Wednesday 11 September 2013

So many years later and still so clear the memories....

This was a very difficult post for me to write and I hope it will not be controversial as it is not meant to be.

Today is a the anniversary of a day that will always send a chill down my spine and I know that I am not the only one for whom the world changed that day.

I felt compelled to write about it and I hope you will bear with me as I share my memories of that day, given that I was living in America at the time, a mere 40nm from Ground Zero. The attacks that took place on the 11th of September 2001 are what eventually lead to our service men and women being called to deploy to the Middle East as part of Operation Slipper.

Where were you?
I remember exactly where I was when I first heard about the first aircraft going into the World Trade Centre (WTC). I had just come out of a shop in Norwalk, Connecticut (CT) and was heading to my car when my husband called me.  He was at work in another town. He said apparently a light aircraft had flown into one of the towers of the WTC.  I was an Air Traffic Controller in the RAAF in my younger days so immediately I started thinking of all the mistakes a pilot had to make for a flight to go so terribly wrong.  I was amazed.

I went home and turned on the TV and sat transfixed for the rest of the day.  I watched the tragedy unfold live on TV for that day and many days after that whenever my children were not around. At that stage we lived in a quiet little cul-de-sac in Stamford,  CT. The cul-de-sac led down to a little private beach front.  It wasn't much of a beach, but at night, you could look across the water and see the lights of Manhattan 40 miles away.  It was a 50 minute train ride into NY City and many people from our area commuted there every day.  

My boys were at kindergarten.  When I went to collect them I was a little dismayed to see that one of them was one of only four children left in his class - all the others had been collected early. The other son’s class had had children leave early too but not so many. I had wanted to keep things as normal as possible for my boys so I didn't want to tell them too much.   Later I learned that one of the local firemen who had rushed to NY City and had not made it home, was a father at their school.  

On the way home I stopped the car in the street to talk to a neighbour. We hadn't been living there long so didn't know everyone terribly well, but that day you stopped and checked that everyone was ok.  Her husband should have been at work in one of the towers but that day he was in Dallas for a meeting!!!   There were so many stories like that and as we all know so many that did not have a happy ending.  Almost 3000 people lost their lives that day.

In the end I had to tell my children something. I didn't want them to know that aircraft were involved as their dad had to fly regularly for work. Also, this was September, and in the December we were booked to fly from NY to LA and then LA to Sydney and I didn't want them to be afraid. I was afraid enough for all of us! I told them that a someone had blown up two big buildings and that they had fallen down.  That was enough for them.

I had to keep them away from all but the children's channels on TV.  For days all that was on the other channels was constant footage of Manhattan and Washington.  I did not want them to see the images that still haunt me of the collapsing buildings, the terrified people, the dust storm, the faces of all those lost and worse.  I couldn't take them shopping for a while as everywhere you went TV screens were tuned to the news and the images were too graphic. Every magazine and newspaper was plastered with distressing images.  I didn't want the boys to see them.  I actually managed to keep them unaware of the involvement of aircraft for a number of years, until I thought they were old enough to deal with it and not be afraid.  I didn't take them to the beach at the end of the street as from there you could see the smoke from the towers.

Like everyone in the States at that time I was just stunned.  It was bad enough hearing about all those who died, seeing the images of the relatives who turned up to search for their loved ones, and hearing all the stories, but there was also the uncertainty.  Would there be more attacks and, if so, where.  We were afraid that there would be more attacks in popular tourist areas or at special events.

We were leaving the States at the end of the year to move back to home.  I hadn’t wanted to leave.  I will always be an Aussie but I was enjoying living in the States and hadn’t been ready to give it up.  A quilter's haven for starters!!  That changed that day.  I just wanted to get home.  We had booked expensive tickets for The Radio City Christmas Spectacular on the 23rd of December.  On the 24th we were booked to fly to LA.  We had planned to spend Christmas Day in Disneyland and we were going to be home in Sydney shortly after. 

We lost confidence in our safety and we had two precious reasons to be cautious - our sons.  At that stage no one knew what the future held and with two little boys I didn’t want to take the risk.  We gave away our tickets to Radio City and flew home ten days early on December 14th.

But back to September.  The world changed that day.  The one thing that I took away from the aftermath of 911 with me was the way America reacted.  I don’t mean the government or the military.  I mean the ordinary people.  Every day flags appeared in new places.  People refused to be beaten.  The stars and stripes were painted on houses and shop fronts.  People brought out their patriotic T shirts, dresses and pullovers and wore them with proud unity.    It was wonderful.  I had always flown an Aussie flag out the front of our house.  Now I flew an American one too.  Strangers were nicer to each other.  The country seemed to band together.  I was so proud of America and so glad that I was there to see it.

I am glad this isn't a "significant anniversary" and I am glad that there are no special TV programs on about it.  I don’t want to relive what I vividly remember from the first time.  I will never forget.  I still can’t talk about it without my voice shaking and tears threatening.  I can't write this without really struggling to control my emotions.  I tried to find a picture to illustrate this post but the one I have chosen was as far as I could go.  The boys said they talked about it in English the other day.  They didn’t even remember being in the States at the time.  I am so glad.  That means they don’t remember the sadness and the fear.  We told them some of what we experienced and explained some of what we did to protect them but I could see that they didn’t really understand and that is fine.

You will never hear me complain about tightened security at the airport or anywhere for that matter.  I hope the world never forgets what 911 was and what it stands for.  Just as we don’t want to forget what caused and came from both World Wars, there are lessons to be learned from 911.  I wish some people in this world would learn them a little quicker!   And this is not to place or the forum to dissect who did and didn't cause the attacks that day.

My memories of 911 are another reason I will be eternally grateful to those who have headed off as part of Operation Slipper.  I just felt we needed to pause for a minute, on this anniversary of a horrific day in the World's history and remember those who have done whatever they were called to do in the War on Terror in order to try and keep Australia safe.

Till next time.................Thank you to all who have deployed, past and present,  to serve in our name and thank you to your loved ones and friends for what it has cost them as well.


  1. a lovely read ;-) It was so strange - I only noticed the date at about 2 o'clock this afternoon - most definitely the world changed forever on 9th September 2001 :(

  2. It reminds us all to love those and care for everyone we meet. Thank you for sharing...

  3. We had just finished watching the West Wing on TV when the coverage started. We sat up for hours watching it in horror and disbelief. We had friend living in NJ and the husband worked in NY. When I finally got through by phone he answered!
    I have a photo of my friends and I in NY when I visited them and in the background are the Twin Towers.

  4. I sat and watched the tv coverage with shock and horror, how could this be happening. Every year I have a special reason for remembering this day, my beautiful little grandson was born on this day four years ago. As well as celebrating his birth I remember with sadness the many lives that were lost and those people who have been forever affected by that day. Thankyou for sharing your experience and thoughts.

  5. Jan, that was definitely the worst day of my life so far. My husband was in ICU after a heart attack and lung collapse, and was not expected to live. I couldn't sleep that night and was surfing Foxtel to try and take my mind off my hubby. When I saw the planes hit the towers on FoxNews, at first I thought it must be a Steven Spielberg movie, but of course as the night (in Melbourne) went on, I realised it was happening there and then. The next day everyone at the hospital was walking around in shock, and I said to the ICU doctor "Ken's going to die, isn't he" and he replied "no, we think he has turned the corner and will live". The only bit of good news all year.