Are we forgetting 9/11? I don’t mean the events of that day and the following days. We remember those well enough.
On this morning 20 years ago, I was doing the Light 99 morning radio show with Dave Wilson. It was bright and clear, and from what we could see from our 19th floor studio in downtown Wichita, a day pretty much like others. We always had a television on mute and never really paid much attention to it, but this morning ABC News was showing something we’d never seen before.
Dave and I shifted from normal morning show mode of games, jokes, and music to just news. In an emergency, regular programming stops and we started gathering what information is available and letting listeners know what we were hearing and seeing as events unfolded. We both had broadcast news experience and had been through emergency events before, but none like this.
Especially because this didn’t seem like just an accident or storm weather related. As we reported on planes hitting both towers, then on Flight 93, and the Pentagon being hit, it was becoming obvious we were being attacked. By terrorists. On our soil.
Before long there were no planes in the sky. We reported that all air traffic was being grounded immediately across the country. Wichita always has planes in the sky, it’s the Air Capital City, where planes from Cessna, Beechcraft, Learjet, and Boeing are manufactured. It is home to a USAF base with F-16 fighters and KC-135 refueling jets flying over the east side of the city. Between all that, there are dozens of small airports and the commercial airport on the west side.
Our studio had an unobstructed view to the north and to the east. From my office I could see north and west, and we could see a bit to the south. The first thing we noticed was a line of jet airliners vectoring from the north to land at Mid-Continent. They were all being diverted and the airport was soon jammed with planes and people from all over. It was eerie too look out and not see anything in the air anywhere.
I was part of a weekly city-wide prayer group and invited any listeners that wanted to come downtown. All the public buildings were closed and guarded by then, and the streets were pretty empty as there wasn’t much business as usual happening anywhere. About a dozen or so of us gathered near Century II to pray for a couple hours. Emotions were high of course, as it was all so incredible and uncertain, but I think it gave us some hope.
The next few days were surreal as we all reacted to more news and the sights and the loss, and the recovery. There was story after story of the first-responders who went into the buildings to help rescue others and maybe not come back out themselves. We are amazing creatures who – during an emergency, will cast aside everything to help one another. We pull together and give aide – water, food, shelter, a coat, first aid, a ride, whatever with no thought or regard to who is helping or needing the help.
Looking back, I believe that perhaps for the first time in my years, we actually were E Pluribus Unum because in the tapestry of our individuality, all woven together with diverse ancestry, history, language, dress, and cultures – WE were attacked. All of US. And for awhile in the aftermath, we were actually One Nation again. All were stars and stripes, and red, white, and blue.
It’s sobering to recall those days events today.
In the 20 years since however, we have forgotten all that and are more divided than ever. Rather than celebrating our unique differences as one, we have become a nation of us and them, attacking ourselves and becoming our own enemy. We have forgotten what makes us U.S. We haven’t remembered any lessons of 9/11. As we reflect today, and memorialize those events – and those we lost, maybe we can come to our senses. For a moment anyway, while there is still time.
After 9/11, for weeks and a few years, we came together and we went to church and we loved our neighbor just a bit more. Gradually though we forgot 9/11, and stopped acting like it. So today let’s remember. Let us remember, like the son in the parable of the Prodigal, that there was a time and there was a place where it was better.
Come, let us return to the house of the Lord. The Father looks for our return.
For a more eyewitness view, here is a story from a client of mine who was and still is in NYC on the events of that day: 9/11 Twenty Years Later