Silence Fills the Air: The Fifteen Year Anniversary of 9/11
September 9, 2016
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September 11th, 2001 was a day. It was a day where devastation struck every corner of America as the planned hijackings and attacks on major American landmarks were carried out in succession. The country was in shock and unsure of what really happened on this fateful day.
Fast forward to present day, and Sunday will mark the 15 year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America. As the two planes struck and ultimately took down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, people across America were in disbelief. With another attack on the Pentagon later, followed by one more plane taken down by the courageous passengers of Flight 93 in a Pennsylvanian field, they left our country writhing and wondering what was to come.
As complete and utter chaos filled the Eastern seaboard of our country, back in Michigan, specifically here at our high school Divine Child, shock filled the air. Physics teacher Steve Dickie, in his first year of teaching at Divine Child, recounted the day in striking detail. It being 2001, no one had immediate access to the internet and the outside world. Only when a teacher or faculty member saw the tragedy unfold on a television screen during a prep period, did word begin to spread around the school. Dickie says, “As word broke of the plane hitting the first tower, people across the school thought it had to be an accident.” With televisions across the school tuned into CNN, after another plane hit the second tower, people began to realize how far from an accident it had been.
“With word already spreading across the school, I knew I wouldn’t get anything done. I told my kids give me 5 minutes to talk, and then we will turn the TV on. Each class that day was just in complete silence as CNN rolled coverage of the events.” (Steve Dickie)
Fifteen years later and Divine Child High School is very different as another September 11th approaches. The majority of the students in the current freshman class were not alive on this infamous day. They did not live through the events; they learn about them the same way they would any other tragic event in their history class. After polling freshman throughout the school, we discovered that the majority of those polled either did not know, did not care, or had no clue on how this solitary day has and will continue to impact their lives moving forward. To them, the attacks on September 11th, 2001, just short of fifteen years ago hold the same relevance as the attacks on Pearl Harbor seventy-five years ago. It will be a day the victims likely cross their mind a moment before continuing with their routine and lives as they would any other day. The freshman class this year reminds us how distant the events of this day appear to become. Hardly anybody alive honors Pearl Harbor as a day that tremendously impacts their lives because we are too far removed from that day. Before we know it, as it is already starting to happen in high schools across America, 9/11 will fall into the same category.
Back to School Night on Wednesday, September 7th, at Divine Child offered me the opportunity to interview the parents of my peers on what they remember from that fateful day. With everyone sharing a memory of where they were, one commonality stood out: silence. Whether it was in an office or out gathering supplies, silence filled the air throughout Metro Detroit on this day. Erika Bell, mother of senior Tayah Bell, recalled being at work in a correctional facility when she received a call from her husband, Kevin, alerting her to what was going on. “I looked out my office window into the TV room and saw the prisoners huddled around watching the news. I walked into the room, and talk about silence, that is the thing that will stick with me.”
“… in a room with 240 prisoners and it was so silent you could hear a pin drop.” (Erika Bell)
The silence filling a TV room in a correctional facility full of convicts encapsulates the country’s mood that day. No matter who you are or where you come from, there is no escaping the shock and confusion throws into our faces. Jerry Lopez, father of student Isabella Lopez, describes that same silence as he went out to get gas for his car. He described the astonishment that filled the air and left no room for words. “… And the weird thing about it is there were no planes in the sky except for the fighter jets flying around.”
Divine Child High School continues to remember September 11th with honor, not willing to let the memory of that day fade away. Last year, current senior DCFIA reporter Erin Krochmalny visited New York City with her AP Art History Class. She recalled not being fully aware that they would be visiting the recently finished memorial at the spot of the Twin Towers. “When I looked at the fountains, I will admit I hadn’t realized it was the very spot of the Twin Towers. So when I asked my friend who had been standing next to, I was struck silent by the fact that I hadn’t realized where we were.” With the 15 year anniversary approaching, students who were mere infants in 2001 arrive at the same silence.
Freshman Nick Rowland’s father, Bob, was working in an office a few blocks from the Federal Building in downtown Detroit. He remembered going into an emergency contingency plan for a few hours, because his office was in shock range in case of an attack on the Federal Building. Rowland remembers the city seeming vacant when he was finally allowed to leave work around three o’clock that afternoon. Streets and blocks around the Federal Building were blocked off in prevention of a possible attack, forcing him to use main roads and access points as opposed to his normal shortcuts through the city.
And ultimately, that is how September 11th, 2001, has shaped America. The normalcy we remember preceding the attacks seems like a distant, impossible memory. The freshman were in disbelief as they listened to a teacher describe how you could just walk up last minute and board your flight no problem in those days. Now you must be at least two hours early for a flight to make it through the extreme security now required. Ever since 9/11, people have also been more aware of their surroundings. One parent even recalled being in Chicago recently, sitting at a restaurant and instinctively planning out exit strategies in case an attack were to commence right then and there. Before September 11th, such a notion would have seemed insane.
“We went into a contingency plan that everybody everywhere hopes they never have to use.” (Bob Rowland)
The memory of September 11th, 2001 will not leave us soon. It cannot. This is not a memory similar to the attack on Pearl Harbor or the Vietnam War, but a story parents and young adults tell their kids for years to come. 9/11 is a day in history the majority of us lived through. Even with the day getting farther and farther away from present-time, it is impossible to forget both events and ramifications. The stories here are only a small part. Everybody has a “where were you when…” moment they could talk about for September 11th. Although high schools are now getting to the point where September 11th is discussed as history and not memory, Americans should seek to look at this day as a story of who we are and not an event for the history text books.