September Mourn

Recollections of a Tuesday in September.
Written by Ken Hess, Contributor

I've heard many people say that on days like September 11th, 2001, you'll always remember where you were and what you were doing.

Years ago, I asked my mother if she remembered the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the day that World War II was over and President Kennedy's assassination. To my surprise, she did. She gave me exact details of those days--even down to what she was wearing. I was surprised and shocked that she remembered that kind of detail. I thought the memories would have faded over time. But, they didn't. Some events in your life are just that important.

I remember that day. Through the anger and confusion of that day and the ones to follow, I remember.

I was on my way to work at the MCI-WorldCom facility here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I took the same path that day that I always drove. I dropped off the boys at school, got on the Broken Arrow Expressway toward downtown Tulsa and exited onto 75 headed North. I listed to KMYZ FM-104.5 (The Edge) every day. It was a regular day. A Tuesday. I aimed my car toward my waiting cubicle, where I'd sit for the next eight to ten hours at my awesome Sparc station, take tickets, answer calls and fix various things for my clients. It felt like any other day to me.

Middle America is somewhat insulated from most of rest of the world. We go about our lives like nothing could possibly go wrong. Here in "fly-over country, we're often considered to be dumb or rednecks compared to those on either coast but the truth is that we're innocent--innocent of the horrible things that go on in this world. Sure, we have tornadoes, violent crimes and all the pitfalls that plague everyone. But, when it comes down to the evil of the world, we're pretty ignorant of how it feels to live in fear--to live under the constant threat of terrorism. And, yes, Oklahoma City experienced an atrocity of huge magnitude at the hands of one of our very own. Still, we assumed that event was one of a kind.

When my daughter was born 14 days earlier, I thought that nothing could rock my world more than seeing her for the first time. I wrote her a letter filled with all my feelings, hopes and dreams for her new life. And, for mine with her. I continued making entries on a daily basis until September 11th.

The DJ interrupted a song to announce that a small plane had just struck one of the twin towers in NYC. He said that reports were coming in and that he would keep us informed. The music resumed. I thought to myself, "What a dumbass. Like he couldn't see the giant towers in his way. Didn't he file a flight plan?" My innocence was showing.

I made it up to 66th Street North where I exited and headed east toward the MCI-WorldCom facility. Another announcement that a second plane had crashed into the other Trade Center tower. "What the $%&@!," I shouted in the car with no one around to hear. "What is going on?" I didn't know what to think at that point. The DJ said that he believes that it is a terrorist attack.

I sped toward the parking lot, parked and ran in to see if anyone else had heard the news.

Once inside the building, I saw people running, I heard them yelling and I finally connected with someone I knew. "What is going on?"

"We're under attack!"

I ran out of the module and into the main hallway where I saw hundreds of people standing in front of the two huge video screens that usually played MCI-WorldCom commercials. Both screens were tuned into NYC and onto the smoking Twin Towers. On-air reporters gave us a minute-by-minute update of what was happening. Every few minutes another would break in with different footage.

We then heard that a plane had gone down in Pennsylvania and that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I looked at my friend, co-worker and cubemate who was now standing next to me--I hadn't noticed him walking up--and he looked at me.

We didn't know if there was about to be a nuclear war, who was behind the attacks or what was coming next.

Hundreds of people stared at the screens. No one was talking. Just staring.

I turned away for a moment to see what the security guys were doing, when someone screamed "Look!" I saw one of the towers melting to the ground in slow motion. I couldn't believe my eyes. It was crazy and inconceivable that this was real. It was real.

My cell phone wouldn't work, so I ran down the big hall to my mod, found my cubicle and called my wife in a panic. She had been taking care of my daughter and I choked out the words, "Turn on the TV. Terrorists have attacked New York" She asked what was going on. I explained until our phone call was cut off. I tried to call back but I got that, "All circuits are busy" message.

I went back to find my friend in the crowd, when I spotted him walking toward me. "They've told us to go home," he said with a look in his eyes that froze my blood.



With my laptop still in its bag, I ran back to my car and left the parking lot. There were no planes in the sky, which was very odd--there are always planes in the sky. But, not that day. The whole day was oddly quiet. It felt very strange to me.

As I left the parking lot, I noticed how fast we were all driving. The 50MPH speed limit was merely a suggestion that day--even for me, the perennial speed limit observer. Traffic was so backed up, I wound my way down residential streets until I got home--a 15 minute trip that took almost 45.

I realized on my way home to see my wife and my infant daughter that our innocence was gone.

And, we'd never be the same. My little girl would grow up in a fearful new world, not a brave one.

Ten years later, we're battled-hardened and security-weary. We're so jaded to elevated terror threats that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) got rid of the color-coded system put in place after September 11, 2001. DHS updated their About page to reflect the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

"A decade has now passed since the tragic attacks of 9/11, when terrorists exploited our nation's aviation system to kill nearly 3,000 innocent men, women, and children, including citizens of more than 90 countries. Now, 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil, America is stronger and more resilient than ever before. But threats from terrorism persist and challenges remain."

As an IT professional, I can tell you that much has changed over the last ten years. No longer do we take our security for granted nor are we only worried about script kiddies, the occasional renegade hacker or disgruntled former employees. Cyber-terrorism is alive and well. The shields are up and at maximum.

I don't think I ever heard the term, "Disaster Recovery" or "DR" before the days that followed September 11th but the terminology caught on quickly and so did the work to make it happen. Backup and restore weren't enough anymore. After that event, we learned that we need a fully functioning, complete duplicate of our production systems in a geographically disparate location. That's disaster recovery. That's the new standard for IT.

We've also experienced other new standards within our lives. But, it's more than hassles at the airport or added network security. It's suspicion. It's profiling. It's hatred. It's fear. It's asking myself that if those people tried it today, would they succeed? And, it's a lot more questions.

What did they hope to accomplish with those attacks? Did they succeed in their quest? Was it all worth it?

I don't feel safer or more secure now than I felt before the military killed Osama bin Laden. I feel violated and I feel vulnerable--more now than ever before.

I didn't  know anyone who died in NYC. I came home to all my children and wife that day and watched the events on TV from 1,350 miles away. We were all safe and sound, tucked into our beds as usual and life carried on pretty much as it always had for us. But, in NYC, the story was much different. There were children without parents, parents without children, wives without husbands, husbands without wives and a whole city crying out in anguish for its losses.

Some of us only know what we saw on television. But, the pain of the people doesn't read well on camera. I saw a pointless act of terrorism play out in the lives of 3,000 people who didn't deserve it. And, none of us deserve to live in fear and apprehension.

But, the world's people will never be the same. We're all different now: The innocent people, the military and the terrorists. All of us have changed and learned from that day. Unfortunately, only the innocent will pay for the crimes and we'll pay every day that we live. The criminals only pay once.

Ten years after that day, the wound is still very fresh, as are the memories of it. I wonder how we'll feel in ten more? Will the terrorists feel satisfied in some way and retire or will their pointless and empty existences only serve to harm and torment others?

Remember September 11th, 2001 as a day that changed the world. And, remember it so that it never happens again.

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