Remembering 9/11: a view from the heartland

I’m not sure that I’ve ever written about my own experiences on 9/11, mainly because I wasn’t in New York City or Washington DC at the time.  Allahpundit gave a lyrical recounting of his very personal experiences (and losses) on Twitter last night, recompiled by Andy Levy in the Green Room; I highly recommend it.  Jim Geraghty was on the ground in Washington DC, as was Brian Faughnan, but I wasn’t.  At that time, I was two years from posting my first blog anywhere and was hard at work for my burglary/fire alarm company in the Twin Cities, running the call center that monitored alarm systems from all over the country.

As usual, I had arrived early to work and had breakfast and coffee in my office as I reviewed e-mail and data from my staff.  By 7 am CT, I had more or less fully engaged and started calling clients on the East Coast for follow-ups on incidents and doing a little management by walking around.  In early to mid-September, we kept our eyes on weather patterns, especially in the Southeast, to make sure nothing developed that would impact our customers (almost all retailers) from opening their stores.  Tuesday looked like a clear day across the country, though, and we expected no problems outside of the normal issues of employees tripping alarms accidentally as they opened for business.

The first hint that the day would turn bad came from my wife, who had been listening to the television.  She told me that a plane had struck the World Trade Center and that there had been an explosion.  At first, I assumed it was a private aircraft, as the taller buildings on Manhattan had been hit before by smaller planes.  By the time I got to a television, however, the second plane had hit the south tower.  As soon as I said that, I turned to a co-worker and said, “This is a terrorist attack.  We’re at war.”

Some people may not recall that the WTC complex had a significant retail shopping area, and we had several customers in the plaza.  I directed my staff to determine their status and found that none had turned off their alarm systems yet, which meant those employees were not likely on site.  The call center found them at home and directed them not to go to the buildings (instructions that they didn’t really need) while I called their home offices to make sure they knew we accounted for them.

And then, like so many Americans, I waited in front of television sets to find out what else was happening.  The news that day came in contradictory bursts; rumors made it onto television instead of facts, which confused the picture incredibly.  We heard about attacks on the Sears Tower in Chicago and rings of hijackers discovered on West Coast flights, none of which turned out to be true.  It took days and weeks for the facts to be pulled from the chaff of rumors, but we knew one thing: someone had decided to attack America and kill a lot of us, and had succeeded.

And we prayed.  And we cried.  And we told our families how much we loved them, thinking of those awful moments suffered by the victims as their lives were snuffed out by lunatics.  We all became New Yorkers and Washingtonians that day, and all other hurts and bruised feelings got forgotten.

I don’t know if I immediately thought of Osama bin Laden at the time, but I did think about al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorists when we started speculating in the office about the attacks that day.  The culprits came as no surprise to me; I had been following the attacks on other American assets closely, and this kind of coordination suggested a nation or a strong network with a lot of resources.

While New York City and Washington DC (and Shanksville, PA) are far removed from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, that really only mattered in our sense of impotence as the towers collapsed and the Pentagon burned.  We knew that the terrorists didn’t attack New York City for being New York City, or Washington DC for being Washington DC.  They had attacked America for being America — and that made it all local and personal.

The anger in me continued to gnaw in the weeks and months ahead.  At first, I considered enlisting in the military, but that didn’t seem practical for a 38-year-old with a disabled wife and a son (and soon, a granddaughter).   I considered a civilian support job with the military, but that seemed impractical in the Twin Cities as well.  It took two years for me to find any kind of outlet at all, and when I did, it turned out to be blogging.  I needed something that related to the American identity that the terrorists had attacked, which is self-determination, self-government, and the freedom to dissent peacefully in politics.  Blogging seemed at the time to be one way to show that Americans would not get intimidated into silence and dhimmitude, and it has been all of that and more ever since.

None of this story is particularly remarkable, and to be honest, the reason I wrote it is because I literally could not concentrate on anything else today until I wrote this as a catharsis of sorts.  I presume that many, many people could tell almost the exact same story about 9/11, but maybe it helps to actually tell it, even once.