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Recall strength, unity that emerged from 9/11

Like most of us who were born before Sept. 11, 2001, I recall vividly where I was that morning when the world forever changed.

I first heard the news reports of an airplane striking one of the twin towers on my car radio.

At that point, I didn’t fathom a thought of any conspiracy theory. In fact, I remember wondering how a pilot could be so stupid.

I had dropped off my then-3-year-old son at preschool and swung quickly into the library to return past-due children’s books. As I approached the counter, I’ll never forget the look of dismay on the librarian’s face. She asked if I had heard the news — a second plane struck the other tower.

I scrambled to my car and headed to my Warren newspaper office, listening intently as the story unfolded on the car radio. I bolted up the stairs to the second floor where I found Publisher Charles Jarvis standing in the middle of the newsroom. At that time, I was the Tribune Chronicle’s local news editor.

He spoke calmly of a special edition, being on the newsstands by noon and calling everyone in to the office.

And with that, the world, as we knew it, ended.

Everyone on our staff had covered big stories before — but never anything like this.

The phones were going crazy, the police scanner was blaring and staff members huddled silently around the newsroom’s only TV at the time, a portable Zenith perched atop a corner filing cabinet. That’s where we watched, horrified as the first, and then the second, iconic tower crumbled before our eyes, falling to earth in a cloud of dust that would take months to settle.

My husband worked midnight shift at the time, and I recall ringing the home phone over and over and over, attempting to rouse him. Finally, he answered groggily, and I began blurting out the incredible world events that were unfolding. “Get up! Turn on the TV!” I shouted.

I implored him to head out immediately, pick up our son and keep him close. No one was quite sure what horrible happenings would occur next, and in my line of work, I knew I wasn’t coming home anytime soon.

In the weeks that followed, we, like all media worldwide, published story after story. That included the national stories moving on the wire focusing on the horrors experienced by families of those lost, claims of responsibility from terrorist Osama Bin Laden and the heroic tales of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania, only about 30 miles from the home where I grew up and where my parents still live.

In the long months following 9/11, we all dove in to bring readers the local stories of love, courage and strength. We interviewed local firefighters and police officers, who were hailed as the heroes they are; we did stories about the amazing level of patriotism that reverberated.

I remember shops everywhere were sold out of American flags, and they were flying from every home and business. There were lines of men and women signing up to serve their country, and houses of worship were standing room-only. Mostly, though, I recall that suddenly people cared for one another.

It was an amazing time in America and local history that we all swore we’d never forget.

But often these days, I think somehow we have. I say that not as a reflection on the current situation in Afghanistan — albeit extremely alarming. Rather, I say it because these days, Americans stand divided on seemingly every political, racial, economic and even health issue.

Americans today are always looking for new ways to be at odds with one another, to prove one another wrong and to show that we and our political party or race or religion are right.

Undoubtedly, the days and months after 9/11 were horrible. But the love, courage and unity that emerged in America, most certainly, were not.

blinert@tribtoday.com

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