Image result for 911 new york

I wasn’t going to write something about 911 this year but it has dawned on me, as I have not been able to avoid seeing images and posts all day today, that 911 was a pivotal experience in my life and a big part of what I do today.

I felt compelled to write about it and I hope you will bear with me as I share my memories of that day, given that I was living in America at the time, a mere 40nm from Ground Zero. The attacks that took place on the 11th of September 2001 are what eventually lead to our service men and women being called to deploy to the Middle East as part of Operation Slipper and what continues today.

I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about the first aircraft going into the World Trade Centre (WTC). I had just come out of a shop in Norwalk, Connecticut (CT) and was heading to my car when my husband called me.  He was at work in another town. He said apparently a light aircraft had flown into one of the towers of the WTC.  I was an Air Traffic Controller in the RAAF in my younger days so immediately I started thinking of all the mistakes a pilot had to make for a flight to go so terribly wrong.  I was amazed.

I went home and turned on the TV and sat transfixed for the rest of the day.  I watched the tragedy unfold live on TV for that day and many days after that whenever my children were not around. At that stage we lived in a quiet little cul-de-sac in Stamford,  CT. The cul-de-sac led down to a little private beach front.  It wasn’t much of a beach, but at night, you could look across the water and see the lights of Manhattan 40 miles away.  It was a 50 minute train ride into NY City and many people from our area commuted there every day. 

My boys were at kindergarten.  When I went to collect them I was a little dismayed to see that one of them was one of only four children left in his class – all the others had been collected early. The other son’s class had had children leave early too but not so many. I had wanted to keep things as normal as possible for my boys so I didn’t want to tell them too much.   Later I learned that one of the local firemen who had rushed to NY City and had not made it home, was a father at their school. 

On the way home I stopped the car in the street to talk to a neighbour. We hadn’t been living there long so didn’t know everyone terribly well, but that day you stopped and checked that everyone was ok.  Her husband should have been at work in one of the towers but that day he was in Dallas for a meeting!!!   There were so many stories like that and as we all know so many that did not have a happy ending.  Almost 3000 people lost their lives that day.
In the end I had to tell my children something. I didn’t want them to know that aircraft were involved as their dad had to fly regularly for work. Also, this was September, and in the December we were booked to fly from NY to LA and then LA to Sydney and I didn’t want them to be afraid. I was afraid enough for all of us! I told them that a someone had blown up two big buildings and that they had fallen down.  That was enough for them.

I had to keep them away from all but the children’s channels on TV.  For days all that was on the other channels was constant footage of Manhattan and Washington.  I did not want them to see the images that still haunt me of the collapsing buildings, the people falling from buildings, the dust storm, the faces of all those lost and worse.  I couldn’t take them shopping for a while as everywhere you went TV screens were tuned to the news and the images were too graphic. Every magazine and newspaper was plastered with distressing images.  I didn’t want the boys to see them.  I actually managed to keep them unaware of the involvement of aircraft for a number of years, until I thought they were old enough to deal with it and not be afraid.  I didn’t take them to the beach at the end of the street as from there you could see the smoke from the towers.
Like everyone in the States at that time I was just stunned.  It was bad enough hearing about all those who died, seeing the images of the relatives who turned up to search for their loved ones, and hearing all the stories, but there was also the uncertainty.  Would there be more attacks and, if so, where.  We were afraid that there would be more attacks in popular tourist areas or at special events.
We were leaving the States at the end of the year to move back to home.  I hadn’t wanted to leave.  I will always be an Aussie but I was enjoying living in the States and hadn’t been ready to give it up.  A quilter’s haven for starters!!  That changed that day.  I just wanted to get home.  We had booked expensive tickets for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular on the 23rd of December.  On the 24th we were booked to fly to LA.  We had planned to spend Christmas Day in Disneyland and we were going to be home in Sydney shortly after.
We lost confidence in our safety and we had two precious reasons to be cautious – our sons.  At that stage no one knew what the future held and with two little boys I didn’t want to take the risk.  We gave away our tickets to Radio City and flew home ten days early on December 14th.
But back to September.  The world changed that day.  The one thing that I took away from the aftermath of 911 with me was the way America reacted.  I don’t mean the government or the military.  I mean the ordinary people.  Every day flags appeared in new places.  People refused to be beaten.  The stars and stripes were painted on houses and shop fronts.  People brought out their patriotic T shirts, dresses and pullovers and wore them with proud unity.    It was wonderful.  I had always flown an Aussie flag out the front of our house.  Now I flew an American one too.  Strangers were nicer to each other.  The country seemed to band together.  I was so proud of America and so glad that I was there to see it.
I am glad this isn’t a “significant anniversary” and I am glad that there are no special TV programs on about it.  I don’t want to relive what I vividly remember from the first time.  I will never forget.  I still can’t talk about it without my voice shaking and tears threatening.  I can’t write this without really struggling to control my emotions.  I am grateful that my sons do not have any memory of that day or the days that follow.   I am so very glad.
You will never hear me complain about tightened security at the airport or anywhere for that matter.  I hope the world never forgets what 911 was and what it stands for.  Just as we don’t want to forget what caused and came from both World Wars, there are lessons to be learned from 911.  I wish some people in this world would learn them a little quicker!   And this is not to place or the forum to dissect who did and didn’t cause the attacks that day.
My memories of 911 are another reason I will be eternally grateful to those who headed off as part of Operation Slipper.  I just felt we needed to pause for a minute, on this anniversary of a day the world changed and remember those who have done whatever they were called to do in the War on Terror in order to try and keep Australia safe.

Thank you to all of you for your service and the sacrifice that service asks of you and your loved ones. 

And as I do every year, thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends of all those affected by the devastating events of that day. 

Lest We Forget.