Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where They Were

As I've done in years past, I've asked a few readers and friends to chime in and tell me about their September 11th memory and experiences. With apologies to all three, I changed the format at the last minute.... I had intended on inserting these in the midst of the planned-9/11 column I was going to do (and will do next) but after reading these, I think they deserved their own column so they can remain uncut. Had they known that, they may have written more, so I hope they are okay with what will be.

The following is unedited, with the exception of the first non-essential sentence of the first write-up.

I was at Alabama on 9/11/01, rooming with Drew [Morris]. We had undoubtedly stayed up late the night before playing Ken Griffey Jr.'s baseball game (well, not HIS game, but the game he is featured on...) and so, as college students, the 8-9:00 hours were just not something we were terribly interested in. I remember my mom calling my cell and telling me to turn on the TV, that something was going on in New York. At that time, reports were coming in that a plane had hit one of the towers, and so everyone thought it was a tragic mistake, pilot error, one of those twin-props that fly around and hit stuff. I stood there for probably 30 minutes as me and the newscasters all started to realize that the flaming hole in the building was much larger than a twin-prop plane, and that no respectable commercial pilot could ever, or would ever, land a plane into an occupied building. I think it was at this point that I woke Drew up, and we stood in silence as we watched the second plane hit. We were still half-asleep and groggy, but just sort of looked at each other, silently understanding the magnitude of what we were seeing.

The rest of the day is a blur. Phone calls to family members, getting gas because of the shortage we thought would come, finding out if classes were canceled, making plans. I remember sitting on my apartment steps and talking to Matt, at Lee, and we compared stories and just were family for a while. I told him that I didn't want to go to war. The sun rose the next day and life went back to the new normal we were all subject to.

Eight years later, so much has changed, but one truth remains: America is a great place, and Americans endure. Through fire and death, torture and heartbreak, families missing parents, bodies never recovered, and flags on cars, we got through it, and every day forward is another step in the process of recovery. --Brad Latta

Brad is considered "the Ombudsman" of the Clouds in My Coffee website, usually offering up great counterpoints to my political ideology and opinions. A practicing attorney, you can find his information here.


On the morning of 9/11/2001, I arrived as usual at Briarwood Christian School where I was a band director. I was there early enough that the events in Manhattan had not yet begun to unfold. I continued my prep and setup for my first class, pretty much sheltered off in the band room from news and information. As the first kids started filing in, a couple of them asked if I had heard the news about the airplane crashing into the World Trade Center. At the time, of course, it sounded like some bizarre accident from an old made for TV “Airport ‘77” kind of movie. The information had little context and came in the form of a fairly casual question from the student, so I assumed there was not much to it and proceeded to teach my class.

After that first class, I had time to go to my computer and try to get more information. By that time, two planes had crashed into the towers, and they were jet liners (not little private planes as I had assumed). “Terrorist attack” was now being bandied about as an explanation.

I had to commute to another campus for more classes, listening to the radio and stopping in the teachers’ lounge where a TV was on. I was now seeing actual video for the first time, and I think that is when it began to sink in. Still, it kind of felt a bit sterile to me, a little bit distant, a little bit forensic in all of its surrealism. The video was not yet personal, the news coverage seemed cautious, and it was something everyone seemed reluctant to process.

I think it finally hit home with me when they started showing video of people leaping from the towers, choosing to throw themselves to certain death rather than deal with the terror of the fires and the inescapability of their circumstance. I could not imagine the choice. I could not imagine the final calls home. It was then that I started putting actual people in the seats of those jets, actual people in the towers as they collapsed, actual people committing heinous acts so far outside of the realm of humanity that it could not be believed. It was no longer forensic and distant. It was real, and it grabbed me.

I have since been to the site of the WTC. New construction has begun; life has moved on – as it must and as it should. Still, I don’t think I can forget that day. I hope none of us do. -- Kris Dekker

Kris is the music minister at Valleydale Church (an sbc fellowship) and choir director, and is skilled at over 153 different musical instruments. Or seems that way. His website is called The Left Brained Artist.


There are a few moments in America’s history that I remember with vivid detail. I recall watching the Challenger explode on National TV at a babysitters home when I was a young girl. I remember hearing the news that the Gulf War had begun as my parents drove me home from taking high school band pictures. And even though it was 8 years ago, I will never be able to erase the memories from 9/11. It was the day that I can honestly say my role as a military wife changed forever. It was the day that I realized we were no longer just a family that would have to deal with training exercises, frequent moves and military protocol. We now would have to face the grim reality of war. A war that would induce stress and worry that none of the young military wives I knew had ever experienced. A war that would take our husbands away from our children, so they could fight a battle that none of us really understood, but feared with great intensity.

On September 11, 2001 my daughter was just 3 months old and we were in Alabama on her first vacation. That morning we left very early to go fishing at a remote location. It was a beautiful morning with Daddy, Mommy, Papa and Morgan on her very first fishing trip. After piling into the car, my husband turned on a CD and we began our travel down the dirt road to town. My father-in-law pulled us over frantically and implored us to please turn on the radio. What we heard was hard to comprehend as the news radio tried to explain to its listeners what the rest of the world was watching unfold on TV. Still in a state of confusion, none of the events really registered with me until we got to the house and joined the rest of the family watching those horrifying images on TV. I wept and shook as I watched the planes slam into the buildings over and over again. As I imagined the fate of those people on the planes and in the buildings I sobbed violently. And then as the initial shock wore off, I was crushed by what I knew this meant for our family. President Bush had not announced it yet, but I knew that America was going to fight back, and my husband would be going to war.

War. For the generation before 9/11 we didn’t really understand what that word meant. Sure, there was the Gulf War, but that was short compared to anything in our countries history. And we had all seen images of Vietnam, Pearl Harbor, World and Civil Wars. But in an age where Hollywood controlled most of those images, it was easy to let ourselves be lulled into a sense of security. Certainly those things were in our past, not our future. Even as a military wife, I never really thought twice about my husband’s safety because most of his job was spent in the states or on occasion in countries such as Spain where they simply participated in training exercises. But on September 11th I understood that war was in our future, and while I had no idea what to expect, I was scared out of my mind.

We returned to base after our period of leave and I was shocked at the changes at the Air Station. Our base housing was actually not on the physical base and therefore had never been guarded, but as we drove up to our neighborhood we noticed that the streets were barricaded and there were Marines carrying M-16’s at the newly erected gates that now safeguarded the families. Those kids didn’t look a day over 17. I was used to the image on young men in uniform, even to seeing weapons and tanks on base. But this show of force took my breath away. On base, you could no longer park your car anywhere near a building and it took forever to get through the gates. They stopped many cars, Marines, wives and children waiting while military police randomly searched their vehicles. Even though it was an adjustment and a shock, I was proud of The Marine Corps for making these changes in such a short period of time. It gave me a strange sense of comfort.

Friends who were actually on base when the country was attacked talk of being beside themselves as they rushed to remove children from schools. Living on base was terrifying because rumors were flying about military bases being the next to be attacked. Many Marines were not in contact with their families for hours as they were called upon to enact emergency security measures. Wives huddled together in each other’s living rooms, holding on to the only other people who could understand the chaos that was all around them. They struggled to explain what was happening to small children, and to ease the growing fears of older kids as they too realized the Nation would soon be involved in a fight that would certainly involve their beloved parent.

For months, no one knew what, when and where our military would be called into action but we all knew it was just a matter of time. Families did not have much communication with commands who were busy with the important task of preparing their Marines for battle. Rumors of chemical weapon attacks coupled with the new gear that was now sitting in our living room gave me a sense of dread I will never forget. We were told that when the Marines did deploy to never send them religious material, for if they were captured, being a Christian could be a death sentence. Every day that passed became more anxious as we awaited news of a now almost certain deployment to war. And when that phone call came, in the middle of a steak dinner, my husband was told to get his gear together, he would be leaving in days. As the steak sat uneaten on the table, we started the packing process. My daughter was just 7 months old.

On the day that my husband boarded that bus, the families all gathered at the unit. None of us knew what to expect and not many of us could pry ourselves away from that parking lot until the buses were out of our sight. Small children cried and I remember a little boy clutching his father’s leg screaming “I don’t want my Daddy to die”! It was simply horrible. As we got in the car to leave, the radio was playing a song with the lyrics “I’m gonna get through this” but I honestly had no idea how. No war had started yet and no troops were in Iraq…my husband would be with the first group to enter the country.

I will not divulge the entire story of that deployment today, but will tell you that there were days when I was glued to the news hoping for any information about my husband’s unit because we had no contact with them for 40+ days. I will tell you that my sister Marine wives got me through that deployment which started out as a 3 month separation and turned into 8 very long and scary months. And I will tell you that when my husband got home he was safe, along with everyone else in his unit…even though they all were terribly thin, very tired and worn.

To date my husband’s unit has still not suffered any casualties, despite being the most deployed unit in the Marine Corps. And the conditions of deployment have improved greatly since that first time. But we will never again be able to go back to that feeling of security that we had on September 10, 2001. War is a harsh reality in my community now and is expected to be for many years to come. It is one that none of us like, but many of us realize as a necessity so that we will never have an attack on precious American soil…ever again. -- Erin Coates Whitehead

Erin, aka Erin the Marine Wife, is frequent mentioned on the Clouds site, and is a proud wife to a proud and brave Marine husband. Her site, Many Kind Regards, is one of my favorites, and she's also just started a website for The Brendon Scott Coates Foundation for children with cancer.

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