From the Desk: Remembering 9/11

They say ‘never forget’ as if anybody could. 9/11 is still sending ripples through millions of lives.

I was working just outside Boston that morning and was stuck in traffic a few miles from the office just before 9 a.m.

I heard the first radio bulletin about one plane hitting, and then a second. I think I drove in the breakdown lane the rest of the way.

It was like a day in free fall, watching tragic history as it happened, not sure when we would hit bottom.

Airlines shut down, Boston's skyscrapers shut down, phone lines shut down, and cities nearly shut down.

Many of us knew people in New York City, like one of my reporters whose sister went to school a few blocks from the WTC.

Both of the planes that hit the towers took off from Boston's Logan Airport, and that meant dozens of New Englanders were among those killed. We started learning their names that day.

Some were well-known, like Garnet Edward "Ace" Bailey, whom I watched as a Boston Bruin. He later played on a line with Wayne Gretzky.

Christie Coombs, a smart talented lady, covered some stories for me as a freelancer in her hometown of Abington, Massachusetts. Her husband Jeffrey, a Compaq executive, was on one of the planes that struck the World Trade Center.

She became active in the 9/11 survivors and widows group, and raised money for other families.

She was interviewed as a possible impact witness in the trial of Zacarias Mossaoui, a French citizen who pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to kill U.S. citizens on September 11. I don't know if she ever testified.

My brother, who lived in the next town over, used to run every year in the Jeffrey Coombs Memorial 5K.

I would never compare the stress of a newsroom to working with an airline back then, or with the military, or as a first responder.

Many of us worked long, grim, tense days for several weeks, and often left shell-shocked. I can only imagine what it was like for others.

I called home that morning as soon as I could catch my breath.

"Can't talk, but put on the TV." … "Which channel?" … "Any one."

My wife and daughter, who was 5, watched the towers fall. Her first day of kindergarten was Wednesday, September 12.

As my wife dropped her off for her first day, another kindergarten mom was dressed in military camos, probably just activated that day.

My wife said something like "isn't this crazy,” and the woman just turned away, maybe told not to say anything to anybody about anything.

We lived 200 yards from the Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod. The first jets to respond on 9/11 took off over that elementary school.

On open house night, the teacher said, "I heard them right overhead, so loud, BOOM, and thought, 'There they go, training again.'"

She also said our daughter drew pictures of planes hitting building, but said, "Don't worry, lots of kids are doing that."

Life gradually got back closer to normal. My brother-in-law Dave, grounded in Chicago, rented a car and turned up a couple days later.

For weeks, we reported on various safety, security and military issues. Funerals and various other sideshows like the commuter train that was stopped and evacuated because there was a man with a turban on board.

He was a Sikh -- not an Arab and not at all a Muslim, but just different enough to freak people out. There was a lot of that going around.

Some weeks after 9/11, we covered a memorial service for a Plymouth woman who was working on the 100th floor when the jet hit.

The reporter wrote that she "died" on 9/11 -- reasonable, I thought, since we were covering a memorial service, but no remains were found.

I heard the next day from the woman's angry, distraught, weeping mom -- "How dare you write that she died? How dare you?"

It was still a painful fresh wound, and I couldn't think of anything to do but listen and let her rage.

All those ripple effects. I still think of people like that on these days and how they're coping and whether they've healed.

We said after 9/11 that "everything changed," but I wonder if we really learned any lessons or just keep making the same mistakes.


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