September 11th remembered

Melissa Robinson

Guest Columnist

Vintage article from the 09.07.11 edition of The Times.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, in the suburbs of Philadelphia, the sky was a clear blue, almost picturesque. I remember that sky so vividly, because on that morning, I remember looking at the sky to see if there were any planes flying overhead. There were none, but I kept my eyes up, waiting for planes to literally fall out of the sky.

I was at work that morning, working for a small communications company. My full time gig was as a copywriter for a trade publication that found experts and authors for radio and television shows. My part time job was as a correspondent for the local daily paper.

On that day, a coworker came running into the main office area and told us that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center tower in New York. We were shocked, but at the time, at least for a moment or two, thought it was a horrible accident. The news was coming in slow and steady. The second plane hit and at that moment, we knew it wasn’t an accident. Then the stories of a plane crashing into the Pentagon and a plane crashing into an empty field in Shanksville. It was surreal.

My memories are like a collage, at any given hour or any given day following the attacks, I remember different images. In the hours and days immediately following, work was cathartic. We went into action, calling universities and companies trying to find experts on Islam, Muslims, Afghanistan and the Taliban. Any buzzwords that came from the constant news coverage, my fellow writers and I were trying to find experts. That’s what we did and it kept us busy for several weeks. For the newspaper, my job was to cover the various prayer vigils and rallies being held around the two towns that I was responsible to cover. St. Philomena’s, the local Catholic Church, held the first and largest ecumenical service. It was a candlelight service and I remember, as I sat in the back pew of this packed church, how so many people looked stunned.

People wept softly, some just stared blankly, little children fidgeted, not quite understanding the enormity of the solemnity of the service. It was a time where the events, the aftermath and the news of it all consumed us. I remember going into the newspaper office and one of my editors asked about the vigil story. We talked for a minute and he said, really to himself “I wonder if we’ll ever be able to smile again?”

I remember watching the news coverage, seeing thousands of people walking across a bridge, trying to get away and listening to the stories of first responders running into the burning buildings, tying to lead victims out. I remember watching the towers come down in what looked to be slow motion and the gray cloud of soot and debris that chased people through the streets, into doorways and under cars. The footage was gripping and terrifying. And one scene I will never forget is footage of the National Guard rolling into New York City in tanks, and people lining the battered streets. One woman stepped forward, handing out sandwiches wrapped in plastic to the soldiers, tears streaming down her face, saying “Thank you.” I still get a lump in my throat when I think of that scene.

In the days following those horrific events, stories swirled of Americans pulling together for the common good. Emergency workers and other volunteers converged on New York City to help look for survivors and victims and clear the rubble. People worked around the clock to try and return normalcy to the cities that were hit. America would not be defeated. That’s what we are made of. No retreat and no surrender, and none of that more evident than in the actions of the passengers on UA flight 93. When passengers realized they were being hijacked and put that together with the news from New York and Washington, several men on that flight devised a plan to overtake the highjackers. Many called home to loved ones to say goodbye, knowing that their actions would result in the ultimate sacrifice. The brave passengers did overtake their highjackers, much of this captured on cell phone audio. The plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania instead of its intended target, believed to be the Capitol building in Washington D.C. Thou­sands of lives were spared because of the bravery of those passengers on that day.

September 11 is a day to remember the victims of those attacks, the dead and the living, as well as the heroes, the emergency workers, firefighters, po-lice and volunteers. It’s a day to mourn but also a day to stand with pride and know that, as Americans, we face challenges, but always rise to those challenges with an unparalleled spirit that makes the United States of America the greatest nation in the world.

Melissa Robinson is the Communications Director for Henry County Government and former contributing editor for the Henry County Times. She lives in McDonough with her husband and two children.