One Morning That Changed The World

No matter what else goes on this Saturday, the shadow of a Tuesday weekday 19 years ago — September 11, 2001 — hangs over us all. 

That horrible day changed our lives forever. We know it now — and we sensed it then.

Here’s what I wrote 3 days later — September 14, 2001 — in my Westport News “Woog’s World” column.

It was a bit past noon on Tuesday, the Tuesday that will change all of our lives forever.

Fifty miles from Westport smoke billowed from what, just hours before, was the World Trade Center.

A number of Westporters once worked there. The twin towers were never particularly beautiful, but in their own way they were majestic. Whether driving past them on the New Jersey Turnpike, flying near them coming in to the airport, or taking out-of-town friends or relatives to the top, we took a certain amount of pride in them.

We’re Westporters, but in a way we’re also New Yorkers. The World Trade Center symbolized that, though we live in suburban Connecticut, we all feel in some way connected to the most exciting, glamorous, powerful city in the world.

And now that same city was under attack. From the largest McMansion to the most modest Westport home, men and women frantically tried to make contact with spouses, relatives and friends who work in downtown Manhattan.

The iconic 9/11 photo was taken by Westport’s Spencer Platt. He lived near the Twin Towers on that awful morning.

At Staples High School, teenagers who grew up thinking the worst thing that can happen is wearing the wrong shirt or shoes, were engaged in a similar quest.

Many of their fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers work in New York. Many others knew loved ones who were flying that morning, or in Washington, or somewhere else that might possibly become the next city under siege.

Meanwhile, on Whitney Street, a pretty young woman dressed in her best late-summer clothes rode a bicycle down the road.

It was, after all, a beautiful day. Along the East Coast there was not a cloud n the sky — not, that is, unless you count the clouds filled with flames, dust and debris erupting from the collapse of the World Trade Center.

It was a perfect day to ride a bicycle, unless of course you were terrified you had lost a loved one, were glued to a television set wherever you could find one, or were so overwhelmed by grief and rage and fright and confusion because you had no idea what was next for America that riding a bicycle was absolutely the furthest thing from your mind.

On the other hand, perhaps riding a bicycle was exactly the right reaction. Perhaps doing something so innocent, so routine, so life-affirming, was just was some of us should have been doing.

If tragedy teaches us anything, it is that human beings react to stress in a variety of ways. Who is to say that riding a bicycle is not the perfect way to tell Osama bin Laden, or whoever turns out to be responsible for these dastardly deeds, that America’s spirit will not be broken?

But I could not have ridden a bicycle down the road on Tuesday. I sat, transfixed, devouring the television coverage of events that, in their own way, may turn out to be as transforming for this world as Pearl Harbor was nearly 60 years earlier.

I could not bear to watch what I was seeing, but neither could I tear myself away. Each time I saw the gaping holes in those two towers, every time I saw those enormous symbols of strength and power and (even in these economically shaky times) American prosperity crumble in upon themselves like a silly disaster movie, the scene was more surreal than the previous time.

Life will be equally surreal for all of us for a long time to come.

I wondered, as I watched the video shots of the jet planes slam into the World Trade Center over and over and over again, what must have been going through each passenger’s mind.

Like many Westporters, I fly often. Like most I grumble about the delays and crowded planes, but like them too I feel a secret, unspoken thrill every time the sky is clear, the air is blue and the scenery terrific. Tuesday was that kind of day.

For the rest of my life, I suspect, flying will never be the same. And the increased security we will face at every airport, on each plane, is only part of what I fear.

So much remains to be sorted out. We will hear, in the days to come, of Westporters who have lost family members and friends in the World Trade Center. We will hear too of those who have lost their jobs when their companies collapsed, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the terrorism.

Sherwood Island State Park is the site of Connecticut’s official 9/11 Memorial.(Photo/David Squires)

We will drive along the New Jersey Turnpike, or stand on a particular street in Manhattan, perhaps even take out-of-town guests to gaze at the landmark we will come to call “the place the twin towers used to be.”

Our casual grocery store and soccer sideline conversations will be filled with stories: who was where when the terror first hit, and what happened in the hours after.

Our newspapers and airwaves will be clogged with experts trying to explain — though that will never be possible — what it all means for us, in the short term and long term, as individuals and a society.

Our world has already changed, in ways that will take years, if not decades, to understand. We are nowhere close to comprehending the meaning of all this.

The world will go on, of course. Our planet will continue to spin; men and women will continue to commute to New York, and pretty women in Westport will continue to ride bicycles down Whitney Street.

At the same time, sadly, none of that will ever be the same.

Among the nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, 161 were from Connecticut.

Two lived in Westport: Jonathan Uman and Bradley Vadas. Brothers Keith and Scott Coleman grew up here. All worked at the World Trade Center.

They were sons, fathers and brothers. They had much of their lives still ahead of them.

Today, we remember all those killed that day. Twenty years later, we still grieve.

10 responses to “One Morning That Changed The World

  1. Bruce Fernie - SHS 1970

    20 years ago…

    Never forget,
    Never forget the victims of these terrorists,
    Never forget WHO these terrorists were and what insane dogma they follow,
    Never forget how the world has changed because of these cretinous people.


  2. Michele Coppotelli Solis

    I graduated STAPLES class of ’73, grew up on Colony Road. In 1986 I began a 24 year career at American Airlines Headquarters in Dallas. On Sep 11, 2001 I was a Manager in the Flight Attendant Department. Before the world knew, we knew.

    Two of our AA planes had been hijacked…and the pilots and flights attendants were dead…

    Many of us at headquarters NEVER saw on TV the planes fly into the towers or even the towers coming down for more than a week later… Because we all went into high gear working 20 or more hours a day for the two weeks after 911.

    There was at least one flight attendant on one of the planes who was a passenger. She quietly called her AA Manager on the ground from her cell phone to tell him what was happening. She identified the first class seats that the high jackers had been sitting in… which helped AA to identify their names. She remained on the phone explaining they were flying low around New York City… and then a scream as they were headed to the first tower.

    One of Managers in our flight attendant department had seen her husband off on one of those fateful flights that morning. When she heard the news of what happened, she choose to continue working along side everyone else.

    At any given moment there are thousands of commercial jets in the air over America. The computer screen in the control tower shows all of them.

    The Towers that are seldom mentioned in the 911 stories are the Air Control Towers across America. In unison a they gave the command for every plane in the air to land at the closest airport once they knew this was a terrorist’s attack. This enabled them to identify the planes that were still flying which may be part of the attack.

    On the airport tarmacs across America where hundreds of unexpected airplanes that landed, with thousands of passengers and air crew members on them. At that moment, no one knew the planes would not take off again for 5 or 6 more days.

    Our AA airport agents began making lodging arrangements for the passengers that landed at their airports. Can you imagine what it took to feed and lodge these thousands of unexpected passengers…

    In the Flight Service (Flight Attendant) Department at AA Headquarters we kicked into high gear setting up a Call Center / Hotline where we could communicate updates to our thousands of flight attendants who had landed across the country. This way they could call into us to tell us any special attention needed since they were now in a unexpected airport for an unknown length of time.

    Through our hotline, flight attendants were able to communicate needs like their children may be stranded for those 5 days when they could not get home… and the AA employees at headquarters and our 5 flight attendant bases volunteered to help make arrangements for the children of our stranded flight attendants and even to go to some homes to care for their pets…. as well as to care for many other needs to long to list.

    The outpouring of love and unity across our company of 100,000 employees was indescribable. Everyone wanted to know what else they could do to help. You could write volumes of books on the heroic selfless stories of AA employees helping each others families, families of the passengers that were killed in the tragedy as well as helping the thousands of stranded passengers.

    At the same time the AA managers were on a conference call every two hours 24/7 for many days with updates every two hours providing updates to each other and hearing from AA Senior Management information on what to take care of next. What I most remember from my 911 experience happened one night several days after 911 at 11pm on one of the ‘every two hour calls’. Our Senior Executive Vice President joined the call…we all were waiting to hear another update …. followed by a long pause all he said was ‘ I love you guys ‘. I will never forget it.

    Indeed, my amazing selfless colleagues at American Airlines were the 911 heroes that I will never forget.

  3. Michele, thank you for sharing this.

  4. Judith Marks-White

    Once again, Dan: wow! I was at Compo Beach on that fated 9/11 morning, looking up at the sky and feeling all was right with the world…until it wasn’t.
    Thanks, Dan, for your stirring words behind the sadness.

  5. Thanks. We all died in some way on 9/11. I have never met ANYONE, NOT HERE, NOT ABROAD,ALL THESE YEARS, WHO DOESN’T REMEMBER WHAT THEY WERE DOING, WHERE THEY WERE ON SEPT 11TH. I can’t remember any tragedy that affected everyone so strongly, There is an exceptional article in this week’s New Yorker concerning the Afghan aftermath from 9/11.

  6. And now, what better way to honor those lost lives than to have bikers come through town and emit tons of smog-forming hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen, as well as the toxic air pollutant carbon monoxide — and of course, noise pollution! I’m looking forward to inhaling that as they drive past my neighborhood. Let’s pollute the environment, otherwise the terrorists win!

  7. 40 years ago BPM M. Thatcher ( Yup !) recognized that “There is no such thing as political murder, political bombing or political violence, only criminal
    murder, criminal bombing and criminal violence.”

  8. Where Did The Towers Go?

    Follow the evidence:

  9. Shared with Your friends;

    Departed JFK approximately at 0100AM to ANC(Anchorage), 09/11/01. The night was CAVU, the lights in the City were sparkling. We requested a low altitude, 5,000′ . JFK Dep. Ctrl. had no problem since we we the only departure. The night was so clear the lights in NYC were sparkling. Left turn over Queens and headed toward Central Park. The lights were on at the “Twin Towers” , the island of Manhattan was spectacular has we flew past with Central Park below! Lower Manhattan on the left and upper Manhattan, Queens, Westchester County and Fairfield County on the right and behind us! Passing over the Hudson we started our climb to cruising altitude. That was the last time the five of us saw the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Seven hours later turned on TV in my hotel room, The Anchorage Captain Cook, just as the first report of a “possible light plane” hitting one of the Towers! Sad, horrible day! Never Forget!

    Tom Ziobro
    Staples Class 0f 1962
    Retired Captain Atlas Air & Eastern Air Lines

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