9/11 -- WE HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN + WE MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER
Every generation can recall an event that is collectively seared into the mind of a nation and its people. From the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 to the assassination of John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 and now including that horrible day on Sept. 11, 2001, individuals can tell you where they were, what they were doing and the thoughts that were permanently etched into their minds on those days. The most mundane recollections became riveting stories of the human experience, designed to be filed away in an emotional time capsule which will never be lost.
In 2006, RFFM.org commemorated the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy by interviewing five members of the local and national media. Chicago area journalists shared their recollections of 9/11 five years after the devastating attacks which took the lives of thousands of innocent men, women and children in New York, Washington, D.C. and in a rural field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Touching, riveting and emotional--these individuals expose their inner feelings about one more day that will live in American infamy. Read the thoughts of Charlie Wojciechowski--NBC 5 Chicago; Phil Ponce--host, Chicago Tonight WTTW (PBS); Chuck Goudie--ABC 7 Chicago; Mike Flannery--CBS 2 Chicago; and Michael J. Waters--publisher and editor, Daily Southtown (now called the Southtown Star).
RFFM.org thought it appropriate to once again post these poignant recollections of a day that truly will never be forgotten.
Charlie Wojciechowski, reporter, NBC 5 Chicago
It was the first thing I saw when I switched on the TV that morning, live video of the second plane exploding as it sliced into the World Trade Center. Matt Lauer and Katie Couric had been talking about what had, at first, seemed a terrible accident. Then came the sinking feeling that it was not, and that the world would change forever.
Before I could reach for my toothbrush, the phone rang. It was Angie Rosemond, my assignment editor. In a calm and measured voice she told me to get to the Federal Building. My crew would meet me there. That started a day that none of us will ever forget. The memories remain in the form of surreal images: standing with dozens of others as we watched the towers collapse on the monitors inside our live truck; waiting in a silent O'Hare parking lot, the staging area closest to then grounded airport; looking up at the Sears Tower, wondering if we would be next.
It was a frightening reality that to this day shapes thoughts, opinions and reactions to world events and one that is seared into our collective memory.
Phil Ponce, Host, “Chicago Tonight” WTTW -- Channel 11
I woke up that morning to follow my usual routine of having a cup of coffee at the kitchen table while reading the morning papers. Normally I never watch morning television while reading. For some reason, though, I turned on “Good Morning America.” I recall that Charles Gibson and Diane Sawyer were anchoring. A few minutes after I tuned in, one of them interjected that there was a report that a small plane had crashed into one of the towers at the World Trade Center and that they would have more information as it became available.
Soon afterwards, they had a live picture of the towers and while information about the first incident was coming in, I saw the second plane go into the second tower as it happened in real time. I could barely believe what I had just seen on my little counter-top TV set and at first it almost didn’t register. Then Charlie Gibson said something like, “We’re under attack.” That’s when it clicked. I felt like someone had kicked me in the stomach. And when the towers fell, I felt a mixture of revulsion, grief and anger.
At some point during all this I got a phone call from one of our producers. She was the first one I talked to (my wife was out of town). I was glad the producer called. I needed another human being to connect with—even if it was just on the phone. Later there were more phone calls; from other colleagues about how to fashion a program that night. And my children called from college needing to process the events with their parents. They had questions. Why would somebody do this? Are we safe? Where was God in all this? Good questions then. Good questions now.
Chuck Goudie, reporter, ABC 7 Chicago
The American flags did it for me. There were hundreds of them hung from expressway overpasses, gas stations, truck windows and car antennas within hours of the attack. It was reflex for so many people after their turf was attacked. Hang the red white and blue.
Producer Ann Pistone, cameraman Steve Erwin and I lost count of how many flags we saw on the interstate between Chicago and Manhattan that devastating day. We had left the Loop a few hours after the assault, realizing there would be no flights to get us there. We drove all day and night watching the flags fly by. Some were strung up, others were in the hands of people who must have felt compelled to do something to express their heartache, dismay and helplessness.
Except for necessities we never stopped that day, aiming at ground zero as if it was the end of a tunnel. The corridor of flags gave me personal comfort and certainty that day, that despite the darkness, there was light and strength. Even while standing at ground zero a few hours later, breathing the remains of the world trade center, the American flags that guided our way to lower Manhattan made it clear that we as a nation would survive.
Five years later, it seems most of the flags have been packed away...until the next time.
Mike Flannery, reporter, CBS 2 Chicago
I remember remarking on the beautiful morning sunshine as I walked into a barber shop. Otto had opened early to accommodate my need for a pre-work appointment. We were the only ones in the shop. He put some classical music on the sound system, made us some coffee and went to work trimming and clipping. At some point, the telephone rang. It was Otto’s wife.
Without putting the phone down, and without saying anything to me, he hurried over to turn on a TV. We saw a live picture of both towers burning, then the broadcast cut away to replay video tape of a large passenger jet slamming into the second building. Otto said something in German to his wife, hung up, then slumped into a chair. We sat in stunned silence.
I was having trouble wrapping my mind around what I was watching. This was an act of evil mass-murder, conceived and executed by some very smart people. My first suspects: “Death-to-America” Islamists, never mind that I’d been wrong in the same surmise after the Oklahoma City bombing.
I called the office as I raced the 4-5 blocks to get there. They were already deploying reporters and camera crews, though it was unclear when we would ever get on the air, since CBS was going wall-to-wall with reports from New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. I was sent to the Sears Tower, in time to see nervous workers heading home, perhaps a dozen stopping to ask me if what they’d heard was true … that another hijacked plane was still aloft and headed for the Loop. I said what I knew: we could not determine the source of that rumor and government officials told us they thought it was untrue.
In a short time, no planes of any kind were visible. The empty sky above the Loop’s almost empty-streets was eerie. The eventual appearance of military fighter jets flying CAP (Combat Air Patrol) made it even eerier.
Michael J. Waters, publisher and editor, Daily Southtown
I was driving to the newspaper office when I tuned in WBBM Newsradio. The live feeds from New York reported a shocking story -- that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers in what appeared to be deliberate acts. I was desperate to get to work to get the newsroom rolling on the story; the 30-minute drive seemed to take forever.
I was the first editor in the newsroom that morning. I started calling reporters and other editors on their cell phones to either urge them to get into the office as quickly as possible or get them into the field at locations such as the Sears Tower. Employees from throughout the building--including our advertising, circulation and accounting departments--gathered in clusters in stunned silence around the TVs mounted on the newsroom walls to watch the news reports. Some wiped away tears as they watched the shocking images of the crumbling towers.
As more editors arrived to help coordinate our coverage, we quickly decided that we wanted to put out an extra edition. It wasn't difficult to convince our publisher that this story was important enough to justify the Daily Southtown's first extra since the death of (Chicago Mayor) Harold Washington 14 years earlier. The next few hours were a blur as the newsroom compiled the report and we scrambled to get the extra printed and distributed.
It wasn't until late that night, when the Sept. 12 newspaper had been put to bed, that the emotions of the day started to hit me. We'd spent all day trying to help our readers make sense of what happened and why. Now, in the quiet of the newsroom after deadline, we had a chance to reflect on those questions ourselves. I think we understood even then that we'd never really be able to make sense of what happened. And we already knew that our country would never be quite the same.
RFFM.org would like to express its appreciation to the members of the media who took time to contribute to this project. They took time out of hectic schedules to add to the historical record. Their words will be sent to the Library of Congress and will become a permanent record, documenting their 9/11 experiences.
RFFM.org encourages its readers to post their recollections of 9/11 in the comment section.
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