Federal Express and Northwest Airlines planes are usually a sonic nuisance, sometimes shaking my apartment windows and interrupting conversations on restaurant patios. I curse them and yell over them. And, the pounding bass escaping from cars stopped at traffic lights is always irritating. But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001 -- a day my grandchildren will read about in their history books -- everything got quiet. The planes stopped flying. The music died. Everyone was listening to the news. Quite literally, the sky had fallen.
And it didn't take long to see people reacting. At the Life Blood Center on Madison about 40 people were waiting to donate at 10:30 a.m., many saying that they had heard on the TV or radio that blood might be needed in New York and that they wanted to give.
"It's almost like a dream," said Jimmy Nelson, while waiting for his turn to donate. "You never believe that something like this could happen. With the situation like it is in New York, you figure that people are going to need blood. I'm O-positive -- my blood type will probably be needed."
Sitting next to him, Cathy O'Brien echoed some of the same sentiments.
"I've been meaning to give blood for a few weeks, but I've been putting it off. Today I decided to come in. I feel like this way I'm doing something, the only other thing that I can do is pray."
O'Brien, an O-negative blood type and a frequent donor, said that she'd never seen so many people waiting to give blood and that she'd never had to wait before.
Earlier that morning local news outlets reported that Clark Tower in East Memphis had been evacuated. However, less than an hour after that news was reported, it was business as usual at the Tower. It turns out that a power surge had triggered a fire alarm and, already tense from the morning's events, building security wasn't taking any chances.
But others did not seem as concerned. Golfers still teed off at Audubon Park. Shoppers still shopped at Home Depot and Seessel's. And the Amtrak Station, despite the havoc at Memphis International Airport, was seized with an eerie calm. No trains were coming and no trains were going. There wasn't even an employee on duty behind the desk, just five would-be travelers on telephones, trying to secure rental cars to take them where they needed to go.
"We need to get out of Memphis," said Julie Woodgei, a New Zealander traveling with her friend and countryman Greg Dietsch.
"Nothing like this happens in New Zealand," said Dietsch.
"It doesn't happen here, either," Woodgei corrected him.
The two said they had planned to stay in Memphis longer but the morning's events had made them stir-crazy and they had decided to rent a car and go on to Nashville. They said they knew that things there probably wouldn't be any better there, but that at least the scenery would be different.
"We were in New York two weeks ago, we were in the World Trade Center," said Woodgei, who has been traveling around the United States since August 1st. "All of this is so scary. We didn't even consider trying to fly out of Memphis today."
At Christian Brothers University, hundreds of students, teachers, and visitors, crowded into the CBU courtyard to pray and sing. The parking lot was so full that some had taken to parking in the fire lanes. Students huddled and hugged, some looked around expectantly, scared and excited to be sharing their first historic moment.
Above all else, everyone everywhere seemed to realize that on September 11th the world changed. We don't yet know how exactly, we just know that things will never be the same. Part of me wanted to curl up and cry, another part couldn't pull myself away from any television I passed or turn the car radio off long enough to go inside the next stop.
Back in the Flyer office, my phone wasn't ringing like it normally does and my message light indicated nothing, no one had called. But just as I noticed that my e-mail "inbox" wasn't littered with the usual dozen mass mailings from multilevel marketing groups and porn sites, I got a message with the subject heading "Hot Teen Sex." It seemed that the world was still turning; it was as if subconsciously, we all decided to keep on going.
It's been reported that as many as 50,000 people were in and around the World Trade Center buildings when the planes hit. Maybe by the time you read these words we will know the fates of these people. Right now we don't. I've been trying all day to think about how many people 50,000 is. Only 3,000 students attended my entire university; 1,200 people were in my high school graduating class. The Pyramid seats 22,000. It would be like the Liberty Bowl Stadium at sold-out capacity (it seats a little over 62,000) being hit by a bomb, or worse -- by an airplane filled with more innocent people. It's mind-boggling.
Three weeks ago I was in northern France, on the beaches of Normandy. I was surveying the landscape of Omaha Beach and imagining the horrible loss of life there. I was thanking God that nothing like that had happened in my lifetime and that nothing ever would. War is different now, I thought, people don't fight wars anymore, machines do. People aren't slaughtered to make political points. We talk, negotiate, and sign treaties. Funny how much life can change in three weeks, in one day, in a single hour.
I wept in the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach. The average age of the soldiers buried there was 26; I'm 25. There are 10,000 dead Americans buried in that cemetery and as far as I could see on every side of me, literally as far as the eye can see, were tombstones. Too many crosses and Stars of David to ever appreciate all the bodies buried underneath them. There was just too much death to comprehend.
When I first got back from Normandy, I went to visit my grandfather. I had never before had much interest in hearing his war stories, and he had never before had much interest in telling them. But that day he wanted to talk, wanted to show me pictures of the young men in his squadron, and wanted to point out which ones never came home. He told me that he flew 25 bombing missions over Germany as the top gunner in a plane just like the Memphis Belle. I marveled at his bravery.
Just three weeks ago I told my grandfather that it was a good thing that my generation had never been called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices because, as much as I'd like to believe that we'd rise to the challenge, I didn't think we would. I told him that it would be impossible to get us to part with our S.U.V.s -- much less with our lives. That rationing gas, food, and pantyhose would never happen with us, that my generation wouldn't be honorable enough to do our duty.
I'm humbled now by the thought that we may have our chance to prove me wrong. I hope that I'm wrong.
Though I haven't been to church in years, this week I'll say my prayers. I'll pray for the victims, I'll pray for their friends and families, I'll pray for peace, and I'll pray for answers. I'll pray that if this means war then we'll have what it takes to win and win quickly. The only war I've lived through was the Gulf War, and deep down I fear that this will be much, much worse. It already is much, much worse. I don't even know how bad it is yet. It's still too quiet to tell.
Terrorist Strikes Were No Surprise To Local EMA
By Michael Finger
"We go through cycles in the Emergency Management Agency," said interim director Clint Buchanan in a recent interview conducted in the EMA offices tucked away in the sub-basement of City Hall.
"In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the Cold War. In the 1970s, we were hit very hard with hazardous-materials incidents. In the 1980s, Iben Browning put the fear of God into everybody with earthquakes."
Nowadays there's a new concern.
"We're heavily involved in domestic terrorism in this office, in a quiet sort of way," said Buchanan. "It's not publicized much, but it's a very real threat, and it's going to be here for a while."
According to Buchanan, Memphis has been named a terrorist target partly because it's a transportation hub, partly because of the chemical industries here, and partly because of the navy base at Millington, which primarily houses the Bureau of Naval Personnel.
"The wackos overseas think that because we have a navy base that's not on the ocean, there is something we are not telling them. You'll never convince them that it's not the high-spy place of the United States."
The local EMA recently received $950,000 to establish a domestic preparedness program for Memphis and Shelby County. Part of that will allow the EMA to prepare for more subtle -- but equally deadly -- assaults, including poison gas and toxins.
"A lot of what we do [to prevent such assaults] should not be public knowledge," said Buchanan. "As long as the public knows what that we are doing everything we can to keep people safe, that's all they need to know. There's a lot of bad people out there, who could take this information and hurt a lot of folks."
During an interview in February, Buchanan raised a chilling prospect that came true on the morning of September 11, 2001.
"Is a terrorist going to attack the U.S. in the next five years?" asked Buchanan. "Based on the schools I've gone to, the meetings I've attended, there is no doubt in my mind that it is going to happen. They have convinced me."
The Worst Day
By Mary Cashiola
It is less than two hours since the World Trade Center towers collapsed. Downtown Memphis is a tangle of quiet confusion. There are reports that the Federal Building has been evacuated; they turn out to be false. There are reports that Washington Avenue and Riverside Drive are shut down. They, too, are false. No one is running around; no one is screaming; no one seems in any imminent danger.
There are no planes flying overhead. A line of red and green trolleys is stopped near city hall. And no one quite knows what's going on. Or what to make of it all.
"Did you hear about the tragedies?" asks a man at the Shelby County Criminal Justice Center. He shakes his head from side to side. "I just don't know."
At many of the local government buildings downtown, the apparent terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seem to hit a little too close to home. Too close and yet too far away to really comprehend.
One security guard at the Shelby County Court House doesn't want to comment. Turning, though, he says, "It's like every [American's] father died; it's personal."
No one here seems to be steeling themselves for a terrorist attack. This is Memphis, not New York or Chicago or L.A. They shake off their fear, even as they field calls from grandmothers and husbands, people wanting to know if they're okay. Somewhere, though, they know that they -- in any one of these government buildings -- could be in a target.
Ellen Schneider works at the Shelby County Administrative Building, managing data for the county's Human Resources Information System.
"Where do we go from here? I'm almost afraid to say," Schneider pauses over her cigarette. "I think we're at war."
"My children want me to go home," she says, but neither any Shelby County nor Tennessee state buildings downtown have been closed or evacuated at this point. The county assessor has let her staff go for the day, but most of the other employees in the building are still working, albeit somewhat distractedly.
When asked why the state buildings haven't been cleared, Dana Keeton, from the Tennessee Department of Safety, says it isn't necessary.
"At this point, we have heightened security, but there is no reason to evacuate every state office," says Keeton.
Inside a Shelby County building, employees trying to sneak past the metal detector are quickly snagged.
"I know you're an employee," one security guard tells a young woman as she flashes her identification badge, "but today you come through the scanner. Today, everybody comes through the scanner."
The police are also out in full force.
Near a Metro Gang Unit, a Shelby County Special Operations Unit, and a fleet of dark-colored, unmarked vans on the mall outside City Hall, Memphis Publication Sergeant Susan Lowe is taking photographs.
"I'm sort of the historian," she says, "and it's certainly historic." She's been out since 9:30 this morning.
"After the second bombing, we've been on alert."
But if security is at its height, so is confusion.
At the Shelby County Justice Center, the courts are in session. Maybe. The bailiffs have begun walking around, having been told to shut down the courtrooms. One has been cleared completely, but bailiffs seem to be meeting with some resistance from judges. Other buildings nearby are also clearing out; employees are being given the day off if they want to take it. Many do.
But they don't really want to talk about it. Maybe they will tomorrow, when they know more; when they've seen all the footage; when they realize exactly how terrible the whole thing was. Or maybe not.
At noon, a maintenance man leaves the state building. But he's not on his way home. He's walking out to the flagpole, where he lowers first the Tennessee and then the United States flag to half-mast.
It is louder than words.