19 Years after 9/11

“For heroes have the whole earth for their tomb; and in lands far from their own, where the column with its epitaph declares it, there is enshrined in every breast a record unwritten with no tablet to preserve it, except that of the heart.” [ passage from Pericles’ funeral oration, as recounted by Thucydides in his Peloponnese War.]

On September 11, 2001, during the early morning, I drove from our residence in West Orange, NJ to my client’s office in Linden, NJ. Apart from days when I needed to attend business meetings elsewhere, this was normal procedure for me. On car trips, I usually make use of the radio.

On the given day at 8:46 a.m., as I arrived at my client’s parking lot, the radio literally screamed that American Airlines Flight 11 [traveling from Boston to Los Angeles] had struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. In fact, I could hear a tremendously loud noise in the background.

Naturally, I was shocked and elected to remain seated in the car as the broadcaster continued to provide further news as he was able to receive information. Obviously, the original judgment was one of assuming that it was an accident. However, shortly thereafter at 9.03 a.m. there was a loud bang which dispelled the original thought.

Apparently, United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center. I then decided to leave my car and entered the building where several of my colleagues had congregated and were listening to the radio.

By then it was 9.37 a.m. and we learned that American Airlines Flight 77 [traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles] struck the Pentagon Building in Washington. The following chain of events followed closely:

9.59 South Tower of WTC collapsed in approximately 10 seconds.

10.03 United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

10:28 North Tower of WTC collapsed.. The time between the first attack and the collapse of both World Trade Center towers was recorded as 102 minutes.

Clearly, all who learnt of these tragedies were in a state of shock and very little work was done that day. In short order, we were able to view the tragedies on TV.

I was very familiar with the World Trade Center since it was necessary for me to attend monthly meetings on the 19th floor with the Port Authority engineers. The initial project concerned the JFK Airport while the subsequent project involved the PA’s transit system. Since the monthly meetings did not occur on the same day each month, I was extremely fortunate that 9/11 was not selected for our monthly meeting.

On the 2nd day, following the bombing, I visited the site, a most painful experience. It was crowded with police, firemen and volunteers I learnt that workers had rescued some of the people who were trapped at the site. After that, they had a new and more heartbreaking mission, to sift carefully through the debris in search of human remains. Huge fires continued to burn at the center of the pile. Jagged sharp pieces of iron and steel were everywhere.

The work was so dangerous that many firefighters and police officers wrote their names and phone numbers on their forearms in case they fell into the hole or were crushed. I asked as many questions as was possible from those present and elsewhere. The firefighter deaths on 9/11 amounted to more than a third of the approximately 1,000 emergency personnel at the scene.

It is believed that 1,344 people were on or above floor 92 of WTC1 when Flight 11 directly impacted floors 93 to 99, and all died. Some 600 people were on or above floor 77 of WTC2 when Flight 175 struck floors 77 to 85, of whom 18 escaped.

I learnt subsequently that no one survived from the floors where people jumped. According to a report from USA Today, the number was probably greater than 200. On that day, firefighters around the country commemorated their heroism by climbing 110 stories. Of the firefighters, 3 were Jewish. One of them, Steve Belson was a former lifeguard. All 3 did not survive.

Another Jew, Andrew Zucker disappeared in the South Tower’s inferno. He had distinguished himself as a hero by virtue of saving 7 survivors at the expense of his own. At least, 6 Jews are known to have perished in the World Trade Center tragedy.

As announced by ABC News, yet another Jew, Joe Ditmarr [age61]from San Francisco was at the WTC on that tragic day for a single day business meeting. He shared his harrowing escape from the 105th floor. He did this by making his way down using the stairwell to the 78th floor and then transferred to an elevator and miraculously was able to reach floor level, leaving the building as a survivor.

Among the ill feted Flight 77, which hit the Pentagon, was the deceased Barbara Olson, wife of Ted Olson, former Solicitor General in President George Bush’s Administration. The same Ted Olson, one time Jonathan Pollard’s attorney. At an emotional 9/11 ceremony gathering to remember the victims of the hate filled attacks and to reflect on the days since then, were current and former Justice Department officials.

The ceremony was gripped by a stirring and emotional speech by Olson. On the day of the attacks, Barbara Olson had called her husband from the plane relaying information about the hijacking to her husband, who was working at Justice Department headquarters.

Olson’s speech described the great impact 9/11 had on America, saying, “Sept. 11 is far more than a day that will live in infamy, as President Roosevelt said about December 7, 1941 [Pearl Harbor Day].  It was a cataclysm that reshaped almost everything about our lives, the way we perceive our country, the world, our values, our liberties, our security, our seeming invincibility within our own borders, and our fellow man. The unfolding nightmare was at once incomprehensible, yet terrifyingly real.”

He said that there was nothing but rubble, smoke, anguish, indelible images of bodies falling from tall buildings, people staggering away from destruction and the sound of sirens everywhere. “When we were able to breathe again, we had been transported to an unfamiliar world in which conditions that we took for granted had changed and the ground beneath our feet had permanently shifted”

He continued, “Ten years after the events of Sept. 11 and endless explanations and analyses, I doubt whether any of us can understand what inspires persons to commit those kind of calculated acts of vicious, wanton, mindless cruelty.”

Considering the cold hearted nature of the hijackers, he questioned, as would anyone of us, and as “How is it possible for humans to evolve into the depraved, hate-consumed hollow men who commit savage, unconscionable acts of violence not just here, but in every corner of the world, for the single-minded purpose of inflicting pain and despair, sowing panic and chaos, and inciting hatred and fear?”

Describing his wife Barbara, Olson said, “She was emblematic of America, its ideals and those who were murdered along with her that day.  She believed fiercely in the American promise that she could be whatever she wanted to be.”

He noted that his wife ,who wore many hats as an accomplished author, congressional investigator and television commentator, was most proud of her work at the Justice Department as an assistant U.S. attorney. “Barbara was a symbol of the other Americans murdered that day and representative of the spirit, energy, passion and idealism that the 9/11 terrorists hoped that day to destroy,” he said. ”These victims meant no more to them than the fuel necessary to feed the flames of their nihilistic message.  To each of us, of course, they were our husbands, wives, children, parents and co-workers.”

Olson’s speech also touched on the response that the nation and the Justice Department have been engaged in since the attacks. “We have proven that a free people can combat terrorism and remain a country of laws, liberty and equality,” he said.

Making reference to policies and laws implemented since the 9/11 attacks, Olson said, “We might not agree with all our nation has done to protect its citizens’ basic civil liberty — the right to life itself — but it has been done with a minimum of sacrifice to our other liberties.  All in all, we’ve done pretty well.”

In his closing, Olson said, “One very vital place where the challenge of terrorism and the commitment to liberty must particularly be balanced and maintained is right here, in America, in our nation’s capital, in our government and in the agency that is named for one of our cherished ideals: Justice.” [by courtesy of Jason Ryan].

Some statistics:
* The victims ranged in age from 2 to 85 years. Approximately 75-80% of the victims were men.

* As of October 2019, 1,645 (60%) of 2,753 WTC victims’ remains have been positively identified, according to the medical examiner’s office.

* Of those who perished during the initial attacks and the subsequent collapses of the Towers, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers and 37 were officers at the Port Authority.

* At the World Trade Center (WTC) site in Lower Manhattan, 2,753 people were killed when hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were intentionally crashed into the north and south towers, or as a result of the crashes.

* At the Pentagon in Washington, 184 people were killed when hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the building.

* Near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 40 passengers and crew members aboard United Airlines Flight 93 died when the plane crashed into a field. It is believed that the hijackers crashed the plane in that location, rather than their unknown target, after the passengers and crew attempted to retake control of the flight deck.

December 13, 2001 – The US government released a tape in which Osama bin Laden took responsibility for the attacks.

Understandably, for many people, the most difficult questions raised by the attacks weren’t about politics, military strategy or homeland security. Not unlike the Holocaust, or today’s pandemic, they were questions about God, about good and evil, and about the potential for darkness within religion itself. Was there something in the human response to the tragedy that suggested transcendence?

From the perspective of security, there appears to be an importance attached to chronology. Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated by a terrorist at a hotel in the neighborhood of the WTC on November 5, 1990. On February 26, 1993, Terrorists bombed the WTC and the infamous terrorist attack on the WTC twin towers occurred on September 11, 2001. Follow the dots?

” We cannot bring back the dead to life, but we can bring their memory back to life and ensure that they are not forgotten – and that we undertake in our lives to do what they were so cruelly prevented from doing. [Rabbi Jonathan Sacks]

About the Author
Alex Rose was born in South Africa in 1935 and lived there until departing for the US in 1977 where he spent 26 years. He is an engineering consultant. For 18 years he was employed by Westinghouse until age 60 whereupon he became self-employed. He was also formerly on the Executive of Americans for a Safe Israel and a founding member of CAMERA, New York (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America and today one of the largest media monitoring organizations concerned with accuracy and balanced reporting on Israel). In 2003 he and his wife made Aliyah to Israel and presently reside in Ashkelon.
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