How could we ever forget?

Published 2:25 pm Friday, September 10, 2021

Growing up, I often heard people speak about where they were when President Kennedy was shot.  It was a defining memory for my generation.  Many years later, a different generation talked about where they were on 9/11. 

That’s the way we refer to it, as numbers.  There’s lots more numbers associated with this act of terrorism:  2,763 people were killed in New York, 189 at the Pentagon, and 44 outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania

Many more were injured, and many have died—and many more are sick–from debris consisting of asbestos, lead, glass, heavy metals, concrete, poisonous gases, oil and other dangerous substances that mixed with exploding jet fuel from the World Trade Center.  

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When President Kennedy was assassinated, I was in seventh-grade math class.  Our teacher, Mr. Webb, answered a knock on the classroom door, conferred with someone for a few minutes, then turned to the class, obviously shaken, told us that President Kennedy had been shot, and suspended teaching for the remainder of the class period. 

We sat there in stunned silence.  What did that mean?  It was news that was so unthinkable, it just couldn’t be true.  

That’s the same way I felt when on September 11, 2001, in my office on campus in Martindale in the Registrar’s Office I got a phone call saying that there were reports that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.  How awful!  I imagined the plane must have experienced mechanical failure, a freak accident, for that to have occurred. 

Shortly afterwards, the second plane crashed.  The news coming in affected everyone in the office.  We were startled, we were frightened.  What could this mean?  What had happened?  We were stunned.  There was a television on in the building and people were gathered around watching in horror as the news outlets were reporting the news.  The receptionist, my colleague Annie Hollowell, was nearly inconsolable because she and her husband had friends assigned to The Pentagon. 

Unlike my seventh-grade self at the time of the Kennedy assassination, I was digesting this horrific news as an adult and trying to get a grip on the reality of what was happening.  We were in shock, but we were also trying to conduct the business of serving students who were coming by to pick up a transcript, ask questions about a grade/class, a multitude of things.  They were mostly unaware of what was happening and the gravity of what was occurring hadn’t really touched them yet.  

What happened in the hours and days to follow was something I’ll never forget.  I always like to keep close tabs on my family, but I was obsessive about where they were, what they were doing.  I wanted more than ever to keep my loved ones close to me, to protect them, to shield them from the awfulness that seem to hang in the very air we were breathing.  I wasn’t alone.  I truly think that every American brought their family circle close and held them tight.  “Home” is where everyone wanted to be, to feel safe and protected.  There was a definite feeling of patriotism.  American flags appeared everywhere.  Even as we came to terms with what had happened, our resolve that it never happen again was strong.  

Now after all these years, I still shudder when I see images of those planes flying into the World Trade Center, or see images of the massive amount of debris, and pictures of first responders hurrying to help.  

The phrase “Never Forget” has stayed with us.  How could we forget?  This day, this number 9/11 changed our way of life forever.   Never forget but do look forward with hope and pray that wars and violence will one day end.  

Bonnie Brown writes a weekly column for The Oxford Eagle.