Tag Archive: terrorism

Everyone is reflecting on 9/11 this day.  It would be cliche for me to write about where I was and what I was doing on that day.  Since I do not like being cliche, I won’t.   That day did affect me profoundly, on levels I cannot even describe.

What did affect me was the way today, ten years after the most vicious attack on this country since Pearl Harbor, dawned.  It was the same as it was 10 years ago, maybe a bit cooler, who knows?  I went about my morning, getting ready for church, and going to the Pancake Breakfast at the fire house.  My mind kept going back to that morning.  I cannot explain how it affected, at least, I cannot explain completely.

As the years have gone by, I have never completely forgotten the images I saw that morning, they were too horrific, too frightening, and even, too surreal to forget.  Part of my heart was in those towers on that day, it was there with the firefighters of the FDNY.  As I watched the towers burn, in my mind, I could see the firefighting activity going on.  I could only imagine how crowded the radio channels were, and the chaos that must have been taking place at the 9-1-1 Center, and in the “radio room”  (regardless of it’s size, and number of occupants, where ever the fire dispatchers are located, it is always called the “radio room”)  My mind was in several different places at once.  I never in my life fought a fire of any type approaching that level of intensity, and I certainly do not put myself on the same level as a firefighter in a big city.  That being said, we share the same bond, in many ways.  I also know the fire service from the dispatch side of things. I know how hectic it can get in a given dispatch center during a “regular” incident (Large auto accident, big fire, etc)  I could only imagine the stress and the strain the dispatchers were going through, and through it all, each one maintained their professionalism and communicated clearly and effectively.

So, that was one level… and then there is the other one.  My mind is still haunted by those images, especially of the people jumping, and the footage of the people trapped above the fire in both towers.  The images were heart-rending, and to this day, are difficult to watch.  Watching video is one thing, but seeing the still photos, is something else.  Even though you can’t see individual expressions, the fear is palpable nonetheless.   It’s hard at this point, not to lapse into meaningless cliche about who those people were, their dreams, desires, what they did, who they loved. It’s all been done, and I cannot do it any more justice, but, I do feel that aspect, and it makes things all the more unforgettable.  All of those faceless people in those grainy photos and video of the upper floors, were someone to somebody, and they all left this world in a way none of them expected.   I often find myself wondering what that day must have been like, especially for the person who looked out the window just as the aircraft approached.  I cannot fathom that feeling, and I cannot fathom what it must have been like.  Even worse, the people on the plane, who knew, like that flight attendant who was on the first aircraft to hit the towers, she was talking to someone from her airline’s headquarters, and she knew what was going on, she knew it.  I cannot comprehend what that must be like, the overpowering helplessness that must have overcome all of them.   Still photos abound of the people who watched the attack, and its aftermath, unfold.  They were on the street surrounding the Twin Towers, they were in buildings throughout the area, and they were in Times Square watching it happen on the “Jumbotron” TV’s on some of the buildings.  The photos of the people nearest the attack site are the ones that are the most unsettling.  Each one shows a person, or group of people, their expressions showing a mixture of horror, and disbelief at what happened.

Then there is the other level, the one that kicks in involuntarily when I see something happening, it’s the analyst in me.  I can’t help it sometimes.  I can be reacting emotionally to something, but a detached part of my brain is recording sounds, words, and things that are going on around me, for later analysis when I my emotional outburst is over.  It is an extremely rational part of me, and something that doesn’t go away.   I remember that morning.  I was getting my boys ready for school, and it was a typical morning with them  Channel 11 is on the TV, and some kid show is keeping Andrew entertained, while the radio is tuned to Don and Roma on WLS, I am scarcely paying attention to the radio as I rush about getting breakfast, the volume isn’t that loud, and I will have time for it later.  It was my day off from my job at Gateway Country Store, and I was going to enjoy it.   As I pass through the kitchen, I hear the words “air traffic controller” and “New York” from the radio, and pay no mind to it.  Just then, the phone rings, it’s my mom.  “Tim do you have the TV on, watch the news, an airplane crashed into the World Trade Center.” …

That’s when it started, the analyst kicked in.  I thought, how in the heck does an airplane crash into the World Trade Center.  My first thought, before turning on the TV is to grab my Road Atlas.  I quickly flip to New York City, wanting to know where JFK and LaGuardia were in relation to the World Trade Center, I found the proper page, still talking to my mom, and turned on the TV.   I didn’t expect to see what I saw.   A huge amount of  smoke was pouring from the 1st tower that had been hit.  I remember saying.  “That had to be a huge plane that did that mom, that’s got to be 8 or 10 floors on fire, the only plane that’s going to do that is an airliner.”   and she replied.  “Well the news is saying they don’t know what kind of plane it was.”   I hung up and sat to watch.  My mind was seeing the images on the screen, and listening to Diane Sawyer, but the other part of my mind was thinking.

What kind of plane was it?

How did it hit the tower?

How fast was it going?

How many people on board?

and the most chilling of all.  “It had to be deliberate”.   To me, at that moment, nothing else made sense.  I have spent my life, literally, studying World War II, and that also lead to study, and reading about military history in general, as well as terrorism.  That also led to learning about military strategy, military thought, and other things I cannot list.  My analytical mind was coming to only one conclusion.  Terrorists did it.   At that moment, it was the only thing that made sense to me.  Airplanes just don’t take off from an airport, and crash into skyscrapers.   The term “accident” was dismissed completely from my mind.  I knew an attempt was made in 1993 to destroy the WTC by Islamic Terrorists.  Somehow, I knew I was watching their second attempt at it.    As if to underscore that line of thought, the second aircraft hit the other tower.   Then I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt it was deliberate.  Immediately, my mind was in overdrive.    A deep sense of foreboding told me it wasn’t over, that there would be more.   My mind was racing, listing potential targets, and dismissing them.  I then began to look outside for the signs that a plane was heading for the Sears Tower.   By now, one had hit the Pentagon, and the news was reporting that another aircraft was missing, and presumed to be heading for Washington.

I couldn’t contain myself anymore.  I was on the computer, trying to do my own amateur analysis of who the culprits were, and before his name was even spoken on the news, I knew it was Osama Bin Laden.  I pulled an old copy of  the Naval Institute’s magazine, called “Proceedings” from my bookshelf.  In it, was an analysis piece about Osama Bin Laden written in 1999 I think.  I could think of no other person, and no other group other than Al Qaeda.   I had the radio, computer, and television going all at once, I was on the phone with my friend Peggy from Ohio, talking about the situation in New York.   Just then, I heard the high pitched roar of what could only be fighter planes flying overhead.  I leapt to my front window, and grabbed the binoculars I always kept nearby.  I caught them out of the corner of my eye, and turned the binoculars to the movement, after a momentary wobble, I settled the binoculars on the aircraft.   4 F16’s were clearly visible, flying in two pairs, and what really struck me was the fact that they were armed.  “Sidewinder” missles were clearly visible on the wing tips.   As fast they appeared, they were gone, rocketing northeast.   I continued my conversation with Peggy, as we both watched the coverage on ABC at our respective homes.

I will never forget how I felt that day, and I will never forget how this has affected me.  To watch the documentaries, as I did yesterday, it is almost haunting.  What was scary, or, perhaps, just weird, or whatever, is how some of the documentaries echoed some of my initial thoughts on the day’s events, some of the people involved, in both Public Safety, and the Federal Government were thinking the same things I was thinking in the initial stages of the day’s events.

9/11 haunts me, in ways that I can’t even describe.   On one level, it’s the memories of what I saw, and then on other, deeper levels, it’s an almost frightening understanding of the machinations that brought us to that point.

Like others before them, those who wish to inflict a given political, or belief system on a society, through terror, are not “madmen” or “out of there minds” they are not “twisted” or irrational.  They are rational, by their own standards, and, like many before them, people like  Hitler, Stalin, Mao, just to name a few, the aforementioned labels do not fit, and are not even appropriate.

A “madman” may be frightening, but a madman is not rational, he is not calculating, he doesn’t think systematically, he acts on impulse, and destroys things without rhyme, reason, or a greater, if you will, purpose.  Hitler, Stalin, and the Islamists were not, and are not madmen either.  They are cold, calculating, political creatures, who would willingly waste human life in pursuit of their political goals. That is what makes them more frightening than a madman.  They believe, and because they believe, they will act.   And they did just that.  That is where the understanding has to start, and the understanding is necessary so we can protect ourselves in the future, and strike them down if necessary.


It’s the 9th anniversary of 9/11.

I still remember that day, it affected me deeply.  I will never forget the airplanes, and the collapsing twin towers.

But, there is something that bugs me about 9/11.

For all of the severity, and tragedy of the attack on the World Trade Center, the whole “remember 9/11” thing is becoming a pop-culture cliche.

People post Facebook and MySpace statuses about “remember 9/11” and “Never Forget” or “Our Freedom Is Precious”… and I can’t help but wonder if they are posted because it’s the way the feel, or if they are posted because someone feels they have to…  Sometimes, I wonder if some people even have a clue about what the freedom that they hold so precious really means?

The other thing that bugs me about the whole “9/11 Memorial” industry regards the FDNY Firefighters, NYPD officers, and Port Authority officers that perished in the towers.  On 9/11 the fire service in this country was profoundly affected by the loss of so many brothers in one day.  And I do use the term “brothers” because firemen develop that sort of bond.  It was a profound loss that affected firefighters across the country, and in the fire service that loss is still felt.  Fire engines across the country have memorials to the FDNY firefighters painted on their engines, or as small window stickers, or decals on the sides, and in many cases, large American flags flying from the back step of the vehicle. They will most likely remain there for years.  Even more, many fire departments across the country have renumbered a piece of apparatus with the number “911” either permanently or symbolically.

This is where I tread upon touchy ground:  As a past member of the fire service, and as someone who grew up in and around a fire house where my father was Fire Chief, I understand how firefighters grieve, how they hold up those lost in the line of duty, and go to great pains to remember those who gave their lives saving others.  It’s a solemn thing to remember those men, and it is a deeply felt tradition in the fire service.

That being said, I understand the desire of those outside of the fire service, law enforcemnt, and public safety in general to remember the members of the FDNY, NYPD and Port Authority who died.  The emphasis, however, appears to be on the fire fighters, because of the place they hold in American society.   It’s the way they are remembered that, in my opinion, is fast becoming a pop culture cliche.  After 9/11, stickers, T-shirts, and other paraphernalia emblazoned with “We will never forget” and “Gone but not forgotten” in an attempt to memorialize those who died, the loss of two iconic buildings and the over three thousand civilians who died were everywhere, it’s as if a cottage industry popped up overnight.   It all seems so cheap, in my eyes.  T-shirts?  Give me a break.  I have never said anything about this in the past, but as we near the 10th Anniversary of the assault on this country, it seems the attempts at  memorials are getting more maudlin, more plastic, and frankly more “pop-culture” than the serious, solemn event that it is.

With the loss of 343 firefighters on that fateful day  the public in this country has become more conscious than ever of the sacrifices that our firefighters and police officers make for us every day, and that has translated to an “over the top” mourning, in my opinion, every time a Line of Duty Death is reported in the news.   Just recently, the Chicago Fire Department lost one of their own, while fighting a fire in a restaurant.  The next day on Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, people were posting such things as “God needed another hero Chicago Firefighter (name here) rest in peace” or “Another hero has passed” and other such things.  The postings were maudlin, and, to be quite frank, silly.   I get the need to mourn, to show support for the men and women who come to our aid when we need them, but it is getting to the point of cliche, and that takes away from the loss, the solemness of the situation, and, really, intrudes on the members of the fire service, and their need to mourn, their way.   Folks, if you don’t understand the fire service, have never been a part of it, please, dispense with the “look at me, I’m part of this too” type of memorialization.  If you want to mourn the loss of one of our bravest,  say a prayer, observe a moment of silence, or something similar.  If you are near where the funeral goes by, stand in silence, and say a prayer for the fallen, and for those who will continue to carry on.  Fly a flag, plant a flower, plant a tree, commission a plaque, a piece of sidewalk, a park, or a street in their name, because those types of memorials have meaning,  but please, dispense with the t-shirts, bumper stickers, and all other such cliched nonsense.  To be honest, it really looks bad, when some drunken slob is in a bar, stumbling about with a “FDNY We will never forget” t-shirt, it looks tacky, and in my opinion is disrespectful.  The t-shirt that I dislike the most, is one that has the standard memorial phrase on the back, and a white badge on the front, over the left chest, with a black band through it, and “FDNY 9/11/2001” underneath.  The black band over the badge is really something both law enforcement, and fire service folks do to show they have lost someone from their department.  That gesture, is one of the ways firefighters and cops mourn, it has a powerful meaning to those who wear the uniform, it is a reminder as well, of why we did, and still do the job, and the sacrifice,  that those of us who have worn, and still wear the uniform, and our families understand.   It’s not something that should be plastered on a t-shirt, and sold. It cheapens it, and takes away the meaning.

I understand everyone’s desire to remember that fateful day, and show their support, and how if affected them.  I choose not to wear those items, because I firmly believe they have no place.  They have turned a national tragedy, a deadly act of aggression into a piece of pop culture, and that is wrong.

Like I said, if you want to memorialize all of those who have given their lives to protect and serve their fellow man, then raise a flag, plant a tree, or a garden in their memory, do something lasting, and something that will make an impression, and will be there for future generations to see.  Not some t-shirt that will fade, wear out, and become full of holes after too many washings.  It wasn’t a concert, or event, or some other piece of culture, It was a barbaric, horrific act of aggression against a people, a country, a way of life, and over 3,000 people died simply because they were the targets of evil men, who wished to hurt us, who desire to destroy our way of life.

Never forget those who died

Work so it doesn’t happen again.

Do something so it is never forgotten.

Pray for those who wish to harm us, and pray for those who stand ready to come to our aid, in our time of need.  They all wear a uniform, some of them drive police cars, some drive fire trucks, and still others drive Hummvees, and armored vehicles.  But, they all stand ready to protect and to serve, and to defend.

Don’t forget them.  Support them, remember them, and honor them in a tangible, meaningful way.

A t-shirt doesn’t do it.