A surreal day that turns out to be all too real

The morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 began as most days do for me – with my alarm clock going off and me complaining in my head about having to get up early. (I’ve never been a morning person.)

Eventually – as I always do – I managed to get up out of my warm, comfortable bed and begin my daily routine.

I retrieved the newspaper, The News Tribune, from outside the door of my apartment and turned on the television to watch “The Today Show” as I contemplated what to have for breakfast.

What I saw when I turned on the television didn’t make sense to me right away.

Filling the television screen was live video of a burning building.

Flames were everywhere and thick, black smoke rose high into the sky.

As there was no commentary for a little while, I was confused as to what I was seeing, although it was quite obvious that whatever was happening was not good.

I flipped around to several other news channels and over the next several minutes was able to piece together what had happened.

What I had seen when I first turned on the television turned out to be the Pentagon shortly after it was struck by one of the hijacked jetliners.

I subsequently learned of the two jumbo jets that had hit the World Trade Center, although at this time the twin towers were still standing.

Still, it got worse as news reports of yet another plane crash in Pennsylvania came through.

As we all know now, that turned out to be the flight where passengers fought against the hijackers, giving their own lives to prevent yet another suicidal terrorist attack – possibly on a target in Washington, D.C.

“Well, it’s finally happened here in America,” I thought, although I certainly hadn’t expected an attack where the terrorists used commercial jetliners as weapons.

Of course, terrorism isn’t completely unknown in America, with the bombing of the World Trade Center basement in 1993 and the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Still, over the years I had been surprised that there weren’t more terrorist attacks in this country – pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless.
As bad as it was, it was about to get a lot worse.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing on television, as I watched the South Tower collapse first and then about half an hour later the North Tower collapsed.

The smoke, ash and debris that drove people down the streets away from the World Trade Center after the buildings fell reminded me of something you might see in a disaster movie.

Unfortunately this was no movie, it was real life.

Shortly after witnessing the collapse of the twin towers on television, I managed to get myself together, get in my car and drive to work.
That had to be one of the strangest car rides I’ve ever experienced.

It’s an odd feeling to be headed to work in a tall building after having just watched two skyscrapers collapse on television moments before.

There was an eerie stillness in the air and there didn’t seem to be as many automobiles on the road, even in downtown Tacoma, which is normally bustling with traffic.

Not unexpectedly, but still strange, there was not a plane to be seen in the sky.

I missed seeing the commercial and military aircraft that are a normal part of the sky here in the Pacific Northwest.

Although I was fortunate enough not to lose any friends or family in any of the terrorist attacks on that horrible day last September, I, like most Americans I suspect, took the attacks pretty hard.

After all, this was the first time the continental United States had been attacked by a foreign enemy since the War of 1812.

Even now, a year later, whenever I see the World Trade Center in a movie or a television program, I still get angry – angry that it’s not there any more and all the lives lost in a senseless act of destruction.

I’m sure my anger will fade over time, but I – and this country – will never forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.