Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th, 2001

by Robison Wells

A lot has been said today about the September 11th terrorist attacks today. I don’t think that I could write something as moving or touching as what I’ve seen elsewhere, so I’m not even going to try. Instead, I thought that I’d write a little bit about my experiences during the attacks, and how they changed the course of my life.

In September 2001, I was working for Intermountain Healthcare, at the Physician’s Answering Service. It was effectively a call center—we’d answer the phones for doctor’s offices while they were closed. On the morning of September 11th, I was feeling somewhat ill, and I’d arranged to leave work when the morning rush was over.

Someone called, looking for their doctor, and casually mentioned to one of the operators that a plane had crashed in Manhattan. A few minutes later, we got another call, telling us about a second plane. I went into the storage room and found an old radio—we had no internet access at the time—and we tuned into a talk station. Rumors were flying, but things were still relatively normal—the morning talk show continued as normal, with just occasional breaks for national news. After about twenty minutes, the local station switched to a national feed, and announced that there’d been another crash at the Pentagon.

I remember looking across my cubicle at a coworker, and seeing her face whiten. She asked “Are we at war?”

I left a few minutes later and walked the five blocks back to my house. It was there—more than an hour after the first plane had hit the World Trade Center—that I saw the first pictures of the destruction. I called my wife, and she said that her boss had stopped all work at her office and they were huddled around a TV in the break room.

The first tower fell. The news anchor must have been watching a different feed than was showing on the screen, because he said “We heard a rumor that the tower collapsed, but I can see it.” But on the TV, there was nothing except a cloud of smoke and dust.

I don’t remember much more of that morning. I prayed, I know. I remember sitting all alone in my living room, watching as the TV cameras zoomed in on people hanging out of windows, and I knelt on the floor by my couch to pray.

I was working part-time then, and going to Salt Lake Community College. Classes were cancelled and I didn’t have to go back to work for four days, so I sat in my living room, fourteen hours a day, and watched the news. I couldn’t tear myself away from it. On the third day, I called my dad and cried.

It changed my life. I was taking a World History class at the time, and my instructor threw out the syllabus and spent the rest of the semester trying to explain to us what had happened, and why. We studied Islam, and we studied American foreign policy, and we studied the history of terrorism. Four months later I graduated from SLCC and went to the University of Utah. I majored in Political Science, International Relations, and focused on the Middle East and national security.

My senior thesis was about the efficacy of modern terrorism. I wrote it in 2003, shortly after the beginning of the Iraq War. I recently went back and read the paper, and found that it had been rendered completely obsolete in just four years. The face of terrorism has changed so much that my conclusion is now considered obvious.

On the evening of September 11th, my wife and I had dinner with friends. It had been planned several days in advance, and the evening had a decidedly somber air about it. We ate at a small Mexican diner, and watched the news coverage on small TV in the corner of the room (in Spanish). As we left, a plane flew overhead, and the four of us stopped and stared. It was the only plane we’d seen all day—a medical plane, one of the one aircraft allowed off the ground.

The next July, I was vacuuming out my car at a car wash, and an airplane flew low overhead—only a few hundred feet. We were in the middle of the city, and this was a big plane—a large cargo jet, painted gray. Everyone stopped—there were probably two dozen people there—and we stared at the plane. Someone, a complete stranger, turned to me and asked “Should we call the police?” The world was not the same anymore; no one felt safe anymore. It turned out that the plane was military, and part of an air show—but everyone one of us standing below it relived 9/11.

September 11th changed my life. I studied what I did because of it, and I lived where I did because of school. My first book would be slightly different if 9/11 never happened, and my second two books wouldn’t exist. My Dad wouldn’t have gotten the job he had. My wife wouldn’t have been laid off.

September 11th, 2001, changed everyone of us. In the comments, tell me how it affected you.


At 9/11/2007 7:31 PM, Blogger Jon said...

(editorial comment: we ate a Mexican diner made me giggle)

The week before, I had received a job offer to go work for Lockheed Martin, out at Dugway, UT. (It's an army base located approximately in the middle of nowhere - a desert surrounded by mountains.) Since I was still technically unemployed, I was at home watching the news when it happened. Like Rob, I watched the news all day that week.

I called in, found out that I still had a job, but that there would be extra security measures. When I got to the base the following Monday, there were armed (as in, Heavily Armed) guards who searched all the vehicles coming in. There was even a small tank positioned a little ways back from the checkpoint.

On the one hand, it was sort of frightening, all the ... grimness surrounding me. I even had to get trained for a gas mask - it is the chemical weapons testing place, after all. On the other hand, I felt completely safe from terrorists.

The odd effect this had on me was that I found myself coming up with ways that one could be killed by terrorists. (Fortunately, none of them acted on any of my thoughts.) Worst one: poison on the rims of soda cans. How many people do you know that wipe off cans before drinking from them? Or pouring from them? Hmmm, bottled water's looking better all the time...

At 9/11/2007 7:39 PM, Blogger Josi said...

the changes in my life weren't terribly dramatic. I was on bedrest with a pregnancy and I remember being so grateful I was having a girl, that meant I had only one son that might one day be drafted into a war should this be be the beginning of the end. My husband and I had been talking for a few years about moving, and suddenly we were so glad to live 50 miles from Salt Lake, very much inland of the US. We have since changed the lyrics of "I'm glad to be an American" to "I'm glad I live in Willard."

I remember thinking "the world will never be the same after this" and sadly I was right about that. And I guessed that the blame game would start--bad things just can't happen anymore unless it was someone fault. I was grateful for food storage, and that my husband was in town that week. I prayed a lot, and cried, and wished I could do more.

At 9/11/2007 9:20 PM, Blogger Julie Wright said...

My brother was in kosovo as a sergeant in the army. He called me long distance to tell me to turn on my TV. My best friend was in town from Texas visiting me and we were getting ready to leave to drive her to the airport. She had to wait two days to go home.

A few months later, I was in New York when America went to war with Iraq for the second time. On the flight home I saw an arabic couple of the muslim faith being frisked in front of everyone on our plane. Half of me was horrified by the inhumanity of it. They should be able to fly without such harrassment. The other half-- the irrational terrified half--felt immense relief. Their public humiliation reassured me that my plane would stay in the air until it was supposed to land.

I'm still disgusted with myself for allowing my fears to overcome my compassion. My own brother and sister are half iraqi . . . knowing them and loving them, how could I become such a prejudiced monster?

I do a lot of flying and every time I maneaver through the long lines of security checks, I remember how our lives are different. My kids don't even think about the long lines for the airport . . . But I know what it was like to be able to run into the airport with minutes left before your plane took off and still have a hope of catching it.

At 9/11/2007 10:24 PM, Blogger Janet Jensen said...

Later in the day I received a call. The woman who had raised her family in the home we now own was in the first plane out of Boston that hit a tower. She was with her daughter. I think the very walls of my home mourned. I stood at the kitchen sink and wondered how many meals had been prepared, how many times the family had gathered for dinner. We put a small flag and a flower arrangement in the front yard in their memory. But truly, there was nothing we could do.

We were in Salt Lake City that evening, and the streets were virtually empty. It was like a surrealistic movie. Too quiet. The whole nation was in shock, and we felt there was nothing we could do to help.

At 9/11/2007 10:49 PM, Anonymous Jennie said...

I was getting ready for work when my daughter who worked in the library at SLCC (Redwood) called. She was so hysterical all I caught was that I should turn on the TV. I turned it on in time to see the second plane fly into the second tower. Her husband was in Kuwait disarming the land mines left from Desert Storm, a task that frequently took him into Iraq. It turned out that he actually was in Iraq at the time and it was two days before he could contact her. When he and his unit flew home two months later they were given a standing ovation by the pilot, crew, and passengers of the commercial plane that brought them home. Since then, he has served two deployments in Iraq and was seriously wounded eighteen months ago. My life has been changed all the ways other citizens of western countries have; long security lines at the airport and at special events such as the Olympics, never feeling completely safe in crowds or on public transportation, uneasy concerns about water and food supplies,a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes at the sight of long rows of flags, etc. Personally I've struggled with my fears for my son-in-law, a cousin, several nephews, neighbors and friends who have been deployed to the middle east, I've written a book with a terrorist theme, I was there instead of her husband when my daughter became a mother, I've cried and paced the floor waiting for that distinctive security ring of the telephone, I flew to Walter Reed in Washington D.C. so that my daughter could be with her husband and he could see their son, I've worried from nearly 2000 miles away while my daughter and her little family live close to Walter Reed during his long recuperation, I've become more sensitive to the frightening position peace loving muslims find themselves in, and less tolerant of politicians who place making political gains over national security. And I pray a lot--for my family, for my country, for the spread of the Gospel, and for an end to a terrorist philosophy that is intent on subjugating the entire world to its twisted form of religion and the loss of individual freedom (sounds a lot like Satin's plan, doesn't it?).

At 9/12/2007 1:05 AM, Blogger Marta O. Smith said...

In the days following 9/11, I found myself reassuring my children (who were still in grade school) that Ashton is so small no terrorists would ever find it and they were safe. And I found myself thinking of all the ways terrorists could cause havoc in small towns if they really wanted to.

One of my nephews had moved his family to Florida where he was to attend school to become a commercial pilot. His school was the one that trained the terrorists. The school declared bankruptcy and he lost the $50,000 tuition he had paid. (Yes, they really charged that much.)

Then another nephew, Jacob, joined the Army. He scored high enough on his entrance tests that they offered to train him as a war correspondent. But he wanted to stay with the infantry. He was a gunner. On April 22, 2006, he was in a convoy on a road outside Bagdad when his Humvee hit an IED. He and several others were killed.

At his funeral there was a brigadier general, the interim govenor of Idaho, and a member of the Seventy. The stake center was crammed to capacity with all kinds of military personnel and local police and firefighters. (My brother-in-law was the city fire chief.) Many of them had probably never stepped inside an LDS church building. That day they were taught the plan of salvation, disguised as a funeral sermon, by a general authority, in a beautifully simple way.

When it was over and we all left the chapel, my brother-in-law was interviewed by television crews, and he was able to talk about how his religion gave his family strength during that difficult time. A man in a much-decorated uniform stopped my sister to ask who that man was that spoke (the member of the Seventy), because he had never heard anything like that before. A friend of my sister's had always refused invitations to hear more about the gospel, but after the funeral she wanted to speak to the missionaries. I'm sure there were a lot of other seeds planted, but we may never know how many.

A few weeks later, another soldier who had been a good friend of Jacob and was riding in the vehicle behind him when he was killed came to visit Jacob's family. He was distraught about Jacob's death. My sister and brother-in-law were able to share their testimonies with him and reassure him that they knew they would see Jacob again one day. They were able to tell him a lot about the gospel. He later wrote to thank them for helping him find God.

And that is how 9/11/2001 has affected me and my family.

At 9/12/2007 1:19 AM, Anonymous Jen said...

Sept 11, 2001.
My baby brother was scheduled to leave for basic training at 9am. He was already with his group when the planes crashed. I hadn't been super excited about him joining the army before (my father was in the military also), but now I was really not happy about it. Of course he went to Iraq. His letters have often made me believe that God is looking out for my brother because of some the stupid things he did, and still came home unscathed. I will never again see military personel as people who were not smart enough to go to college, but as people that are willing to do a thankless job that may take their life, and add STRESS to the lives of their family.
I was awakened (AZ is on pacific time in September) by my sister calling me and telling me what was happening and to turn on the news. I thought she was joking. I am now moved to tears at the site of flags linig my neighborhood street. I now understand why Israelites are willing to spend 3 hours in security lines (something that had been on the news previous to 9-11 and I thought was ludicrous). I now understand why a country would erect a memorial, and keep in mind something horrible. I will always remember how our country turned to God in a time of crisis and how a prayer was said at a football game without comment, and how the 7-inning stretch became meaningful (by the way the AZ diamondbacks won the world series that year!!).

At 9/12/2007 2:26 AM, Anonymous marlene said...

I was preparing for a flower demonstration for a Relief Society work meeting and knew nothing of the situation until it was mentioned in the prayer at the beginning of that meeting. Questioning others a few minutes later, I couldn't comprehend how anyone could do such a thing, but we live in the Boston suberbs and it became all too real when our daughter returned from high school with the shocking information that the father of one of their classmates had been on one of the planes, then, a mother from our town, then the son of a dear sister in our ward, a couple of people from the next town... I will never forget sitting in our chapel with my daughters listening to the memorial service broadcast from Salt Lake several days later. I could not stop my tears then, or later at the by-invitation-only memorial service for the sister's son with his widow pacing restlessly as we congregated in a beautiful New England meadow for his service.

A year later, our daughter, then a freshman at BYU, was disturbed when fellow students there passed the occasion with little emotion while she relived the experience. They hadn't watched their classmates leave classrooms pale and in tears as they explained that a father or mother was flying to California that day and they needed to call home. They didn't hear the announcement over the intercom calling this or that one to come to the office.

Life here had continual reminders that we were living in a changed world, but by now, most of the differences we first noticed have become everyday and life seems back to normal--those who choose to fear will fear, those who choose to go beyond that have. We have new heros and we recognize different sources of evil. On the other hand, I feel more deeply about our country and those who fight to protect our freedom. I will never forget the television broadcast from Washington D.C. showing our legistors singing "God Bless America" and that remains sentiment remains in my thoughts.

At 9/12/2007 12:32 PM, Blogger Heather B. Moore said...

I was driving home from Curves (a workout place) when I heard on the radio about a plane crashing into one of the twin towers. I assumed it was a small plane, and maybe a pilot or two had been killed due to mechanical malfunction. When I arrived home, my husband was watching the t.v. and we watched the second plane hit live. Immediately I thought the plane had been "stolen" and the suicide pilot had just killed himself. It wasn't until the newscaster mentioned that these were full planes did I realize that hundreds of people had just died. I hadn't even comprehended those in the buildings. From there on, I was glued to the t.v. in my room. I didn't let my kids watch the coverage (they were 6, 4, and 1). A man in my husband's company had been on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania. My uncle was stuck in Boston for several days. My father was in Oman at the time doing research in the desert. That evening when they returned to their hotel, they learned of the tragedy and watched the news coverage in disbelief that night in their hotel rooms. The Omani officials recommended that they leave the country immediately. It took them some time to get to Yemen. All flights were canceled and here was a group of Americans stuck in a highly volatile country. It took them days to get a flight Yemen to Germany. There were many anxious days in our family.

At 9/12/2007 12:55 PM, Blogger Rebecca Talley said...

I feel the same way as you have all expressed. I remember watching the newscast with tears steaming down my face and wondering how such a thing could happen. I felt such grief for all of those who were personally affected by this act of terrorism.

This past Monday my daughter said that many of her classmates commented that they shouldn't have to go to school on Sept. 11. Yet, on that day, my daughter was only one of four students in her class who recited the Pledge of Allegiance. How can that be? How can students refuse to say the Pledge of Allegiance? Do they not understand the sacrifice of so many in their behalf? Do they not understand the price that's been paid so they can have the freedom to refuse to say the Pledge?

I remember how the nation turned to God 6 years ago, how we could utter prayers freely, how flags flew everywhere, and how we all spoke of patriotism. Now, though, what has happened? Have we forgotten?

I remember as a kid, a very young kid, when we were involved in the Vietnam War. When soldiers, many of them drafted into the war, returned, people spit on them and called them names, like they were responsible for the war. What a disgrace that so many people felt it was appropriate to disrespect those soldiers. We should all be so grateful that so many have been and are still willing to lay their lives on the line.

9/11 has changed all of our lives and impacted all of us. I just hope we can remember all of those who have so valiantly fought for freedom.

And, my sincerest condolences to all of you who have so personally felt the effects of the war.

At 9/12/2007 12:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We were getting a late start that day and were awakened by the news on the radio saying a plane had accidentally flown into one of the twin towers. We turned on the TV and watched in disbelief as the second plane crashed into the other tower and we realized it wasn't an accident. It was something I'll never forget, but the image that has haunted me all these years was seeing a man jump from the tower and hold down his tie as he fell. I always wondered what his thoughts were at that moment.

There were so many horrifying images, and so much death and carnage, but there were also miracle stories of people finding that one stairway that could lead them all the way down to safety, or why they were late to work that morning and weren't in the tower.
I also think it was somewhat comforting that so many people were able to call and tell their loved ones goodbye which would mean the world to me.

As a Canadian, I was proud that my country stepped up immediately and took all the flights that the U.S. would no longer allow in their borders, not knowing if any more planes or attacks were imminent. And all of the Canadian emergency personnel were offered and accepted in New York that day. There were no longer borders, nothing separated our countries, we were all in grief and mourning over what happened, reaching out to one another.

My friend in New York watched the twin towers fall from her balcony, my son's school teacher lost her mother and grandmother in one of the planes, but even if you didn't have a personal connection like that, you still were touched and changed forever by the events of the day.

True courage and heroes will always be remembered. 9/11 will never be forgotten.

Julie Bellon

At 9/12/2007 1:47 PM, Anonymous allyson condie said...

I was teaching high school in Provo at the time, and the kids (and all of us teachers) were in shock as the news unfolded and we tried to make decisions about what to do. Since I taught English, and we were studying Holocaust lit, it was all to easy to make connections and write journal entries.

The next year, on the first anniversary of Sept. 11th, I was teaching in NY and some of the students had actually lost family members and friends in the WTC disaster.

Both times, I felt this profound sense of responsibility for the children of others (I wasn't a mom at the time) and hoped I was doing the right things to help them process the event and its aftermath.

At 9/14/2007 12:16 PM, Blogger G. Parker said...

My husband called me from work and told me to turn on the TV, that one of the World Trade Center towers had been hit. I turned on the TV just a minute before the second plane flew through. It was a nightmare. My older children had already gone to school, and they said it was so strange -- most of the teachers didn't say much about it. They wouldn't let the TV's be on.

I had the TV on for the whole day -- which is something we don't do. I couldn't believe the whole thing was happening. I was like many here who wanted to go back and help. But what could I do? I was just a housewife with 7 kids, stuck with the TV and knowing that those people were killed for terrorism.

We have marked this day as a family each year. We have vowed never to forget and to honor those who serve our country. My older children remember that day, but the younger ones don't so when we watch a movie about it (which we usually do, we never thought to video tape it while the news was on) we are able to answer questions and talk about how horrible it was.

What I'll never forget is how wonderful it was to have the air force flying over head. We live close to a base, and for four days there were no planes flying. ONly the air force, and I would cry every time they flew over, knowing that they were doing their job -- protecting us.

My husband loves Canada, having served a mission there -- and he was never as proud as when they stepped up and proved what wonderful friends they are and always have been. There are no borders there.

We also knew at that point that our sons could be called up in this conflict. My oldest son is now in the Army Reserve. I am torn between pride that he is willing to serve his country, and pain that I might loose him before I'm ready. But I will never be ashamed of him or his service -- only 'proud to be an American.'


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