This week’s issue of the Valley newspapers hits the stands three days from Sept. 11, 2021: the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, the Twin Towers, in lower Manhattan. Known colloquially as simply 9/11, it is a date etched into the collective memory of a generation of Americans, just as the “day of infamy” was to the Dec. 7, 1941, generation.
In my case, the date was already a part of my consciousness and had been since whatever age one is when one knows one’s family dates, birthdays the first to get implanted, I suppose. Anyhoo, my father Rickola S.C. Wilson was born on Sept. 11, 1915, and so the date has been with me for a long time.
(A little aside here: with the advent of the national emergency number, my father told anyone who would listen that it was easy to be reminded of his birthday because every emergency vehicle in the nation would have 9-1-1 on it. And while I’m at it, his birth name was not Rickola, on his birth certific— …digression; gotta watch that).
But now, along with millions of others the date 9/11 is associated with a terrorist attack; and for clarity’s sake the common definition of terrorism in the United States is “the systematic or threatened use of violence in order to create a general climate of fear to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, religious, or ideological change.” I’ll get to the point I want to make, but first a couple of long stories made short.
A few days after the Fair of 1995, I was housesitting for some friends who had taken a family vacation to Arkansas, they had been gone only a couple days when another member of the family also wanted to take her 12-year-old daughter, and as the house I was watching was on the SVF property, I felt it was safe enough without me, so the three of us drove straight through from King City to northwest Arkansas, the Ozarks.
Two days there and I headed back to California via Interstate 40 and stopped for fuel about 10 miles east of Oklahoma City, it was May 19, I remember the newspaper in the rack near the entrance had a story about Leon Panetta being named Bill Clinton’s chief of staff; it was one month to the day since the Murrah Federal Building had been bombed in an act of domestic terrorism.
I drove as close to the site as possible and parked. The building had been razed and fenced off, the chain-links of the fencing filled with notes, flowers, dolls and other tributes to the 168 who lost their lives, including three pregnant women and 19 children. Many of the buildings around the area still had plywood in window frames, the amount of glass needed outpaced the ability to deliver, and businesses for blocks around were still closed, some never to reopen. It was altogether a frightful scene a month after; to think of the day itself more frightful.
Then, a little over six years later, this:
A long-time Greenfield buddy was headed to an economic conference in New York City in March of 2002, and as I had time off from work I tagged along; my first visit to the Big Apple (we repeated that jaunt four times; one trip of which I ended up singing on the David Letterman show; but that’s another story).
On our second day in Manhattan, we went to what had become known as “Ground Zero,” it was six months to the day since the attack. It was amazing to see how much progress had been accomplished, what was once a pile of pulverized glass, crushed cement and twisted steel was now a massive hole being prepared for whatever the future held for that piece of real estate.
The scene was reminiscent of Oklahoma City with the fencing and sidewalks around the area covered with mementos and tributes; many of them images of the victims. A winter had come and gone, and the dust and ashes of that day mixed with rain and snow had left dark stains running down the mortar of brick buildings blocks away from the site.
But unlike Oklahoma, there were in New York law enforcement and military present throughout lower Manhattan; it was odd to be in Times Square where military personnel in full combat garb stood in pairs up and down the sidewalks of that most famous of American intersections. One could not help but recall similar images on news broadcasts from troubled Third World countries and now here it was in our country. Sobering.
Because that one visit was my only visit to where the World Trade Center once stood, and as we near the second decade anniversary, I thought to go online to view images of what “The Site” now looks like; it is an impressive memorial befitting the events of that memorable day. The water and many trees combining to bring life to a place that saw so much death.
But I have returned to the site of the attack in downtown Oklahoma City. Last April I was visiting family, and with my daughter and a granddaughter, I attended a ballet at the civic center, the site of the bombing only two blocks from that venue. The memorial there is both respectful and hopeful; chair-shaped monuments honor each victim, small chairs for the children, with again water ponds and trees representing newness of life.
At the beginning of this column I said I would get to a point; but frankly I don’t know what that point would be. The fact that we live in a world where a frightening amount of distrust and enmity exists and where no place on the planet is really safe from devastating acts of terror seems to be the only conclusion. If that is so, I truly hope such acts occur long after I am gone; selfish, I know, but there you have it.
Take care. Peace.