It’s one of those days when everyone who was alive can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news — the table at the Art Cliff Diner, staring in disbelief at the television in the newsroom, driving to work listening to the radio and then feverishly attempting to send emails to loved ones potentially in harm’s way.
The memories stay with us — the initial anger and sadness turning to resolve.
Those haunting days after Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States was shaken to its core by a brazen attack that killed nearly 3,000 of our fellow citizens at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, and in a Pennsylvania field, can still be felt 18 years later.
We looked back this week to see how The Times handled those first few days after the attacks. Vineyarders were asked to share their thoughts and experiences — the Sept. 20 issue of the newspaper was covered in a sea of red, white, and blue photographs as Islanders blanketed their homes, businesses, and public buildings in patriotism.
Chris Granelli, a seasonal visitor, wrote about being inside the 45th floor of the second of the Twin Towers to be hit. “I was sitting at my desk [that morning] when I heard what I can best describe as a rumble,” he wrote. “It sounded different than anything I’d heard before, not overly loud but eerie. We all looked out the window and saw what looked like a macabre ticker tape parade of debris raining down. Everyone quickly, but calmly, started filing down the fire stairwells … At around floor 10 we heard another rumble, and the lights flickered. Then the most terrifying moment for all of us in the stairwell occurred: The building swayed for a few seconds. There were a few screams and [expletives], but we continued without trampling each other, albeit at an even brisker pace than before.”
Granelli’s story is intense, and it’s raw. One week earlier he was enjoying the peace and serenity of the last precious days of summer on Martha’s Vineyard. “Like all Americans, I get very sad when I think about all the people working in their offices that did not make it out,” he wrote. “They were people just like me, just going to work so they could pursue the American dream. They would not be going home to their families and friends on Tuesday night like the rest of us.”
Doris Clark of Vineyard Haven wrote about what it was like waiting to hear that friends were safe. “I have been walking around totally listless. The complete gravity of the situation has not hit me yet.”
Alan Crossley of Oak Bluffs and Hagerstown, Md., wrote that he lost his good friend when the first plane struck the World Trade Center. “Only last evening when I heard his name on the radio did the full and complete impact of that awful, tragic day finally sink home.”
Our own Geoff Currier, not yet a Times employee, wrote of the worry about where his son-in-law was that morning. “Finally, the phone rang, and it was news that Jonathan was all right. He had taken a later train than usual, and had narrowly missed being in the building.”
Gil Frank of Tisbury paid tribute to the NYFD: “These heroic men walked into that blazing inferno without a care for their own safety.”
David Tucker of West Tisbury, a member of the Island town’s fire department, packed a bag and went to New York City to help. “A very different tear came to my eye, not from the dust, not from the smoke, and certainly not from all the brothers and sisters that have fallen. But from the unity of the people of this great land of ours, the likes of which we have not seen since World War II.”
Joan Walsh of Vineyard Haven also chose to see the good in the country coming together: “We are all mourning and cannot fathom such diabolical acts, but in our hearts we know and believe that good will triumph over evil, and it is this knowledge that enables us to pick ourselves up and overcome the terror of Sept. 11, 2001. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, so too have many acts of goodness arisen.”
We know that feeling of community is still out there, but lately it’s been difficult to find. Civility is on a vacation, and we need it to return so that we can truly honor the memories of the innocent lives lost on 9/11 and the courage of the first responders who ran toward danger.
If we don’t, we’ve broken that promise to never forget.
Updated to correct the spelling of Hagerstown.