September 11, 2001. A day that will live in infamy, if I may make so bold as to paraphrase a famous speech - and one that launched us into a war just as surely.
For though time has dulled the memory for some, it has sharpened it for others. And perhaps, on this tenth anniversary, it is time to refresh the memory, so that all may have sharp, poignant memories of that day. So that all may never forget - whether the families of the victims, whose hearts were ripped out that day; the terrorist perpetrators, who assuredly will one day receive their just deserts, whether at the hands of those they attacked or those of a Just Providence; and the rest of us, witnesses to the events of that horrible, dreadful day.
Two weeks before the attack, I myself flew out of the airport where the doomed flights originated; there but for the grace of God went I. The morning of the attack, I rose to prepare for work, turned on the television, saw one of the Twin Towers already ablaze and gaped in horror. As I watched, the second plane crashed into the other tower and I understood sufficient to know that we were being attacked. Since I was then working on a space defense program, I promptly called in and left a message for my boss to ensure that he and my coworkers would know what was going on. There was, in my mind, the possibility that our program could be called into active operations at any moment, though I considered it unlikely. Still, it is best to be prepared. Desperate times. Desperate measures.
Then I did my utmost to perform my morning ablutions in front of the bedroom television. So I saw, watching on in horror, when the towers collapsed. I knew they were full of both innocents and heroes, emergency responders who flung themselves into the heart of the catastrophe with no thought for themselves. I was helpless to do anything but pray. But that, I could do; and that, I did.
I saw the Pentagon attacked; heard of the fourth plane somewhere in the air. Considerably later I heard about the bravery of the men and women aboard it who prevented the terrorists from carrying out their evil deed. I also heard that the son of a friend, attending Penn, saw that crash take place with his own eyes and was deeply upset.
Eventually I made it in to work. By then all flights across the country had been grounded, and remained so for several days. Since the main Boeing campus, where I was assigned, was between the ends of the runways of Huntsville International Airport, and we were used to hearing all sorts of aircraft taking off and landing through the day, the silence was eerie. And ominous. One part of my brain longed for the familiar sound, but the other part knew that if I did, it likely foretold my imminent death.
Descriptions began coming back from people I knew who had either been in NYC at the time, or had to travel there shortly after the resumption of flight. The smoke, the stench of death, of decaying flesh that could not be alleviated: the realization that there were no bodies, really, left to recover. The victims - thousands of victims - had become integral parts of the rubble.
And the anger. The injustice. Crazed zealots determined to kill innocent people, men women and children, and themselves as well - simply because they could. Just because they hated this country. I could see performing a suicide mission in an act of desperation, to protect my family and loved ones. But just because I could?! Just to lash out at someone I disliked, someone with whom I disagreed, someone who didn't believe as I did? Dear GOD! I ask You - what were they thinking??
What ARE they thinking?
Since then, my friend Travis S. Taylor and I have written a science fiction novel revolving around futuristic terrorism and homeland security, called Extraction Point! In some ways I think it was our way of trying to put things into perspective, at least for oursleves. For my part, I don't think it succeeded, although by all accounts it certainly makes for a roller coaster of a read.
What are they THINKING?
I will never understand the thoughts of the terrorists responsible for 9-11.
But I can assure you, I will never forget.