Tom Ross: Living in a post-9/11 world
Full understanding may be decades away
There was no reason for Mike Hart to be awake and watching the news on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Hart, 19, and a freshman at Illinois State University in Normal, Ill., didn’t have his first class of the day until noon.
He would have slept in longer, but his mother, an obvious note of tension in her voice, called and urged him to turn on the television.
Hart, now 24, and a copy editor at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, has come of age in the five years since the airliners slammed into the twin towers.
Then, he was just beginning to adjust to life in the dormitory and the demands of college academics. Originally a history major, he had yet to join the staff of the Daily Vidette, the college newspaper.
Hart represents a generation of Americans who have come of age in the post Sept. 11 era. He says he’s not aware in the context of day-to-day life, of living in an era when things are different than they were before Sept. 11. But he doesn’t disagree that it’s an era when we no longer feel secure from attack within the borders of our country. It’s the world that all of our children must come to terms with.
It feels to me like the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the hijacking of the airliner that went down in rural Pennsylvania happened just last year. Yet, thumbing through the eight-page special edition we put on the streets by 3:30 p.m. Sept. 11, 2001, I’m struck by how many of my colleagues have moved on since that day. Reporters Christine Metz, Danie Harrelson, Kelly Silva, Avi Salzman, Doug Crowl, Gary Salazar and news editor Terrance Vestal have all gone on to new jobs. Their absence is evidence that time has passed and the world keeps right on changing.
We all came into the newsroom on that grim morning uncertain of what to do next – uncertain of how to translate the biggest story of the new decade onto our little community.
Editor Scott Stanford recalls that it wasn’t until late morning that he and newspaper management decided we needed to take the unprecedented step of putting out a special edition.
It felt awkward interviewing people about a story of such gravity without the opportunity for any firsthand reporting. However, it was absolutely the right thing to do. The work was therapeutic, and as it always has been, our role was to reflect the community back to itself.
The obvious place to look for news was at Yampa Valley Regional Airport where the first Great Lakes Aviation turboprop of the day took off for Denver on schedule at 7:25 a.m. Tuesday morning. The plane, which had spent the night on the ground at YVRA, was allowed to land at Denver International Airport. But that was the last operation at the local airport as airline travel across the nation was shut down.
Harrelson reported that the Routt County commissioners struggled to stay on agenda as the news unfolded throughout Tuesday morning. Commissioners met with Sheriff John Warner and County Emergency Manager Chuck Vale. They took steps to comply with Gov. Bill Owens’ directive placing all state offices on a heightened state of alert.
The Federal Aviation Administration granted special permission for a couple of medical air evacuation flights to leave the valley a little later in the week. The pilots described flying through eerily empty skies.
Crowl did a nice job, tracking down Steamboat residents Stephen Evans and Jeannie Berger by cell phone in Manhattan on Thursday, Sept. 13. The two had visited the 107th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center on the day before the attack. Their perceptions of their brush with fate brought a tinge of reality to the events of the week.
More than 300 people showed up Friday morning, Sept. 14, under sunny skies at the courthouse lawn where several pastors led a multi-denominational prayer service. Many of us were feeling an urge to gather in groups that was difficult to articulate.
I know without asking that you can recall exactly where you were and what you were doing when you learned of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. What I’m less certain of is how many of us have gained an understanding of the clash of cultures that underlies Sept. 11.
It’s easy to lay the despicable attacks off on religious fanatics. Deeper understanding may not come until historians, with the benefit of the passage of decades, can put the events of that horrible day into perspective.
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