I realize that in my years of writing a column, I have discussed the topic of the tragic events that took place on Sept. 11 on more than one occasion. This Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on America, and I wanted to share my experiences, to the best of my memory.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, I was a senior at Oak Park & River Forest High School located in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. My brother, Phil, was a freshman at the time, and we would have arrived at school together in my 1991 Lincoln Town Car (fancy huh?).
My first period that morning was a mandatory senior assembly. Our group of friends all sat together in the auditorium of our high school, around 15-20 guys. The assembly was a few minutes underway when our friend, Marco, arrived late and attempted to climb across the rows only to fall down, get up, and eventually take a seat right behind me.
He declared, “Did you guys see what happened in New York? A plane hit a building!”
We all shushed him and dismissed what he had said because, well, Marco was a character.
The assembly ended, and I headed towards the Peer Leadership room (a period that allowed seniors in our high school to work with freshmen) and I can still, to this day 20 years later, feel the stillness and silence of that room. Typically, you could hear voices halfway down the hallway, but not on Sept. 11. I walked to the back of the room where everyone was huddling around an old AV (audio/visual) cart that had a TV turned onto one of the major news networks.
At 18-years-old, it was hard to process exactly what was happening. By that point, the second tower had been hit and we watched in horror as the Twin Towers fell on live television. It wasn’t until a few hours later that we realized that the United States of America was under attack.
The rest of that day of high school was a blur and, quite honestly, I felt numb. I recall a lot of my teachers trying to process what was happening and several breaking down. Since we were just a few miles away from downtown Chicago, I recall getting my brother and leaving school early that afternoon. At the time, my father was still a Chicago Police officer, and several districts (including his) were summoned to surround the Sears Tower and Hancock Building as threats were pouring in of possible attacks.
Sept. 11 will always have a profound impact on me. We lost thousands of innocent American lives that day. The events unfolding in front of my eyes are also something I will never forget. While my own children have not asked me about Sept. 11 yet, I know it’ll happen soon, and it’s my hope that I will be able to do the victims justice in explaining what happened to them.
I’ll spend Sept. 11 of this year thinking about those we lost and their loved ones left behind. I’ll also spend time thinking of all our servicemen and women who at this very moment are defending our freedoms that allow for me to write this column. I’ll continue hoping that the events of Sept. 11, 2001 never happen again on our soil.