Both of my parents – they’re no longer with us – used to tell me stories about where they were during iconic – and tragic events – in American history. The ones that stood out was their describing the scenes in and around Japan’s Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on Nov. 22, 1963. I can only imagine how affected most Americans were during the aftermath of two dark moments of the 20th century.
I was born five years after JFK’s shooting in Dallas (my mom was about six months along pregnant with me when John’s little brother Bobby was also shot dead as he seemed prime to join his late sibling in the White House). And for a long time I didn’t know when or if I’d experience such an event that had some kind of an impact on everyone.
The closest I’d come was the October 17, 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that struck my San Francisco Bay Area home. I was 150 miles away in college and only felt a modest shake while waiting for that night’s World Series game to start in San Francisco. I’ll never shake the nervous hours waiting to reach my family by phone late that night to ensure everyone was safe. But that was a tragedy only those connected to the Bay Area could truly understand the scope of what happened. (I can see the surreal and tragic Jan. 6 insurrection attempt and storming of the Capitol becoming a similar where were you when moment years from now.)
But then came Sept. 11, 2001. Like my mom and dad before me, I remember just about everything leading into and following up what happened in New York City, Washington D.C. and that Pennsylvania field (though, like the ’89 earthquake and other tragedies, even New Yorkers and those living in the nation’s capital on that day likely have even deeper-seeded memories of what they experienced).
My most chilling recollection is that I had flied just the day before the four planes were hijacked. I had visited a good friend in Arkansas – little did I know that just two years later I too would move to Arkansas as well for a job – and I flew from Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport, connect in Memphis, Tennessee and then take the final leg to Los Angeles, where I lived at the time. So it’s eerie looking back that the next day three of the four flights were enorute to that same Los Angeles International Airport.
I was tired from my trip and flight and planned to sleep in a little bit on that Tuesday morning. As a sports reporter at the time for the Los Angeles Daily News, I didn’t have much to do that day in my first day back at work, save for maybe making a few calls and heading over to a high school football practice to work on stories for later in the week.
So, like many on the West Coast, I was sound asleep when all four planes crashed – the two in each of the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and the field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, when passengers rebelled, broke into the cockpit and bravely overran the terrorists and crashed the plane before it could reach its intended target.
Two communications alerted to what was happening – first from an email from a dear friend who was also co-worker. I had emailed her when I’d gotten home from the airport the previous night, and early that morning she let me know if I had planned to come into the office to just stay home and call in if I was needed for anything, as we were all better off staying off the roads. But she wasn’t specific about what happened, so I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on. Still, I quickly jumped in the shower to be dressed and prepared to do any work my bosses needed from me and neglected to turn on the TV. And during that time my phone rang. My sister, who I hadn’t spoken to since getting back from Arkansas, left a message asking if I was OK with “all the terrible things happening.”
That’s when I turned on CNN, and I don’t think I moved from my chair for hours watching in horror and disbelief. We all know what happened that day, as we reflect today about the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and so many of us know what we were doing when we first figured out what was going on.
I do know that in October, 2017, my sister and I met each other in New York to attend two San Jose Sharks games in the city. One place we both agreed we had to see was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. All I can say is everyone needs to see this. And continue to never forget what happened that terrible day.