When I was younger, I listened as older people uttered the phrase, “I will never forget where I was on December 7th.” Whenever you heard someone say that, there was no question about which December 7th to which they referred. Everyone knew it was 1941; it was about Pearl Harbor Day. At the time, I could not relate to how they were so sure of where they were and what they were doing at the moment they received word of the Japanese attack.
And then September 11, 2001 happened.
I was in the shower and Ardis was about to leave for work when I heard her trying to say something through the bathroom door. “I am almost done; I’ll be out in a minute.” I heard the door open.
“An airplane just hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City,” I remember her saying. My next thought was, What idiot just clipped a Tower with his Cessna or Piper? I finished up and grabbed a towel wrapping it around myself on the way into the living room.
As I stood there dripping water all over, I looked at the television and went numb. I could not believe what I was seeing.
“This is no accident,” I said, looking at the screen.
“Of course it is,” Ardis replied.
“No. It is not.”
“How do you know?” Ardis asked.
“Look at the size of that hole. That was a really large airplane.” Ardis looked at me and then back to the television. Then I added, “Look at the weather. It’s a beautiful day – the visibility is better than 25 miles. You can see it right there on TV. No pilot in his right mind would allow his airplane to strike a building like that. This was deliberate.”
She started to protest, insisting it was an accident. She accused me of slipping into the mode of my military mind and seeing things which might not be. About this time, Katie Couric began accusing air traffic controllers of vectoring airplanes into the buildings.
I was shaking my head saying no and started to explain what I knew about the situation just from what I could see on television. Right then, the second airplane flew into the field of view striking the other tower.
In the flash of an instant, more airline passengers lost their lives. My thoughts flew half way around the world to the Indian Ocean into discussions and briefings we had aboard the ship.
When terrorists hit the Twin Towers in 1993, I thought that would be the end of it when they captured the bad guys. I should’ve known. On October 12, 2000 when al-Qaeda struck the USS Cole in port at Aden, Yemen killing 17 U.S. sailors, I should have known.
I now know why I will always remember the moment of the attack on the Twin Towers. Most who learned of the attack on Pearl Harbor heard it over the radio well after the fact. Many of us today watched the attack live on television in detailed color. We will always remember those images.
To the 17 sailors and the more than 2700 civilians, rest easy.
Fair winds and following seas.
© 2010 J. Clark