It dawned on me recently that today’s high school students were not even born — or just infants — when four hijacked airplanes changed the world 17 years ago.
I can remember 9/11, but vaguely, as I was only four-and-a half years old. I grew up in sight of Manhattan, in a suburban part of Queens. And I remember that Tuesday was very sunny, with no clouds in the sky. I woke up and had a bagel and got ready for one of my first full days of kindergarten. My parents went to work and I went to school.
Things changed very quickly.
I remember an announcement came over the loudspeaker, that two planes had struck the World Trade Center. I remember other students crying and teachers in a state of shock. It was probably the first and last time the school was completely quiet.
The entire school walked down and sat around in the cafeteria waiting for more information. Nobody really knew what was going on. We didn’t yet understand the magnitude of the day’s events.
While in the cafeteria, I remember hearing an older student say out loud, “There are going to be so many cops and firemen down there.”
I immediately thought about my dad, a member of the New York Police Department, and whether or not I would see him again.
I later found out that he was mobilized to parts of Queens for traffic control and to shut down roads.
I remember waiting in anticipation for someone to pick me up.
When the school finally decided to release us, I left with a friend’s mother, as officials were scrambling to get kids home safely. Just days into the school year, they did not yet have every child’s emergency contact information — a fact that just added to the chaos.
It’s hard to imagine that same scenario today, as security has become so much more important in schools.
The rest of the day remains foggy in my memory, but I remember my aunt picking me up from my friend’s house because my mom was stuck in the city. She was on the bus heading into the city at the time of the attacks.
In the days following, I just recall nobody had any energy. Life had just stopped. It felt like we were all living in a nightmare and were just frozen in time.
Lee Greenwood’s, “God Bless the U.S.A.” blasted over the loudspeakers the week we returned to school after the attacks.
I do recall watching on a small television mounted to the wall — long before the flat-screens we know today — my class watching first responders clearing through the rubble formerly known as the Twin Towers.
Later, my father worked in the rubble piles on Staten Island, where he sifted through metal, concrete and glass searching for body parts, IDs and any evidence that could help identify the missing.
He described it as like being on Mars.
Our Pearl Harbor
I’ve read many stories about what the attacks on Pearl Harbor were like. Well, I can tell you this, September 11 was my Pearl Harbor.
While a part of me wishes I do remember more, I’m also grateful I don’t. I’ve seen so many documentaries and old news footage of what happened that day.
I don’t think I even could have remembered what happened knowing what I know now.
But what I do know is nearly 3,000 people either died that day or later as a result of the attacks on 9/11.
Sadly, that number will continue to rise. People have been steadily diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers and diseases as a result of the toxins and smoke from the fallen buildings.
I know I will never forget the men and women, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers or the first responders who lost their lives.
I remember well how the American flag, and patriotism, were on full display and truly meant something.
I just wish all Americans embodied their pride in their country like they did 17 years ago, no matter what the current climate.
Reach Dan Stokes at 570-991-6389 or on Twitter @ByDanStokes