DY: In Just a Few Words (#47)
The day that changed the world.
This is not the normal, lighthearted Tuesday blog. Saturday marks 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on American soil. We all have strong memories of that fateful day. Here are mine.
On September 11, 2001, my wife and I were nearing the end of a Mediterranean cruise and were in the port city of Kusadasi in Turkey. We would spend most of that day on an excursion to the ancient city of Ephesus, once the home of the Virgin Mary and an important site in Christian history.
Late that afternoon, we returned to the ship for what was to be the last leg of our journey. There, we crossed paths with another guest who asked if we had heard about what happened in New York that day? “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”
My immediate thought was it was probably a news helicopter or perhaps a commuter copter. Then, the man added, “Actually two planes crashed into the World Trade Center.” We returned to our cabin and turned on the TV. We were horrified to see the rubble through smoke that resembled what we have all seen in videos of a nuclear explosion. Destruction was everywhere and people were on the streets of New York heading in many directions to escape the chaos. Was this the start of World War III?
Soon, the captain came on the ship’s communications system to tell us we would proceed to Istanbul as planned, but then we would all get off the ship and be taken to hotels where we would stay for an undetermined amount of time. All planes had been grounded and we were not going home on schedule. We were assured the ship would not leave without all of us. We wanted nothing more than to get back on that ship with other Americans and head home, but that wasn’t going to happen for four days.
There we were in the midst of Istanbul, where we neither looked like nor dressed like local people. We stood out like a sore thumb. To say that time was unsettling is a gross understatement. Would we ever see our kids again? Would we be safe in Istanbul?
After a day or so, we began to venture outside our hotel. We found our way to the Grand Bazaar and a café to get something to eat. The waiter spotted us as Americans and told us several times how sorry he was that the attack had happened. “It wasn’t us. We would never do that.” An American then living in Istanbul stopped to offer her home phone number in case there was anything she could do for us. Turkish people came up to us on the street or in the Grand Bazaar to express their sorrow about the tragedy in New York. Without exception, they were as distraught about what had happened as we were and they wanted us to know that. We could not have felt more welcomed in their country nor could we have been treated better. We will never, ever forget that and we will be eternally grateful to the good people of Turkey.
On the fourth day, we were taken to the ship and told we would be going back across the Mediterranean to Barcelona in Spain, where our cruise had started. We left Istanbul and traveled to what we thought would be a brief stopover in Athens, Greece, for some provisions. We were informed some people would be getting off in Athens and that a plane would take them back to New York. Others would stay on-board until Barcelona. We were told that a list of those going from Athens to New York had been posted and we should check to see if our names had been included.
We were on that list and climbed aboard chartered buses to the Athens Airport. An American passenger plane used by the U.S. Army had taken troops to Bosnia and was being routed back through Athens to pick us up. On our way to the Athens Airport, we were told, “You have all been background-checked. We know who you are.” That was a chilling reminder of the seriousness of the situation.
The plane had been reconfigured to carry as many troops as possible and I recall there were hundreds of us who made the flight back to New York - jammed in, but happy to be going home.
Arrangements had been made to get everyone home from New York. We boarded our flight to Cleveland in the morning. I had a window seat on the left side of that plane. We took off and as we got to the Hudson River I looked out and saw the still smoldering remains of what had been the World Trade Center. I can close my eyes today and see that as clearly as if it was still 2001. I felt so blessed to be back in the United States of America heading home to Cleveland. But, I knew the world had changed and would never be the same again.
According to Wikipedia, more than 2,700 people died on September 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center. Another 44 perished when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Add 125 at the Pentagon. Some 344 New York City firefighters and more than 70 NYC police officers perished - each a hero trying to save lives. There have been many residual effects from the attack, including 1,140 cancer deaths caused by exposure to the fire that erupted when the towers came down. More than 6,000 people suffered physical injuries, many long-lasting. And we will never know the full number of people with lifelong mental health issues due to the lasting trauma of this terrible day. May all these good people live forever in our memories and may no nation in the world ever experience such trauma again.
After 20 years, we have all moved on. But, we must never, ever forget the people who died that day and the families that will mourn their loss forever.
DY: In Just a Few Words is a blog that comes out when something needs to be said or every Tuesday - whichever comes first. Davis Young is a communications professional who adds 50+ years of experience and perspective to issues of the day. His emphasis in DY: In Just a Few Words will be humor (a touch of sarcasm here, a pinch of facetiousness there...). Once in a while, he will touch on something a bit more serious - but hopefully not too deep or depressing.
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