Today, I read an article in the Washington Post that stated that teens were too young to remember September 11th. At first, I was baffled, but once I did the math (high school seniors are 17-18, minus 8 years), it made a lot more sense.
This really struck a chord with me because I have a niece who is 15 and a nephew who is 11. They were 7 and 3 when the attacks happened. I may have been 7 when the Persian Gulf War happened, and I certainly didn’t understand much of what was going on when adults threw around all those foreign names.
September 11th, 2001 was a Tuesday morning during my freshman year at a small liberal arts college, and I didn’t have class until either 10 or 11:30. On my way to the bathroom down the hall, noticed that everyone was in one of my neighbor’s rooms watching TV. I walked in (most likely in a towel…) and saw a close-up of smoke billowing out of the ground.
Me: “Is that a tornado?”
Neighbor: “No, a plane crashed into the pentagon. And the World Trade Center.”
Me: “Wow, that’s weird! Did air traffic control just shit the bed or something?”
I really didn’t get it. I mean, who would crash planes into buildings on purpose? It had to be an unfortunate coincidence. And those people claiming terrorism: probably just southern, gun toting, militia-card-carrying Republicans looking to pick a fight.
I was about 5 minutes late to my comp sci class (as usual), and our professor was trying to log onto CNN.com on the computer that was hooked up to the projector for the classroom. We couldn’t get through because of all the traffic on the site. We didn’t do any work that day in class; we just talked (there were like 12 of us).
Later that day, the school organized an assembly of all students, faculty, and staff in the gym (my school was that small). Our president and a couple of deans addressed us, and they invited students to speak as well. A Dominican New Yorker, whom I had befriended during our school’s minority recruitment weekends during our senior year of high school (we had obviously convinced her to turn down her scholarship at Columbia U), was one of the first to approach the stage. I remember her speech, which she had just scribbled down off the top of her head, to be the most moving of the day. Everyone she knew was in New York, and mobile phones were less than reliable for communication (of course, I didn’t know because I didn’t have one at that point).
Everyone seemed on edge for the next few days. Although our campus was hundreds of miles away from New York, it was less than a mile away from a large naval base. Furthermore, my hometown housed Ft. Jackson, the largest basic training base in the US. Would there be another attack? Would I be able to fly home for my first Thanksgiving (I took a bus/train to my grandparents’ in NYC)? Did we know anyone in the Twin Towers?
Luckily, I didn’t know anyone who died in the attack even though my family is mostly from the greater New York area. One older cousin was late to work at a law firm near Wall Street, and he saw a tower fall from his cab.
Personal testimonies are what make history make sense for young people. It’s totally different to read about Pearl Harbor from a textbook than it is to talk to your uncle who was there or who lost a war buddy in the attack. So if you have an opportunity, I encourage you to share your story with a young person. 9/11 will never be forgotten, but each of us can insure that it is powerfully and personally remembered.
Click here to read the Washington Post article referenced above.