WASHINGTON, September 10, 2013 — On yet another anniversary of the September 11 attacks of 2001, much will be written to recall the events of that day. It might, however, be worth considering some ironic events and writings associated with that terrible day. Some were written or took place before 9/11, some after, yet all manifest a strange relationship to the horrific events of that day.
1. The World Trade Center
“Twin monarchs of the skyline, the World Trade Center Towers lift the palatial suites of international firms.”
The words above were the caption to the full-page photo of New York’s World Trade Center with its towers gleaming golden in the morning sun. This photo served as the key story of the September 1981 issue of the National Geographic magazine. This was exactly 20 years to the month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists would bring down those crowning icons of American achievement.
2. The Pentagon
A beautiful summer day in 2001 and all seemed right with the world.
The young University of Michigan student enjoyed visiting the capital city and he was especially pleased to be escorting his mother on an exciting tour through the Pentagon. Oliver would later recall, however chuckling at the memory, of his mother’s embarrassing question to the officer serving as tour guide for their group.
“Sir,” she asked, “are we safe here?”
The officer snapped around and with a broad reassuring smile, replied, “Ma’am, you are in the safest place in the world.”
It was just two months later that hijacked American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the side of the Pentagon. In the “safest place in the world,” some 125 people inside the Pentagon alone were killed in addition to the airline passengers, crew and emergency responders.
3. New York City
E. B. White, the famous author of “Charlotte’s Web,” “Stuart Little” and that quintessential grammar book, “The Elements of Style,” wrote in his book, “Here Is New York,” in 1949:
“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the tower, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions.
“All the dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation; in New York the fact is somewhat more concentrated because of the concentration of the city itself, and because, of all targets, New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.
“This race between the destroying planes and the struggling Parliament of Man — sticks in all our heads. The city at last perfectly illustrates both the universal dilemma and the general solution, this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence,…This lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people of all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.” E. B. White
People from 90 countries died on the World Trade Center attacks.
4. Washington on Television
A decade prior to the attacks of 9/11, the cover story of TV Guide promoted an upcoming five-hour TV miniseries on the life of the legendary Frank Sinatra. However, a secondary television movie was also featured, based on a book by Steven Ford titled, “Secret Service.” Large bold print spelled out the plot:
“The plan: Hijack an airliner, kill the pilot, crash it into the White House.”
5. My Pennsylvania Hometown
Those Word Trade Center beams, the most vivid remnants of the destruction waged on the United States homeland, were forged in my small Pennsylvania hometown in 1969. Lukens Steel Company manufactured the 10 five-ton support structures, which had framed the perimeter of the first nine floors and lobbies of the twin towers.
Those twisted steel supports, called “steel trees,” endured as the indelible image of our nation’s defiance, strength and endurance — for America and for the world. A caravan of trucks carried the twisted beams from New York City to Coatesville, Pennsylvania , where they became the centerpiece of an industrial history museum.
Scott Huston, a descendent of the Lukens family and president of the Graystone Society, put it this way in a telephone conversation: “They were born here…We were proud when we saw they were still standing.”
The twisted steel supports, among the few remaining pieces, had become an iconic image of defiance and strength for a mourning nation.
6. The Next Day at the White House
Although the White House was evacuated on the day of the attacks, it was open for tours the next day, Sept. 12. I was privileged to have been one of about 200 people who availed themselves of the opportunity to visit this esteemed edifice, believed to have been one of the primary targets of the terrorists.
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in major newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as the legendary Paul Harvey, White House speechwriter/columnist William Safire, and Mr. Shirley Povich, dean of American sportswriters.
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