Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where were you on 9-11-01?

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was working in the newsroom of the Rolla Daily News. I think we had finished up that day's newspaper and were working on the next day's issue. I recall standing at the layout counter, figuring up how many pages the next day's paper would have and where the ads would go when sports editor Dave Roberts said something like, "Somebody just flew a plane into the World Trade Center."

We'd had a television in the newsroom for a couple of years or more, and we usually had it on MSNBC at that time of the morning because I liked the Don Imus Show. Imus was off the air by then, I think, and there was just a straight news cast going on when the bulletin came on that grabbed Dave's attention and got the rest of us to crowd around the TV set. I sat back down at my desk and started working at my computer instead of at the counter so I could watch and listen to the newscast. I think we eventually turned it over to Fox News Channel which had more coverage from Ground Zero.

We speculated about why a pilot would fly into a skyscraper; perhaps a heart attack or malfunctioning equipment, we thought. Then when we saw a second plane fly into the other tower, we knew that neither crash was by accident. We knew it had to be some foreign power behind it, so we started speculating about who.

Shortly afterwards, our boss, the publisher (since retired) came in and snapped at us to "turn that crap off" or words to that effect. Dave said, "Somebody has flown planes into the World Trade Center; this is news." The boss said something about not letting the workers downstairs in the insert-stuffing room listen to country music, so he wasn't going to let us watch news. Dave Roberts countered with, "You don't seem to understand. We've been attacked. We are at war." The boss grumbled something and went into his office where he turned his own TV on; I don't know if ESPN had anything on at that time or not.

I kept watching the coverage and then saw one building collapse on itself. The debris and ash flowed down the streets like a wall of water down a dry creek channel. "There were still people in that building," I said. "And a bunch of police and firemen went in there. Did they get out before that happened?" I was incredulous and unable to wrap my brain around the enormity of this crime. "I don't think so," Dave said. Both of us remained silent. Soon the other tower collapsed.

I asked the boss if he wanted us to plan a special section for the following day, and he grumbled that it wasn't that big a deal for Rolla, so it didn't warrant a special section. A little while later I got up and left. At that time I was single and my habit was to come in early in the morning to put the paper to bed, then leave and go work out in the gym and then go home and read and take a nap before going back to the newsroom in the middle of the afternoon to continue putting together the next day's paper. I went and completed my workout, watching TV in the cardio room while walking on the treadmill. I went home and fixed lunch. I turned the radio on (didn't have a TV at home) and sat down at the computer to look for more news.

About that time, the phone rang and a reporter told me the boss wanted us to meet at 1:00 to plan out a special section on the attack. I guess someone had called him and told him the implications of the attack, so he finally got his brain wrapped around the enormity of the terrorism, something it was hard for all of us to do. So we all met at 1 and figured out what local people to talk and what stories to tell. I don't recall what the stories were, but Dave, Bill Morrison, plus another reporter and I put together an 8-page section. We talked to people at the university, students and professors. Someone may have talked to veterans. I remember doing a short story about local ham radio operators who were standing by in case any messages were needed to be relayed across the country from Ground Zero survivors to relatives.

That evening I went to a meeting of the university administration and international students, particularly Muslims. Administrators or staff members assured the international students that they were safe here, although some of the international students indicated racist remarks had been thrown their way during the day. The administrators/staff members told the students that they knew none of them could ever be involved in anything so terrible and that the community would understand that students would not be doing anything so hideous.

I found out later that some of the airliner hijackers were university students in Florida.

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