Tag Archives: 9/11

Spencer Platt’s Eye On Egypt

Cairo is one of the most beautiful cities Spencer Platt has ever seen.

The stunning architecture and lovely light — combined with layers of ancient history — make it “sublime,” the 1989 Staples graduate says.

A staff photographer for Getty Images, he loved capturing images of ordinary Egyptians going about their daily lives.

Spencer Platt at work, in 2006.

Spencer Platt at work, in 2006.

But he was there, a couple of weeks ago, to cover the political upheaval. Between the demands of providing dramatic shots of riots and strife, and the suspicions and tensions of the people he met, Cairo was an extremely difficult assignment.

Then again, Spencer is used to that. It’s his job.

One of 3 world-renowned photographers who graduated from Staples, and are now good friends — the others are Tyler Hicks and Lynsey Addario — Spencer has seen most of the world’s hot spots.

He photographed the Israel-Lebanon conflict of 2006 (and won the World Press Photo of the Year award for his shot of grinning Lebanese girls in front of a devastated building).  He also worked in Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Congo and Indonesia.

On September 11, 2001, Spencer was an eyewitness to the World Trade Center attacks. His harrowing photo of smoke and flames billowing from south tower seconds after the 2nd plane hit is one of the iconic images of that day.

“9/11 changed everything,” Spencer says. “It was such an awful event, but it led to a huge resurgence in my profession. We went from news organizations pulling back on coverage, to being dispatched all over the world.”

Three weeks ago, he arrived in Beirut to cover the flood of Syrian refugees. He had barely settled in when his editor called. The Egyptian government had announced a 48-hour deadline to the Muslim Brotherhood. Spencer took the 1st plane to Cairo.

One view of the upheaval in Egypt. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

One view of the upheaval in Egypt. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Despite the city’s beauty, he says, the assignment was “not rewarding.” As he walked around the city he felt mistrust, tension and hostility.

“I try to show not just fighting, but daily life,” he says. “But it was incredibly difficult to shoot that. I got threats. I got in arguments. People kept asking me for my camera.”

Pro-Morsi people thought he — one of the few Westerners there — was a spy.

The temperature was 110 in the shade. Cairo, he says, was “really combustible.”

Calm amid the chaos. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images0

Calm amid the chaos. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images0

Spencer did not feel that his life was in danger. But he was involved in physical altercations. And at the end of each day, he says, “it was tough to feel upbeat.”

Democracy is “not alive and well” in Egypt, Spencer says. “I don’t see good things there.”

That saddens him. “The people are very, very good. They’re beautiful, with a lot to offer.”

He is proud of photos like those he took of an African family. He showed their hesitation and fear, as they watched protests from afar.

A family holds Egyptian flags on the edge of Tahrir Square.

A family holds Egyptian flags on the edge of Tahrir Square.

Working in a tense situation like Egypt is always a challenge, and not just because of danger. Spencer files a couple of times a day — 30 or 40 images — and editors want “headline” shots of protests. At the same time, Spencer tries to “go beyond that. I want to show the lives behind the demonstrations.”

And, he admits, “I’m just parachuting in. I have a rudimentary knowledge of Egyptian history and politics.”

Riding to the airport at dawn, for a 7 a.m. flight home, he watched with fascination as Cairo awoke.

“It was very poetic,” Spencer says. “The families, the light, the architecture — it’s the most beautiful city I’ve seen in the Middle East and North Africa. Despite the garbage and decay, it’s very picturesque.”

So what’s after Egypt?

“I just covered Anthony Weiner and the mayoral race,” Spencer laughs. “No comment.”

But whatever he shoots, his passport and satellite phone are always near.

“That’s the way I like it,” he says. “My specialty is breaking news. I’m sure something else will emerge — unfortunately — in the near future.”

Lt. Col. Armas’ Compelling Memorial Day Video

On 9/11, Thomas Armas was a Marine. When the World Trade Center collapsed, most people ran for their lives. He ran toward it. Marines, he says simply, are trained to help.

Lt. Col. Armas went on to serve 3 tours of duty, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last week, he told his story on our high school’s TV show, “Good Morning Staples.”

Videos featuring service members are a Memorial Day tradition at Staples. Students in TV Production class spend long hours interviewing; selecting photos and music, and weaving together a compelling, instructive film, which is shown in every class.

The iconic photo of Thomas Armas, carrying a wounded woman from the World Trade Center.

This year’s video is one of the best.

With gentle prodding from senior JJ Mathewson, Armas describes that day at Ground Zero, and life in war zones.

But just as compelling are his insights into what it all means.

“People don’t give their lives for their country,” Armas says. “They give it for their hometowns.” That means, he explains, that Americans should have fun on Memorial Day. Going to the beach, a ballgame or barbecue is exactly why men and women have given their lives: so we can enjoy life.

However, he adds, we also have an obligation to give back.

Lt. Col. Thomas Armas during his “Good Morning Staples” interview.

As a Rye native — growing up in an environment very similar to Westport — he “was given the best childhood a person could have.” He gave back what he could by joining the military. He tells Staples students they don’t have to do that — but they should find some way to contribute to their community and their country, using their time and talents to better the lives of others.

The Staples Media Lab’s 2012 Memorial Day video is vitally important. It’s well researched, loving produced and richly rewarding.

It takes less than 15 minutes to watch.

But the lessons may last a lifetime.

Click below to view:

9/11, 10/5

Yesterday’s “06880” looked back on September 11, 2001 from the perspective of 3 days later.  

Three weeks after that horrific day —  on October 5, 2011 — my “Woog’s World” column in the Westport News looked back on the lessons of that day, and the ways we’d changed.

It seems incredible, even obscene, that something good could rise out of last month’s terrorist attacks.

But this much seems true:  Americans have come together in ways impossible to imagine in the days before September 11.

The signs are everywhere — flags flap from the antennas of Porsches and pickups alike; George W. Bush’s approval ratings are higher than any politician’s except Rudy Giuliani’s, and the hottest Halloween costumes this year honor our nation’s new heroes, firefighters and police and EMTs — but there has been a subtler shift as well.

Across America, cities and suburbs that less than 4 weeks ago were simply places to live, are now communities.

The changes are obvious in New York City, of course, where subway riders now solicitously usher others onto trains, give up seats and even engage in conversations with strangers; in stores, where sales clerks ask customers if they can be of help, then actually try to do exactly that, and in business offices, where cutthroat competitors have gone out of their way to help rival companies and colleagues in need.

But the changes are obvious in Westport too, and in some ways they are as remarkable as those in the big city 50 miles west.

There was always an excuse for New Yorkers’ rudeness, pushiness and isolation:  In a city so vast and dense you could not interact with everyone, so why bother making any human contact at all?

Westporters’ incivility, by contrast, was more willful, less understandable.  We chose to live in a supposedly friendly town, most of us, but we often acted in the most unfriendly ways.

Don’t get me wrong; Westport has always been a wonderful place to live.  We have nodded to our neighbors, socialized with friends, participated in civic affairs and enjoyed the good life this town offers in such abundance.

But we have tended to do so on our own terms, whenever and wherever we wanted to.  And if we did not care to be particularly neighborly, no one could make us.

After September 11, all that is different.

I notice the changes everywhere.  I see it in the way Westporters greet the FedEx and UPS delivery persons, the men and women so important to our business lives.  A month ago we waited for them with stopwatches; every moment they were late was a catastrophe of epic proportions.

Now we are grateful the overnight delivery arrives overnight, whenever it comes.  We understand that planes can be grounded, for good reason.  We know too that from time to time the people sending us crucial documents and packages must face even more crucial events in their lives that prevent them from getting those items out on time.

I see it at Staples football games, home and away.  Crowds seem larger than usual; in addition to students and parents, the stands are filled with random townspeople.  People seem to be enjoying the fall air, watching a bunch of kids trying their best, and gathering together with other human beings in a united group.

I see it in the offers being made, neighbor to neighbor, to look out for one another.  Parents appear willing, even eager, to pick up other parents’ children from after-school activities, dance lessons and soccer practice.

They check on elderly or infirm neighbors.  They stop one another on walks down the road, and ask how families are doing.

For a long time we believed everyone’s life was his own.  That remains true, but we now also know that all those lives are precious — and each of us has an obligation to support and sustain those other lives.

I see it in the checkout lines at the supermarket.  Not long ago the woman scanning the tomatoes, taco shells and toothpaste was faceless, anonymous and — if she had to call the manager for help — incompetent.

Today we look into her tired eyes and recognize she is just a hard-working woman trying to do her job.  We understand with sudden clarity that the reason she does not talk to us is because she cannot speak English.  We wonder, for the first time, if she has a family somewhere far from Westport, and if she sends them money whenever she can.

I see it in the Westport Fire Department’s annual open house.  Usually a low-key affair, with a few dads toting young children for a look at the big red engines, last weekend’s event was SRO.

Residents of all ages spent more time staring at the firefighters than at their trucks.  They engaged the firefighters in conversation, asking about their jobs, their lives, even intensely personal subjects like the loss of their New York City colleagues.  And the Westport men, women and children asking those questions listened closely to the responses.

It would be incredible, even obscene, to pretend that the changes we have seen over the past 3 1/2 weeks are worth the losses our nation has suffered.  No one would wish last month’s terrorist attack on our worst enemy.  But at the same time, it would be silly to ignore those changes, or pretend they are not welcome and good.

Today, as we move into the next phase of our post-terror attack world, we face tremendous challenges.  Turning Westport’s temporary changes into permanent ones my seem a tangential goal.

But if, in the difficult days ahead, we are to be a true community — and not just a town — it is certainly worth a try.

9/11, And Riding A Bicycle

No matter what else goes on this weekend, the shadow of a Tuesday weekday 10 years ago — September 11, 2001 — hangs over us all. 

That horrible day changed our lives together.  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.

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.

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.

A Prayer For 9/11

As we remember the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Westport-Weston Clergy Association has prepared a prayer for the community.

The words will be recited in nearly 2 dozen churches and synagogues as an expression of unity, with thoughts of the victims and their families close at heart.

The clergy members add:  “If you are home-bound, we encourage you to recite this prayer with us from your home on September 11.  For those who can join us, please know that our doors are open and we look forward to welcoming you into our houses of worship with open arms.”

The 9/11 Prayer of Remembrance and Hope:

Dear God, we remember before you today those whose lives were lost in the catastrophic events of September 11, 2001, and for all those whom we love but no longer see.  We give thanks to you for the selfless courage of those brave souls who ran into burning buildings and who labored in the rubble; may their courage be to us a witness of what is possible when we are guided by love and dedication to our fellow human beings.

We pray today for the continued healing of all those suffering emotional and physical scars.  May your spirit breathe new breath into clouded lungs, new life into troubled minds, and new warmth into broken hearts, so that all may feel wrapped in your loving embrace.  May we move from suffering to hope, from brokenness to wholeness, from anxiety to courage, from death to life, from fear to love, and from despair to hope.

Guide our feet into the way of peace.  Inspire us with hope in the gift of shalom and salaam.  May we receive this gift, so that we might become instruments of your peace in this world, knowing all people as equally loved, lovingly created, children of God.


DNR Slays ‘Em At Levitt (Rimshot)

DNR is a popular classic rock band, with a twist:  The musicians are all local doctors and lawyers.

How can you tell which is which?

Watch closely when they perform.  If someone passes out from dancing too hard, the doctors give CPR.

The lawyers give out business cards.


Give it up for DNR. (Photo courtesy of Paul Teoh/Matsu Sushi)

Seriously, folks, DNR truly gives back to the community.  This Saturday (Sept. 10, 8 p.m.), for example, the band plays its 2nd annual “Tribute to First Responders Everywhere” at the Levitt Pavilion.

The timing is perfect:  The next day is 9/11.  The concert is free, but donations are encouraged.  All proceeds go to Westport EMS — our own superb first responders.

The entire weekend, in fact, is dedicated to remembering 9/11, and collecting funds for Westport EMS.

This Friday (Sept. 9, 8 p.m.) features Civil Twilight, a South African alt-rock trio.

And Sunday (Sept. 11, 7 p.m.) brings the Fairfield Counts.  They’ll tailor their swing/big band program to honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11, allowing for reflection, tributes, and celebrations of life.

As is traditional on closing night, concert-goers are urged to bring canned goods for the Women’s Food Closet.

So a doctor, a lawyer and a musician walk into an outdoor music pavilion…

The Julian Frank Story

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, renewed attention is being paid to the thousands of people — including several Westporters — killed in those awful terrorist attacks.

But that was not the 1st time a plane was used to kill people.

More than 50 years ago, a terrorist blew up a plane over North Carolina.  All 34 on board were killed.

The terrorist was believed to be Julian Frank:  a lawyer living in Westport.

It was January 6, 1960.  The flight — National Airlines #2511 — was bound from Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in New York to Miami.  At 2:38 a.m., it crashed near Wilmington, North Carolina.

A National Airlines Douglas DC-6B -- the type of plane allegedly blown up by Julian Frank.

According to Wikipedia, the remains of one passenger — Frank — were missing from the accident site.  His body was finally found — 16 miles away.

Frank’s autopsy showed that he had been killed by a dynamite explosion “originating either in his lap or (more likely) immediately under his seat.”

Investigators believed it to be a murder-suicide.  Frank was under investigation for fraud and embezzlement — and had taken out large amounts of life insurance just before boarding the plane.

A number of Westporters were questioned by the FBI, regarding what they knew about Julian Frank.  Yet authorities could never conclusively prove that he was the bomber.  No charges were ever brought — and the investigation remains officially open.

Dan Geraghty Runs For Wounded Warriors

The news that Osama bin Laden had been killed brought closure for many Americans.

For Dan Geraghty, it released a flood of memories.

Dan — now a highly regarded English teacher at Staples — spent 11 years in the military.

On June 12 he will run the Lake Placid Half-Marathon.  He’ll raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project — a non-profit organization that supports injured combat veterans.

Oh, yeah.  He’ll run all 13.2 miles wearing combat boots, and carrying his infantry rucksack.

The boots weigh 5 pounds.  The ruck — with gear and water — is another 40.

Just another walk run in the park for Dan.

Dan Geraghty, in his half-marathon gear.

Before his teaching career, Dan completed parachute training and air assault as a ROTC cadet at Hofstra.

The week he graduated he was commissioned “immediate active duty” as a second lieutenant in the Army infantry.

Dan graduated from US Army Ranger School in 1999.  He calls it “the proudest moment of my life.”

He became a platoon leader with the 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum (and was deployed on a diplomatic exchange program to Chile).

He transitioned to the National Guard — when he was thinking about applying for Special Forces School, his platoon sergeant had said “Either you’re going to marry the Army or your fiancée.”  He served until 2006, when he and his wife Kristen decided it was time to focus full-time on being a husband, father and teacher.

“I no longer wear the uniform physically,” Dan — who left the Army with the rank of captain — says.  “But for as long as I live, I will wear it mentally.”

As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 nears, he wants to give back to the men and women who have sacrificed so much to secure our freedom.

The daring mission to kill bin Laden sparked an intense return to 9/11 for Dan.  That day — working on a project for Verizon — he stood below Tower 2 as the 2nd plane hit.  He was defeaned by the roar, stunned by the concussion, seared by the heat, and tasted the sour burning of jet fuel fumes in his mouth.

“I felt like the victim of a war crime,” Dan says.  “We all truly were.  Without the support of my family and friends, I think I would have struggled indefinitely.

“But I survived, and was given a second chance on life.  For 10 years, that day has defined my life.”

Dan knows that some wounded veterans will struggle for the rest of their lives.  “I believe we owe these men and women our most humble thanks,” he says.

When he discovered the Wounded Warrior Project, its mission to treat veterans’ scars — both visible and invisible — resonated deeply.

So — after running hard on the roads around here, and  training at Crossfit Performance in Fairfield — next month Dan heads to Lake Placid.  He has done that marathon before — but in shoes and shorts.

Wearing boots, and carrying a pack, is a definite game-changer.

“A run is one thing,” he says to explain his unique choice of racing attire.

“But just a bit of pain will be my reminder of the great pains they have gone through to support and defend the United States of America.

“I just want to give back,” Dan says.  “9/11 has, in many ways, defined my life for 10 years.  I think about it every single day.

“By telling my story, by supporting the Wounded Warrior Project, by teaching about the event, I give away — piece by piece.  And I no longer have to carry it.”

(To donate to Dan Geraghty’s half-marathon on behalf of the Wounded Warrior Project, click here.  Click below for a video on the organization’s work.

Westport’s Day Of Service

Friday marks the 8th anniversary of 9/11.

Westporter Ellen Bowen has not forgotten that horrific day.  Right now she’s working with MyGoodDeed, a non-profit that is helping organize Friday’s National Day of Service and Remembrance.

Events are planned across the country, as a wonderful, productive way of honoring that day’s heroes, victims and recovery workers — those who died, and those still suffering.

Ellen pointed me to a special website — 911.DayofService.org — that is coordinating volunteer projects.  A quick search for local activities turned up — nothing.

Ellen is unbowed.  “Doing any simple good deed is fine,” she says.  “Go through your closets and give to Goodwill — or give sheets and winter bedding to the Gillespie Center.  Drop off groceries at the Connecticut Food Bank in Fairfield.  Donate blood at the Red Cross in Norwalk.”

The Senior Center needs 3 volunteers on Friday:  2 to serve lunch from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m., and 1 to pick up meals from 10-11 a.m., and deliver them to homebound seniors.  (Call Joan Upchurch at 203-341-5097 to confirm.)

Other options:  Clean up your favorite part of Westport.  Create a personal project.  Stop by the home of that elderly, sick or overburdened neighbor you’ve always been meaning to call.

“Even if you did not directly know anyone who perished that day, we all remember exactly where we were and how helpless we felt we could not help,” Ellen says.  “This is an opportunity to help now.  Reach out and volunteer on 9/11.”

Each of us has 2 days to figure out what we can do, where, and with whom.

And 1 day to really make it count.

The 9/11 memorial at Sherwood Island State Park

The 9/11 memorial at Sherwood Island State Park