Flight 77. Another, who I saw today at the newly dedicated Pentagon 9-11 Memorial, remembers seeing then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exit his office and go toward the crash site, the fire. At this morning’s dedication of the new memorial, Secretary Rumsfeld said: “Those of us who were in the Pentagon on September 11th, share — and we will always share — a very special bond with each member of their families and with each other. We will not forget the way this huge building shook.”

Now, with only one degree of separation between me and those who experienced that event first hand, whose friends and colleagues were murdered that day, remembering is not difficult. Of the speeches given today, it is Rumsfeld’s words that stand out. Two more quotes:

“Today we renew our vows to never forget how this long struggle began, and to never forget those who fell first.”

“My constant prayer is that God will bless the families of those we remember this day. And that the good Lord will bless all of those who have lost loved ones in the long struggle that has followed. We are deeply in their debt. And each of us will remain so for the rest of our lives.”

The only thing that got a longer standing ovation than Donald Rumsfeld today was the official unveiling of the memorial itself.

Things that I’ll remember and share about this morning’s dedication…

…the sun rising and slowly breaking through the clouds
…the lone bagpiper who played Amazing Grace as he walked the grounds of the new memorial
…the continuous series of airliners passing behind the Pentagon on their normal approach to National Airport (yes, they are always that close)
…being surrounded by people, men and women, in uniform and not, who intermittently wiped their eyes all morning
…the flourish with which the covers were removed from the memorial’s 184 benches
…the spontaneous and sustained applause that greeted that unveiling of the individual tributes

That end, the unveiling accompanied by the voices of military choir members, was, in a way, exultant. For those remembering loved ones and friends and colleagues, the memorial was warmly received as was the acknowledgement of its importance to them, and to the nation.

The new memorial is now officially open to the public, 24-7.

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