I honestly didn’t want to write anything about that horrific day we’ve all come to refer to as ‘Nine-Eleven,’ because it usually conjures up horrific memories.
But it just seems rather odd to have a public platform of any kind and not at least acknowledge that it happened, so here I am a day later, acknowledging, respecting and remembering.
I’ve known many people with a slew of fascinating stories that have come out of that event, much like most of you. It seems quite a few people were touched by it in some way.
I have two co-workers who lost people in those towers, and I just recently heard their stories.
Guy #1, who I’ll call George, lost his mom who worked in the North tower. He’s lived in California for many years but he’s from New York City. He shared that he was at work that fateful day, and someone who knew he was born and raised in NYC came in and told him of the tragedy, saying, “Hey man, if you haven’t seen the news you should call home now and see if everything’s alright with your family.”
He did, and it wasn’t. He couldn’t get back to New York for several days due to the FAA grounding airlines at the time, and when that was lifted, they were quite backed up. But he said he didn’t get the official news his mother had perished for almost a week, even though his dad and family knew by that evening, simply because she hadn’t checked-in with them.
George says he takes a ‘dark day’ every year, where he doesn’t work and takes a day off to just disappear and meditate, thinking of his mom and the others lost. He said that despite the passing years, he still sheds tears, as would any of us, I’d imagine.
I’ve known of people who take a ‘dark day,’ and one of them is even a fictitious person.
Around 2003, I worked regularly on the WB show ‘Gilmore Girls’ as an extra, and fans of that show might remember the character of ‘Luke,’ played by actor Scott Patterson, who ran ‘Luke’s Diner’ in Stars Hollow Connecticut where the show took place.
The whole thing was actually shot on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank on a set called ‘Midwest Street,’ a full, fake town set in the middle of the lot at the foot of the Hollywood Hills.
In one episode of the show, Luke’s character takes a ‘dark day,’ as he’d done since his dad had died when he was a teenager. He would basically disappear for the day, leaving the diner for his staff to run, and he’d just go fishing because that’s what he did every weekend with his dad when he was a boy.
Even though it was about ten years after my own mom had passed, and about 25 years after I lost my dad, it was the first time I’d heard of anyone taking a ‘dark day,’ and here it was a TV show character who didn’t really exist. But I totally understood, even though I’d never done it.
Guy #2 at work, who I’ll call ‘Aaron,’ lost four friends in one of the towers that day, who all attended a seminar that he was going to attend, but he opted to take it on a different day because he had to work. He says he almost took the day off so as to attend with his friends, but he needed the money, so basically, being broke saved his life.
They were all struggling students in NYC and the seminar, offered on various days over several weeks, was a part of a class assignment.
Aaron said that he and several other devastated friends who knew the four who’d perished quite well, decided to join the Marine Corps so they could kick-ass on the Taliban.
When he first came to work at our tour company last year, I knew he was a Marine before I even talked with him. I’m a Navy veteran and I’ve known a LOT of Marines in my time, they just carry themselves in a certain way. US military veterans can often spot other vets rather easily.
Aaron and I have had some interesting conversations. He did a handful of tours in Afghanistan, and at a certain point his superiors noticed that he was a really good marksman, so he was asked if he’d like to do sniper training.
He signed up, and after completing his training he spent about the last year or more of his final tour as a sniper.
He said that in his final sniper test, he shot a penny from several hundred yards and put a hole right through the middle of it, without breaking the circumference. Basically, he turned the penny into a ring you could wear on your pinkie finger and that impressed his instructor so much he immediately graduated and became a full-fledged sniper.
You don’t ask a guy like that if he’s killed anyone and what it was like, but you really want to. He’s been fairly open with me about his experience, except for that part, and he told me what living with PTSD is like.
“Dude, in my case it’s really mild, but I’ve still been in therapy for several years,” he said. “I can’t hear the ‘ack-ack-ack’ of automatic weapons fire without getting extremely nauseous and close to vomiting. I can’t hear it in a TV show or movie, I don’t watch those things if I know that will be there, but if I’m surprised by it – even in a TV show – I have to leave the room.”
He continued to say that he was lucky, in a way, because some veterans have such bad PTSD that if they had a gun, they would automatically ‘return fire,’ even if it’s just a TV show, and since they don’t usually have a gun with them, they just get violent and literally smash the TV or hurt someone near them.
And of course, there are the suicides, if they do have a gun nearby. Casualties aren’t just limited to the battlefield. Many more happen over the years, long since someone has finished their hitch and rejoined civilian life.
I feel immense sorrow and respect for guys like George, given that my own mom died suddenly of heart failure many years ago, which was no one’s fault. I can’t imagine how crushed and angry I’d be if she’d been murdered by terrorists.
Aaron gets a different kind of respect from me, in part because I had a fairly short, peaceful Navy career and only got shot at once, serving just after Vietnam had wrapped up but way before things got hot with Iraq.
Iran was the troublesome spot back then, and I was out there when the Iranian hostage thing went down. The closest I ever came to annihilation was the day an Iranian patrol boat flung a missile at our ship, but it fell short.
I was at my position as the ship’s forward lookout that day and suddenly, CIC (Combat Information Center, aka the radar people) said we had ‘a fast moving incoming bogie, CBDR,’ which is enough to make your heart race because coming in fast means it’s probably a missile, and CBDR stands for ‘Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range,’ which means it’s coming right at you.
I still remember looking in the relative direction they gave on the headset, and seeing a tiny black dot about 8 inches above the horizon line from my perspective. About three miles from the ship it just kind of fizzled and plunged into the ocean, and didn’t even explode. Total dud. I saw a tiny plume of water spray as it hit, and that was it.
We were escorting an aircraft carrier in the region, which was what we were out there to do, and they launched a bunch of F-14 Tomcats in that direction (think Tom Cruise in “Top Gun,” that’s how long ago this was, about 1980.)
They buzzed the patrol boat as a show of force but they didn’t fire on it. The reason why was way above my paygrade, but I think that since the missile fell short and did no harm, the upper brass just decided an intimidating show of force was in order. Make them *think* they were about to get strafed and bombed into hell.
Anyway, that’s the closest I ever came to being shot at, which is nothing compared to guys like Aaron and many I’ve known over the years who’ve served in WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military aside, September 11th of 2001 produced a lot of casualties and a lot of heroes.
My undying respect to not only people like Aaron who went and joined up to fight, but to the multitudes of first responders and those who pitched in to save lives, such as the two F-16 pilots who launched without arms and were ready to ram their planes Kamikaze style into United flight #93 before it reached Washington, but it went down in a cornfield instead, due to the bravery and self-sacrifice of a group of passengers aboard.
I think heroes live in every one of us, because so many people have risen up during natural catastrophes and put their lives on the line to save others, and many have stepped up at mass shootings and horrific attacks, showing that they’d give their own lives in a second to save someone.
I’ve never personally been tested that way, but I sure hope that if I ever am, I can rise to the occasion.