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Years Later, It Still Hurts

This has been a trying week. Everyone around me has been talking about it. Some more than others have vivid memories of that day and the days after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

For me it’s a day that remains bitter in my memory bank. It is and was the day I feared for all of us, but especially for our children. When the second hijacked airliner crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, my heart lost a beat. This was real. This was not some spectacular Hollywood stunt. People just died and continued to die right in front of our eyes.

For about 30 seconds, no one exhaled in the newsroom as we crowded around the TV to watch it live. Then it was news gathering and editing and tearing up the News-Register and restarting the afternoon’s edition. Instinct and experience kicked in and we manned the telephones and got local reports from police chiefs and city, county and state leaders and anyone who could and would talk to us.

We fielded phone calls from panicked parents who wanted to know if there were any threats against schools. Many raced to their children’s schools to take them home and wrap them safely in their arms. Fear does funny things to intelligent but terrified parents.

While we scrambled to get the latest AP updates, the third and fourth planes had struck the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. Later I would learn that one of the planes had most likely traveled through our local airspace. Each moment of that day was more chilling than the one before. Terrorism was a word used in every story from that day forward.

Life in the United States and around the world has never been the same. We got used to heavily armed troops stationed at our airports. We welcomed them, in fact. Our local power plants and chemical factories were off limits and now on guard for possible terror attacks.

At the end of that long day in the newsroom, as the afternoon shift came in, the rest of us stepped outside. It was a gorgeous fall-like day with a brilliant, azure blue sky and bright sunshine. Taking in that beautiful sky, it was difficult to believe that our country was now at war, that tragedy permeated the air we breathed and uncertainty was around every corner. We were afraid, but we raised American flags everywhere and got on our knees and prayed.

Fifteen years later and it’s still a day we will never forget — much like the day Kennedy was shot or the Challenger space shuttle blew up. How can we forget thousands of people murdered in a matter of hours? Tell me how to forget the sight of people jumping from a towering inferno to their deaths. When you know how to look at a New York City firetruck or police cruiser without a lump in your throat, let me know, too. Because it still hurts.

Ziegler can be reached at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.

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