Memories of 9/11: we will never forget
We all know that on Sept. 11, 2001, suicidal hijackers from an organization we now know as Al Qaeda took control of four passenger planes in flight over the United States with the intention of crashing them into vital targets in an attack against the core of this country. Two of those planes crashed into the World Trade Center, eventually collapsing the twin towers. Another crashed into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth hijacked plane organized a quick attack against the terrorists, thwarting their attempt to plunge United Airlines Flight 93 into the White House. Unfortunately, the plane dove into a remote field in Pennsylvania, killing all aboard.
While the attacks were carried out in the eastern part of the U.S., the entire nation, and the world, was affected by the actions on that very historic and terrible day. We, in San Diego, were not untouched. As editor-in-chief at San Diego Community Newspaper Group at the time, I was unsure about what we could expect on that day as a result of the attacks. It didn’t take long to find out. Though we covered only certain communities within the City of San Diego, and did not provide international, national or regional news, we found ourselves busily hopping from one story to another. Sixteen years later, it might surprise some that many local threats surfaced on that fateful day right here in San Diego.
Sea World closed down due to a threat received by the theme park that morning. We had reporters at Horton Plaza, the Federal Building and the San Diego Zoo. These, too, were either closed or under tight security due to threats received that day. Naval and Marine bases were under heavy security and, the next morning, traffic into those bases was clogged due to extreme security checks of each car entering the bases.
Though we didn’t have Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, there was an amazing amount of communication coming from the internet that day. It was shocking to see that a huge amount of hateful emails were being sent to news organizations throughout the world, even to small media groups like ours in San Diego. Individuals or groups jumped on the bandwagon to denounce everything the U.S stands for, and they made additional threats against this nation and its people. It’s true. I did my best to preserve many of these electronic messages, but I eventually lost track of them throughout the years. I had few ways to store them successfully in those days, and I regret that fact. Yes, the U.S. has many enemies, and I discovered that many were right here in America.
As the day progressed, we found that the threats to shopping centers, theme parks, government buildings and military bases from earlier that day turned out to be bogus, but the effects of the attack were felt deep within our newsroom.
My editor for San Diego Downton News, Amy Lehmann, was a good friend of Mark Bingham, one of the brave passengers aboard Flight 93. Lehmann attended UC Berkeley with Bingham. A former rugby player, Bingham was one of the men who attempted to thwart the Flight 93 hijacking that morning.
Alex Halperin was a bright and talented intern who had travelled all the way from Manhattan to work in our office that fall. He was obviously concerned about his family in New York, and had heard nothing from them most of the day. It turned out that they were fine, but we all felt his understandable anxiety.
Much later that evening, after a difficult and confusing day, my wife and I couldn’t turn away from the television showing coverage from ABC News. Peter Jennings was nearing his 15th hour of continuous reporting from the ABC newsroom. I remember Jennings telling Americans to “Go home and hug your kids.”
A little more than a week later, I went to Balboa Park to cover a magnificent memorial tribute to the victims of the attack on 9/11. I saw one of my former reporters who was attending with his small daughter, and it gave me chills to think of the parents killed in the attacks who would never see their children again.
That awful day on Sept. 11, 2001, that day of days, changed many things about the way we live. There is now a Department of Homeland Security. The way we travel today is vastly different; airplane passengers now undergo extensive searches before boarding. The economy was greatly damaged. Our military has been deployed in combat to Afghanistan, Iraq and numerous other locations around the world for years to fight wars and seek out terrorists as a result of that fateful day.
It was a horrible day and I doubt any of us who were alive at that time will ever forget it, even if we tried. We can all be grateful that today, most of us in small communities are still living life in the United States much the same as before that tragic day. But we must remember those who perished and those who have sacrificed to ensure that, for the most part, our American way of life has been preserved.