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September 9, 2011 6:11 PM Age: 10 yrs
Remembering September 11, 2001 – Ten Years OnCategory: Hank Boerner Articles
Source: Hank Boerner - Chairman of G&A Institute
We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the awful events at the beginning of the 21st Century that shook the nation to its core. On September 11, 2001, a small band of terrorists equipped with box cutters turned huge civilian airliners into weapons of mass destruction striking into the heart of New York City and Washington, DC and in a rural field in Pennsylvania.
In modern times we seem to have a fascination with anniversaries: 2001-2011 – Ten Years. That also could be expressed as the passage of 120 months, 520 weeks, or 3600 or so days. For the families of those fallen, whether on the doomed aircraft, in the buildings under attack, or for brave responders at Ground Zero…every day is a reminder of the loss of loved ones, of their absence, of “what might have been.” (What would they be doing today? So many were cut down in the prime years of their lives.)
The familiar became the WMD: I have spent much of my life in, around, and with private and commercial aircraft. I’m a pilot, was once an airborne radio traffic broadcaster, have flown hundreds of thousands of miles as a passenger, and was a staff airline manager or consultant for much of my earlier career. For a decade I produced air shows that thrilled the public. For all of those hours in the air -- I cannot imagine sitting in the cockpit of a wide-bodied jet aircraft and flying at 400+ mph straight into a tall building. What manner of madness could compel a person to do this? What mad obsessions or delusions? What total disdain for one’s own life, or the lives of many others on board the aircraft?
The day after the attacks, I was in a huge hangar at Kennedy International, standing alongside a Boeing 767. The main landing gear tires were taller than I am; the aircraft loomed very large above me. I felt like a fly speck there on the hangar floor – and remember thinking, what would drive someone – what wild rage? – to learn to fly this airplane to one day be able to aim it at a building? The thought of it sends shudders through one’s body.
Driving home very late the first night for brief nap before returning to JFK (September 11th into the morning of the 12th), the roads were empty. Eerie. Then I passed the parking lot at the Long Island Rail Road station in my hometown. We live in a commuter town, with many of our neighbors -- Wall Streeters -- usually traveling to Manhattan in the early hours. The lot was filled with cars. How many belonged to men and women who perished in the attacks? Of course, some were the cars of people stranded in New York who could not get home. But too many would never have the owner turn the key again to drive to the safety and comfort of their homes.
Over the weeks that followed there were funerals for those who did perish – more than 50 in our town alone. Our community leaders conducted memorial services at the town park. Hundreds of neighbors stood with candles, heads bowed. Other Wall Street commuting towns had similar experiences. Sad, very sad. The personal losses are beyond our knowing and understanding, even today.
American commerce and financial affairs ground to a halt on 9/11. The New York Stock Exchange suspended trading. That happened before – in August 1914, when the Old World exploded into armed combat. Now, war had come to the narrow streets of downtown Manhattan. The following Monday, September 17, the opening bell rang out – first responders were there with my friend and former Exchange colleague, Chairman Dick Grasso proclaiming the nation was open for business again. My diary entry reads:
Monday, September 17, 2001
Just a few minutes ago the dignitaries and first responders gathered at the New York Stock Exchange to ring the opening bell -- and this was the signal that New York City and the financial markets are going back to work. The nation can take great hope in this important symbol of our capitalistic system. The American Spirit is alive and well! This moment also gives us time to reflect on the events of the past six days.
Today, September 9, 2011 as I write this, the opening bell ceremonies at the NYSE included Senator Chuck Schumer, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (who was the NYS US senator back then), Governor George Pataki, Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Chairman Dick Grasso, and first responders. An appropriate observation of the day – these are the players who helped lead us back toward normalcy in those dark days.
As described elsewhere ( <media 2538>Click Here</media> ) with my team we were the New York region responders for American Airlines. Two of AA’s flights were hijacked by the terrorists – Flight 11 out of Boston en route to Los Angeles was flown into the North Tower of the WTC. Flight 77, Dulles to Los Angeles, was flown into the Pentagon.
Some enduring memories of that first day: Standing in the little control tower atop AA’s terminal and seeing for the first time US Navy fighter jets roaring in just above the ground over the runways of Kennedy International. A sense of relief and pride in our armed forces were my first emotions. Watching the TV with endless coverage of the burning buildings, the collapse, the smoking ruins, the thick clouds of dust rumbling through the downtown streets. The stillness of a once-busy airport. Standing before the TV with staff of the airline, as they watched silently, sobbing, because of the great loss…including the deaths of the AA crew members that they knew.
The unknown unknowns of the situation were terrible to consider that day. What was happening? Who was attacking this nation? Each of us remembers where we were when certain events occurred. When we heard the news of President John Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. For older folk, the early Sunday afternoon news of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. All of us will remember where we were and what we were doing that fateful morning in September 2011.
More bad news came to the JFK airline terminal, to our homes and offices, to the streets where people gathered, as on Broadway at Times Square, where hundreds lined up to watch the giant screen. United Flight 93 – Newark to San Francisco – down in a cornfield in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. United Flight 175 – Boston to Los Angeles – flown directly into the South Tower of the WTC. Unfathomable horror, still today. Hard to conceive: 757s, 767s, loaded with 10,000 gallons of fuel, flown into skyscrapers, the Pentagon. Where was UAL 93 headed – to destroy the White House? Capitol Hill?
The nation’s airline system, the arteries of US transportation, was stilled for days. Thousands of flights cancelled, passengers stranded in every major city. My entry for Sunday read:
Sunday, September 16, 2001
Today, flights were again in the skies overhead, the airports were just about fully staffed, and while "normal" is not the right word, the airlines were struggling to get back toward some spot where "normalcy" could be defined for those on the front lines. We are standing down in NY now.
Thinking back to the day, a thought keeps coming ‘round: In 1783, when the British forces were quitting the eastern seaboard after their surrender to the American army at Yorktown, the English band played a familiar song, “The World Turned Upside Down.” That’s the way 9/11 feels to so many of us even now.
From my diary, entry September 11, 2001: “These are dark days for New York, for America, for civilization. Will we conquer our fear? The terrorist network? Will our citizens support a long struggle in the recovery? During these days we grow closer to family and friends, and make new friends. We are united as a people, a country.”
And from my diary, entry September 11, 2002, this: “One year. So much has passed behind us. A solemn day. We think of the lost souls – thousands in New York City. Today with my family I visited Ground Zero. Lights blazing above the empty pit. Hours ago, President George W. Bush and Mrs. Bush visited the site, and met with the families of the fallen. Now, thousands of us peer into the hole. What are we seeing?”
The nation united for a time, a very brief time it turns out, before it was return to business as usual. We became dis-united. Sad to say, we still are. The lessons of 9/11 are lost for many of our leaders. The US Congress is in disarray, with bitter partisan sniping and backbiting – the concerns of the nation put aside as politicos maneuver for their own selfish ends. Some Masters of Wall Street moved beyond the great loss of many of their comrades to concoct schemes that nearly destroyed the nation’s economy so soon after 2001.
Who was accountable for 9/11? Each and all of us. Airline and airport managers who hired minimum wage rent-a-cops to screen passengers (inadequately on 9/11, it turns out). FBI higher ups ignoring warnings from field offices. High level administration officials in both parties, two administrations, who discounted the threat from bands of evil-doers in the desert and Africa. And on and on. All of us are in some ways accountable.
But I remember two sayings that I keep in a memory book, that comfort me. The first is by David Starr Jordan: “Rome endured as long as there were Romans. America will endure as long as we remind American in spirit and thought.” Worth thinking about.
And this from Israel Zangwill, a Zionist and Jewish writer (1864-1926): “America is God’s crucible, the great Melting-Pot, where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming! Here you stand, good folk, think I, when I see them at Ellis Island, here you stand in your 50 groups with your 50 languages and histories, and your 50 hatreds and rivalries.
“But you won’t be long like that, brothers, for these are the fires of God you’ve come to – these are the fires of God. A fig for your feuds and vendettas! Germans and Frenchman, Irishmen and Englishman, Jews and Russians – into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American. The real American has not yet arrived. He is only in the crucible, I tell you – he will be the fusion of all races, the common superman.”
Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, the vast New York harbor – all were visible from and really are a broader part of the World Trade Center complex. Downtown NYC and the harbor are all of one canvas. And that unique canvas was mauled 10 years ago in an effort to bring down the heart of American Capitalism and the world’s financial hub. We can never let that happen again.
My prayer today is that the nation once again unites, as it did ten years ago, to tackle the many economic, social and security problems left behind as we moved on from September 11, 2001. May we be the “supermen and superwomen” needed to turn this great nation in the right direction again. May we remember each day what we felt on September 11, ten short years ago.
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Hank Boerner is Chairman of Governance & Accountability Institute. On September 11, 2001 he was Managing Partner, NY of the Rowan & Blewitt consulting organization, specialists in crisis and issue management. He was part of the “Tuesday Group” of the Interpublic (IPG) team responding the events for the client, American Airlines. Two months to the day after September 11th, he returned to duty with American Airlines as first responder when Flight 587 crashed into a Queens neighborhood alongside Jamaica Bay after departing Kennedy International for Santo Domingo, DR.
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