Seventeen Years Ago

Seventeen Years Ago

by | published September 11th, 2018

It was a beautiful, sunny fall day in Pittsburgh. I was preparing for a flight to Moscow. But that changed abruptly at 8:46 in the morning when the first plane struck between floors 93 and 99 of the North Tower. The South Tower was hit by a second aircraft at 9:03.

By 9:42, for the first time in its history, the FAA had grounded all flights over or heading to the US.

Most of us remember where we were on 9/11 when four airliners shook America out of a time of complacency. It is a moment that was burned into a national consciousness. We may not have acknowledged it, but we had always felt insulated from what was happening in the rest of the world.

Until 9/11.

The travails experienced elsewhere were now at our front door and we watched in shock as planes hit the World Trade Center in New York, a hole appeared in the Pentagon across the Potomac from Washington, and another plane crashed in Western Pennsylvania.

The country could not believe it. These were horrific scenes relived countless times since then. In fact, even several years later, a French psychologist and long-time friend summarized it this way: “I worry for the health of Americans. You cannot stop watching the buildings come down.”

Part a feeling of helplessness, part a hope that it was a (very) bad dream, part rage, what unfolded on September 11, 2001 changed how the US regarded the rest of the world.

The War on Terror began, ushering in every emotion from extreme nationalism to xenophobia. It hit American shores well after it emerged elsewhere in the world. But when it did a national maturity confronted a dark reality.

Feeling in control would never be the same again. It was a hard way to grow up.

I Remember The Day The World Changed Forever

Many of us knew somebody who died on 9/11. First responders would later have their lives ended prematurely by the health aftermaths of the attack. It fundamentally altered our world view and galvanized our regard for or trust of others.

While air travel between US cities remained impossible, I managed on September 14 to fly out of Pittsburgh on a direct flight to Paris.

I remember the US Airways crew members looked numb. They acknowledged that there were no standard operating procedures in place to respond to cataclysmic events like these. They continuously thanked us for flying, while silently replacing metal cutlery with plastic. A few would simply break down and cry when they thought you were not watching.

But there was something else that I had not anticipated. Upon landing in Paris the next day, airport personnel applauded as we departed from the airplane. It turns out we were the first flight to make it there from the US.

Arriving in Moscow on a Lufthansa flight later that day, another unexpected reaction took place. One still flew into Sheremetyevo in those days, one of the dreariest airports anywhere. It also had the slowest passport lines in the world. The booths are still today manned by FSB officers, domestic intelligence/security successors to the KGB. More often than not, these are still young women.

When I finally arrived at the booth, the officer took my passport and multiple entry visa. Upon seeing that it was US, she looked at me and said “Я сожалею о вашей потере” (“I am sorry for your loss.”). “Спасибо” (“Thank you”) was the only thing I could think of to say in response.

For three days I was ensconced in an energy policy conference. Of the dozen or so Americans who were scheduled to be at the sessions, only three of us made it. The other two had already been in Europe before the planes hit.

Throughout, the genuine statements of support from Russians officials, friends living in the city, average Muscovites, and even the national media was quite unanticipated.

I moved on to meetings at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in London. In those days, I still preferred to ride the underground in from Heathrow. For the only time in all my travels to London, the train was stopped half way to South Kensington (my change for a quick jump to Gloucester Road and my apartment in Kensington). Everybody was required to disembark, and each piece of luggage physically searched.

Upon arriving in town, the city looked like it was under siege with heavy police presence everywhere. The UK expected to be hit next. Every trash can had been removed from every street corner, a common practice during security alerts after the IRA started putting bombs in them.

I remember passing a fire house where there was a table outside collecting money for “our American brothers.” I put in a £10 note. On several occasions, “bobbies” would stop me, striking up a conversation, and asking for ID.

I finally asked the officer positioned just outside my mews apartment. He said he would check and I should get back to him in the morning. The next day he showed me a picture that looked like my twin. Only this guy was the head of a radical mosque in Birmingham. Seems the CCTV cameras in the streets had been picking me up as I walked from the tube station.

Half thought that pasting the passport on my forehead might help the situation.

First in Paris, then Moscow, then London the show of support was overwhelming. I have never felt more American than I did then in foreign cities. But one thing was very clear.

The world fundamentally changed on 9/11.

Today, I am remembering.

Today, we all remember.

Kent Moors

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  1. Timothy D Watson
    September 11th, 2018 at 22:55 | #1

    Thank you for sharing your story. It moved me on this day of remembrance.

    Tim Watson

  2. Timothy D Watson
    September 11th, 2018 at 23:24 | #2

    2018 September 11th

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Tim Watson

  3. Anantray
    September 20th, 2019 at 21:53 | #3

    Sorrow still lingering with me. The anger generated as and when thinking of suffering aftermath.

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