Friday, September 10, 2021

Andy Young: A date to observe, but not to celebrate

By Andy Young

Special to The Windham Eagle 

This Saturday an old friend of mine will observe her birthday.

I don’t mean to imply she’s elderly, particularly since she’s reaching a chronological age that I myself have already attained. But the last five words of this essay’s first sentence were very carefully chosen.

My friend hasn’t felt right about celebrating her birthday for the past 20 years. That’s because two decades ago on Sept. 11 terrorists hijacked four airplanes, then intentionally flew them into crowded buildings. Nearly 3000 innocent people died that day in the twin towers of New York’s World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, or in a southwestern Pennsylvania field.

In a speech the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that Dec. 7, 1941, was, “a date which will live in infamy.” Nearly six decades later September 11th earned that same dubious distinction.

Virtually every American born before Bill Clinton was president vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on that now-infamous day in 2001. At 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time American Airlines Flight 11, with 81 passengers, 11 crew members, and 20,000 gallons of highly flammable jet fuel aboard, slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center near the 80th floor. Eighteen minutes later another Boeing 767 plane, United Airlines Flight 175, hit the south tower. Sixty-five more souls (nine crew members and 56 passengers, including five hijackers) were lost at the moment of impact, as were countless others who were in the building at the time. The later collapse of both towers, plus the subsequent crashes of two additional airliners (one into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m.; the other near Shanksville, Pennsylvania at 10:03) added to America’s unimaginable nightmare.

Anyone living in the southwestern Connecticut town where I grew up, which is just 60 miles from New York City, knew or was acquainted with someone impacted by the loss of a friend or family member on 9/11. I went to school with two people who lost their lives on that awful day. I hadn’t seen either of them since the early 1980’s, but due to the time and nature of their demise, both are frozen in my mind’s eye as 21-year-olds.

Circumstances have rendered Sept.11, Dec. 7 and Nov. 22 the three most notorious dates in American history. Without trivializing the Pearl Harbor attack or the assassination of America’s 35th president, it can be argued that 9/11/2001 was the most instantly traumatic date in American history. The horrific bombing of Pearl Harbor catapulted the United States into World War II, but given the limited technology that existed in 1941, the immediacy of the effect on the nation’s psyche wasn’t nearly what it was when the Twin Towers were hit twenty years ago. The Pearl Harbor debacle took place on a Sunday morning in a United States territory many Americans had never heard of, one that was nearly 2500 miles from America’s west coast. And while most Americans had televisions in 1963, there weren’t 24/7 news stations, let alone any Internet. The grim events that unfolded in Dallas got the quickest, most accurate coverage possible at that time, but the broadcast capabilities of America’s three (at the time) networks were primitive compared to the reach of today’s numerous sources of instant news.

It’s not right that people born on Sept. 11h can’t fully celebrate their birthday, but not everything in life is fair. Just ask anyone whose child, spouse, or friend went to work in the World Trade Center twenty years ago.

Time may indeed heal all wounds. But it doesn’t make the scars disappear. <

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