September 11: 20 years ago

It’s been 20 years since 9/11. I looked back at a post I wrote on the 10 year anniversary, when the boys were in 2nd and 3rd grade. All they knew was that 9/11 was the day “some bad guys flew some planes into the twin towers, and a lot of people died.”

Yup, that pretty much sums up the day.

Four airplanes were hijacked that morning. Two hit the twin towers, one crashed into the Pentagon, and the fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania (United flight 93), all within 90 minutes. There’s rumors that the plane that flight 93 was headed for the White House or the Capitol building, but passengers overtook the terrorists and it crashed in a remote area.

A lot has changed since that day. We moved from Dayton, OH to Washington, DC, and then to Wichita, KS. Adam was born less than a year later, and Zach two years later. We freed ourselves from two crazy cats but added a sweet dog to our family.

I went from full time work, to stay at home mom to working part time to back to full time. We replaced our sporty red convertible Miata with a family friendly green Camry (which both the boys ended up driving). We’re on our second silver minivan. Our conversations about Star Wars and soccer have moved to college and disc golf.

Two things haven’t changed: Scott still grills the best steaks ever, and I still hate to clean.

We’ve watched a couple of the documentaries on the History channel, CNN, AppleTV and Netflix. Some of them rehash the events of the day and show the footage. In that footage from 2001, no one had cell phones. No one was on the streets taking photos or calling people. There was no social media to inform others.

I was working in communications at Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio. Scott was active duty Air Force working on Wright Patterson Air Force, one of the largest Air Force bases in the U.S.

I can still hear the phone recording “all circuits are busy…” when I tried to get a hold of Scott. No one could call out or in to the base. Phone lines were jammed, with everyone in America trying to get a hold of loved ones.

I can even recall what I was wearing that day: my favorite Ann Taylor black shirt dress with 3/4 length sleeves, buttons down the front and belted waist, and black boots. Isn’t it strange the things we remember?

All air travel ceased, airports shut down and people were stranded. We weren’t living here in 2001, but the Wichita Eagle wrote this today, remembering the day as many flights were diverted to Wichita.

Scott updated his will, and we reviewed all the financials and important stuff in case he got deployed and something happened to him. Scott was put on 48 hours deployment notice and hisdepartment was required to man the office 24/7.

America was on edge – were there more planned attacks? There was some speculation that Wright-Patt was a target, being the largest Air Force Base in the United States.

I think I left work early that day, and Scott was already home. Later that afternoon, there was a loud boom in the area. Everyone in the neighborhood ran outside. Someone reported the Veteran’s Hospital in Dayton had exploded, and we saw smoke in the distance. A few minutes later, Dad called me from Wichita, saying they were getting reports at the station that something had happened in Dayton.

He had on his “news” voice, and was asking questions in such a way that I thought I was live on the air (I wasn’t). It turned out that a fighter jet headed to protect Air Force One was flying over Dayton, and broke the sound barrier. What we heard was a sonic boom. And the smoke? Just a coincidence.

Sometimes I’ll be watching a movie or TV show made prior to 2001, and I’ll catch a glimpse of the twin towers. It makes me sad as I remember the towers burning, then collapsing. 

Our “bad guys” were real. Our safe little world changed that day.

In the weeks and months following, we worried about letters laced with anthrax being mailed to media outlets and lawmakers. Airline security ramped up and now passengers were required to remove their shoes when going through airport security. Later, security tightened more and now liquids are limited to no more than 3 oz., and have to be placed outside your bag when you go through the security x-ray.

Soon, the Department of Homeland Security was formed, and their main role was to protect us from terrorists. In 2002, a threat level color-coded security alert system was created (green, blue, yellow, orange, red). Green meant low risk of terrorist attack. Red, the highest level, meant “severe risk of terrorist attacks.” My five second research reveals for eight years, the level moved between yellow, orange and red. This alert system was eliminated in 2010.

Now that the boys are older, they know the details of the day, as it’s now in history books along with important events like the two World Wars, Pearl Harbor and John F. Kennedy’s assassination. For me, the difference is I remember September 11.

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