It was supposed to have been a day to sleep in. My youngest son has autism, and in 2001 his sensitivities and the demands of caring for him were near their all-time highs. His mother had gotten up early and taken his older brothers to school on her way to work because Goose (his lifelong nickname) had been up late. So had I.
I remember hearing the phone ring, but just missing it. No sooner had I placed the receiver back on the hook, it rang again. My wife couldn’t have been gone for very long, I thought — it was her office number on the caller I.D. screen. She was crying. Her voice was shaky.
“My God! Turn on the TV! Turn it on NOW!” She choked out, “We’re being attacked!”
I have come to believe what happened next for me is similar to what happened to millions of other Americans that Tuesday morning. I sat there, stunned into silence, as I watched the horror unfold live on CNN.
I remember feeling helpless. I remember one news report after another about suspicious activities around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I remember deciding I wanted my wife and my kids at home where I could... do what? Protect them? I probably thought so at the time, as did many others. I remember the surreal feeling in the days that followed, as the skies over DFW remained empty. Having grown up in a large urban area, that silence was deafening.
I wasn’t a journalist back then, so my memories are not those of a silent newsroom or harried attempts to cover the events of that day. They’re the memories of a full-time father of four, one of whom required an enormous amount of time and care. They’re the memories of someone who knew, immediately, that my children would not grow up in the America I knew.
The America I knew had been forever changed.
Years later I had the opportunity to visit the Sept. 11 exhibit at the George W. Bush Presidential Library on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas. It shocked me how quickly the feelings of that day returned. Seeing President Bush’s bullhorn, his jacket, the twisted pieces of steel from ground zero — the letters, the handwritten letters from world leaders, sharing America’s anguish and anger. I remember those letters most of all.
Here, now, are our collective memories of that Tuesday, 17 years ago, when life as we know it shifted, never to regain its previous footing. In some ways, we’re better now than we were then. In others, we still have a long way to go.
Richard R. Barron, Chief Photographer
I was at Ada Junior High early, taking a picture of a student and a teacher who saved his life, which we were trying to get into the paper that morning. I overheard some chatter about a plane crash in New York City and mention of a Boeing 767. My ears perked up. I only caught a couple of details, something about two planes, when I decided I needed to get back to the office so I could hit our deadline.
On the way back to the office, I heard a parcel of radio traffic. The Homer Volunteer Fire Department captain told his firefighters to fuel up all the trucks because the price of gasoline was about to shoot through the roof. I happened to be passing my usual fuel stop at that moment, so I pulled in and topped off my tank for $1.35 a gallon, and at the time, I didn’t think much of it.
Back at the newspaper, I went straight into my office, which was still the darkroom then, and swiftly worked my image from the junior high, then popped into the newsroom to let editors know it was ready and on the server. I found everyone in the conference room, crowded around the television. There it was, the smoke and chaos that became known as 9/11.
For the rest of the day, I went around town shooting images of the local effects of a national crisis.
The Ada Fire Department raised the giant flag in Wintersmith Park that normally only gets used on July 4.
The Oklahoma Blood Institute had a line out the door and down the street of people trying to donate blood.
By noon, the gas stations had lines out the door and down the street, and prices were above $4 a gallon.
I called one of my best friends, Jamie, and told her to turn on the television.
“Which channel?” she asked.
“I doesn’t matter,” I answered.
I was working at the Dodge City (Kansas) Daily Globe on Sept. 11, 2001, and I spent most of that day covering a story in Garden City, Kansas — about 45 minutes away from Dodge.
Two jet planes were forced to land at the Garden City airport because the FAA had ordered all planes to land immediately, in light of the terrorist attacks on the United States. My editor and I drove to Garden City to interview the passengers so we could tell their story — only one small part of the biggest news story of the decade.
On the way back to Dodge, we found out that the rest of the news staff was producing a special edition of the Globe, packed with wire stories and photos about the attacks. I was proud of our team’s work that day, as we scrambled to make sure our readers had the most up-to-date information about what had happened.
That night, I was eating dinner at a Dodge City restaurant where the TV was tuned to one of the major networks. The buzz of conversation stopped abruptly when the news anchor started talking about the attacks, and conversation did not resume until after the newscast had ended.
That day lingers in my mind for several reasons — the horror of the attacks, the quest to find out who was behind them and the pain of the people who lost their friends and loved ones that day.
Most of all, I remember that for a brief time, Americans were united in their determination to track down Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists and bring them to justice. That sense of resolve seems to have vanished today, and we are poorer for it.
Jeff Cali, Sports Editor
I was in The Ada News newsroom when we started getting reports of what was going on. We were, obviously, glued to the TV while trying to produce the next day’s paper as the story unfolded.
As Oklahomans, we had experienced the awfulness of the Murrah bombing, but this, of course, was on a national stage.
I have probably never watched more CNN than I did that gut-wrenching day.
Samantha Spears, Paginator.
I remember my classmates and I were ushered into a computer lab where a TV was permanently mounted on the wall near the ceiling. I remember watching clips of aircraft hitting the twin towers and thinking how terrible that must be for the people involved and feeling genuinely concerned.
However, I did not realize the political implications. At that time, I was unaware of the purpose of the towers and why it was so important that we were made to watch the news about it for an entire class period instead of going back to class.
I was in the seventh grade, so my attention was not yet on politics. Of course, I knew the basics of how our government worked, but I wasn’t all that interested in keeping up with it.
In my ignorance, my thoughts were on sketching in my sketchbook.
Richard’s memories of Sept. 11, 2001, offer an observation that’s worth revisiting.
“The Ada Fire Department raised the giant flag in Wintersmith Park that normally only gets used on July 4,” he wrote.
That’s telling. Let’s think about that for just one moment — just a brief reflection, if you will.
In the darkest hour of our modern history, when America itself was under attack, The Ada Fire Department proudly, defiantly, resolutely, took the largest American flag they could get their hands on to a quintessential Ada setting, and they raised it for all to see.
It doesn’t get any more American, or any more Adan, than that.