Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Where Were You?

Posted to OGR 09/12/2010

During Our Generation Radio’s remembrance of 9/11 yesterday I was thinking about those salient events in history that define a generation. For our parents’ generation it was the bombing of Perl Harbor on December 7, 1941 and the assassination of President John Kennedy on November 22, 1963. For our generation it was the Kennedy Assassination and the attack on America on September 11, 2001. These days are seared into our collective memories; we remember clearly where we were when we heard about the events.

The actinic November sunlight glinted off the cars driving past my Sumter Street dorm on The University of South Carolina campus. I stood at the window on the 7th floor looking out at Longstreet Theater and Davis Field where my Naval ROTC unit drilled every Thursday. It was 1:45 on Friday afternoon and I had completed my classes for the week. I was about to leave for an appointment with my German professor at 2 PM when I heard over the radio that the president had been shot. After the meeting, as I was walking back to my dorm, I heard that the president had died. I changed course and went instead to the studios of WUSC radio where I had recently signed up as a DJ. The student operated station was not normally on the air at that time of the day but we signed on early and began broadcasting news stories from the AP wire and filled with somber music. We all stood around the teletype machine watching for every little piece of information that came in until we couldn’t stay awake any longer. We kept the station on night and day. We didn’t resume normal programming until after the funeral on the following Monday. The clear skies and bright sunshine that weekend belied the dark mood that settled over campus. As long as I live, I will never forget how that felt.

It was a crisp cool Tuesday in Des Moines Iowa, and I was working on a project at the ADP hosting center on University Avenue, near the intersection of I-80 and I-35. The dew was clinging to the trees and fields as I made my way from the hotel to the office. I settled into one of the temporary cubicles assigned to project managers that worked on implementations that were hosted there. About an hour into the workday, I received a call from my wife that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers in New York. As I hung up, I noticed that the office sounds around me had subsided and that most of folks in the cubicles near me were quietly talking on phones, and that none of the conversations sounded business related. We gravitated to the cafeteria, where they were setting up televisions and many of the local employees had gathered. Off and on during the day, I revisited the cafeteria to catch up on what was happening in New York. That night, I hardly slept, like most Americans, I sat glued to the television, trying to understand what happened and not quite believing it was true.

Early on Thursday, September 13th, since the airlines were grounded, I headed east on I-80 beginning the 1,370 mile journey from Des Moines back to the Southeast. It was eerie driving through the heartland of this great country under skies completely devoid of any aircraft, listening to local radio, amazed at hearing how each community through which I passed was galvanized into action; raising money, donating blood and preparing to help New York, Washington and Pennsylvania in their efforts to recover from the attacks. The groundswell of patriotic feeling was almost palpable in the air and seemed to be growing as I drove down I-57 through Illinois. I turned onto I-24 headed towards Nashville and after a little while, saw the only aircraft in flight I would see the entire trip, an Army Apache helicopter flying patrol around Ft. Campbell Kentucky. I crossed the state line into Tennessee as the sun was going down on a long day. I rounded a small hill and suddenly up in the sky in front of me, in an otherwise cloudless sky, were two towering thunderstorms, flashing lightning angrily into the darkening sky as if to say, “You can strike at me, but you can’t take me down.” In my mind’s eye, I saw the twin towers superimposed on the storms. At that point, I knew that we would weather this attack, and be a better country for it, and for the first time since that Tuesday morning, my heart lifted and a smile came to my face.

Copyright 2010 Rick Wrigley

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