Where were you on 9/11?
By Larry Downing
It’s a simple question understood by anyone alive on September 11, 2001; an unwanted reminder for those who witnessed the confusion of America’s day of crisis as uncertainty stretched beyond its borders and illustrated to the world man’s capability of reaching out and doing harm to others.
That September day started quietly as early Fall leaves gently landed on top of the morning shadows of New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, but turned horrible after passenger jets and skyscrapers fell out of the sky holding thousands of souls trapped inside evil fires.
(Rescue workers carry mortally injured New York City Fire Department chaplain, the Rev. Mychal Judge, from the wreckage of the World Trade Center in New York City September 11, 2001. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)
Four commercial jetliners loaded with travelers and fuel were hijacked in flight and then used in a choreographed death wish by determined men who took control of the nation’s course and momentarily dictated its history. All of it captured in high definition on television and on the internet.
Another anniversary date remembered forever with pained hearts and needing nothing more than a mention of a place, a name, or a number to start a personal discussion of the events on that day. December 7th… Dallas… Bobby… Munich… Challenger… Oklahoma City… Flight 93… Flight 11… Flight 77… or Flight 175…
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 is only days away but chances are good you remember where you were on that day. Much easier than, say, recalling what two teams played in the Super Bowl earlier this year?
Mine started with a phone call at home from Reuters’ picture editor Herman Beals, who prefaced with a warning, “this isn’t a joke…but airplanes are hitting the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York…get to the White House NOW.”
Reports from the car radio said an “explosion” was heard at the Pentagon. I jumped over the fence at Arlington National Cemetery and ran up the hill that overlooked the building. Flames, smoke, and helicopters surrounded an ugly hole in the middle of the south side of the building; the point of impact when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed. Rumors were another passenger jet was heading towards the Capitol. I kept my long lens focused on the Capitol until two U.S. Air Force F-16 jets armed with missiles declared air superiority.
The next week was a long invisible blur under a dark cloud of grief; standing from dawn to dusk across from the Pentagon watching the sun rise over a stunned nation as weary rescue workers kept a patriotic stiff upper lip while still searching for signs of life inside the smoldering building. Vacant skies were eerily quiet as all commercial aircraft were grounded nationwide.
Ironically, the pilot of the doomed hijacked jet, Charles F. Burlingame III, was U.S. Navy trained and had once worked at the Pentagon during his military career. He received full Navy honors during his funeral across the boulevard from where he died, inside Arlington National Cemetery.
Air travel stopped being an easy romantic pleasure after the attacks with added security. The Department of Homeland Security (created because of 9/11) immediately initiated color-coded terrorism threat advisory levels: Red…Orange…Yellow…Blue…or Green… which served as a traveler’s barometer for the hours needed to get through long security lines stretching inside the airports.
Working as a photojournalist in America soon became more difficult. Carrying a camera on the street now makes photographers “suspect” as lightly informed security guards, nervous police officers and suspicious federal agents look at cameras as possible surveillance tools for a future crime.
Pass the word…we live in a free society and it’s not a crime to carry a camera and use it in public.