21 Years After 9/11

On 9/11/2001 This is True was just over seven years old. I had founded HeroicStories a little more than two years earlier, and we still lived in Boulder, Colorado.

At the time, Kit and I were disaster response volunteers for the American Red Cross. Mostly we worked wildfires. Cell phone coverage wasn’t very good in 2001, and wildfires especially hit mountainous areas hard. Our job was to go to the Incident Command of the fires and use ham radio to send information back to Red Cross’s Denver headquarters: what shelters will be needed where? What information can they pass on to victims? Whatever.

9/11 changed that model.

And among all of that on 9/11, I quickly wrote and sent out two special issues of HeroicStories. They are no longer on the HeroicStories web site, which now runs under a different publisher, so as I’m working today on writing This is True stories, it occurred to me that it would be nice to have my archive copies of those special issues back on the web.

Back then there were no photos in my email newsletters: CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) were expensive, big-corp-only solutions, and having thousands of people opening newsletters all at once to create massive calls on my own underpowered server wasn’t even an option. 21 years later, it’s pretty easy, so the photos here were never part of the issues; they are added here for the first time.

I’ll especially call your attention to the letter from the Australian girl (in the 12 Sept. section). I was able to find her and sent her a note with the URL to this page, and I hope she’ll comment.


HeroicStories: Special Edition, 11 September 2001, 3:30 p.m. EDT

This is a special issue of HeroicStories in response to the cowardly attacks on New York City and Washington, DC. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go to a news site like CNN right now!)

The Twin Towers on fire after being struck by airliners on 9/11.
Plumes of smoke billow from the World Trade Center towers in Lower Manhattan, New York City, after Boeing 767s hit each tower during the September 11 attacks. The fires in the buildings would soon weaken them to the point of collapse. (Photo CC2.0 by Michael Foran)

People need to know that we will survive this. As details emerge, we will hear of unspeakable horror — 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center, and about 100,000 people visit there each business day. There were hundreds of rescue workers helping the injured when the buildings collapsed — and certainly many were crushed underneath. The loss of life will be tremendous. But the USA is strong, and will survive this injury, as bad as it is.

It’s sobering to think that the Oklahoma City federal building bombing is now a distant second-largest American terrorism. Consider all the flashbacks the people in Oklahoma City are going through now! And all the “regular tragedy” in our lives continues — I got word a short time ago that my brother-in-law died this morning from leukemia. People need support. They need to mourn, certainly — but they will also need to heal. I hope you can help those who need to be with someone.

What can YOU do NOW? The Red Cross has made it clear that the East Coast is in desperate need of blood. If you are an eligible donor, please do not leave it to “someone else.” Blood banks are probably very crowded right now, and may be for several days. Don’t let that stop you. Wait a few days and go back. You are needed. You can help.

Smoke plume from space.
The plume of smoke from the Twin Towers was easily visible from space. NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson took this photo from the International Space Station on 9/11. (Photo: NASA)

I know the Red Cross is mobilizing an enormous force right now. I know this because my girlfriend and I are Red Cross disaster volunteers; I have been put on standby, and she has been called to New York. (We are in Colorado.) Such huge mobilizations cost lots of money. Providing shelter, and food, and clothing, and communications to loved ones costs a fortune. If you can, send a contribution to the Red Cross to help support the thousands of volunteers who are racing to help. Send money if you can; clothes and such can wait until they say they need them.

But above all, remain calm, strong, and resolute.

HeroicStories will continue to publish. We will publish and respond to the letters from readers regarding Monday’s “controversial” story — but probably not right away. We will re-evaluate on a daily basis and will publish at least the usual number of stories as our schedule has planned.


HeroicStories: Special Edition, 12 September 2001, 2:00 p.m. EDT

We’ve had a terrific amount of mail come in, and haven’t been able to get through it all. Kit Riley (HS’s former Managing Editor) and I are both Red Cross disaster responders. Even though we are in Colorado, there was plenty for Red Cross chapters all over the U.S. to do. Since most planes that were in the sky were ordered to land as soon as possible, there were a lot of stranded passengers. In Denver alone, at least 200 people didn’t have friends or family in the area and needed shelter. Kit and I worked at one very near Denver International Airport.

The mood there was upbeat; no fussiness whatever. The response from the community was fantastic. A coffee company dropped by with cases of coffee to get people started in the morning. A local Wendy’s donated huge boxes of burgers and fries for lunch; a local KFC donated many, many cases of chicken dinners; AT&T donated cell phones not only for the volunteers to use, but five extra set aside specifically for the people to use to call home to tell family and friends they were OK. Awesome.

Map showing the flight paths of the four airliners used in the 9/11 attack.
The flight paths of the four hijacked planes used in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Image created by the FBI.)

And plenty of volunteers. Our shift was only about eight hours because there were plenty of people who were lined up to relieve us. We’ve been called in again today; we’re leaving as soon as I post this. Kit was originally called to go to New York, but they canceled that — apparently they had enough people.

I just heard that there are 17,000* passengers stranded in Newfoundland alone. (That’s a province in Canada; all international flights into the U.S. were diverted to Canada yesterday. Thanks, Canada, for your very special help.) I’m sure the Canadian Red Cross is helping there, and they can use your help (donations especially).

*[2022: the early-on number was in error, and/or also reflected passengers in other Canadian cities. In Gander, Newfoundland, the number was about 7,000.]

Blood banks had huge lines. If you tried and were turned away, please check back in a few days. And don’t make it a one-time thing, OK? These days, the shortage of blood is chronic. You can donate every 8 weeks.

One common comment from yesterday’s issue was people who questioned my use of the word “cowardly.” Yes I think the terrorists are cowards! If you have a problem with someone and sneak up behind them and crack their heads with a baseball bat, that is cowardly. It takes guts to stand up to someone and tell them you have a problem. I can understand that other cultures are bothered by the U.S. In some cases, our ideal of freedom threatens despots who want to cower their people into submission. Such attacks on our freedoms only make us stronger, and the world can watch us come together. Quite simply, their terrorism does not work here.

My personal hope is that the people of the world show these terrorists that we will not be bowed by their actions. Americans will refuse to collapse in sobbing ruins, and no one will approve of mass murder of civilians, no matter what their cause may be. Take care, and there will be more soon.

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Some of our recent letters. I noticed especially that there were many from outside the U.S.:

Lisa in the U.K. responded to yesterday’s issue: “The Merchants Of Chaos are running rampant, and you just remind us that they are a great minority; that most of us ARE decent people.”

Anne in Australia: “I know no one in the USA other than my email friends. My workplace is hushed this morning, people are murmuring in shocked groups and few can concentrate on work. Please know that our hearts and prayers are with all Americans in this grim time. Thank you for your note to HeroicStories subscribers. You are right — the world must be strong in the face of this unspeakable evil. I will try to help by giving to our own Red Cross, who I know will be supporting their US counterparts. Know that your friends are with you, in spirit though we can’t be there in person.”

Tomas in Spain: “All of my family are horrified for the (insane? cruel? absurd? illogical?) attack of yesterday (there are *NO* words for that). I know you will be ‘invaded’ of tons of e-mails. Don’t worry if you cannot answer me. It’s OK.”

Indeed there will be few individual answers, and we know you all understand. But THANK YOU for your words!

Gordon in Oklahoma: “As an Oklahoma City Bombing victim family member I did have flashbacks; that familiar knot in the chest and burning anger. On this day of anger and outrage it is time for careful thought. I lived in the Middle East for six years so have some understanding of the people there. Most people are honest, hard working and compassionate. Terrorists from that region use religion as a front to mislead people, they don’t really believe any religion. Terrorism is a means to political and personal gain. Do not place the blame for these attacks on Muslims in general any more than all Catholics or Protestants are to blame for the problems in North Ireland. Religion is perverted to teach hatred; don’t fall for the message.”

Because some people get confused as to what addresses to use for what purpose, I did a quick scan of the HS autoresponder logs and found this sort-of submission, which I’ll just run unedited as a letter. It was titled “Admirable Americans” and is by O.J. Hopkins:

I am a 12 year old Australian girl, and I am lucky, because my country has not been in a war whilst I am alive. When the terrorist attacks on America occurred, I was feeling sick with shock and hatred for those who caused this. Our class had the television on all day. Everyone was just waiting silently for any news. Almost everyone had a friend or two in America.

As we all know, so many people played a part in helping the situation that we could write a million thank-you’s towards them. But the people who I think should be rewarded for the way they handled this are the American citizens. They did whatever they could, whenever they could, to help their country. My grandfather always payed big respect to the Americans when he was alive because he fought alongside them in war. But the one type of bravery he didn’t know about was that of the American citizens. There have been a lot of Heroic Stories about lending a hand to a stranger, but the whole of America should be commended for doing this. There are so many good deeds being done all over that country right now, I think we should commend these people for their courage and willingness to serve their country — not in war, but in peacetime.

So I’d just like to say a huge thank-you, because from the eyes of a child, you guys have done something amazing.

Olivia, you STILL have friends in America.

Beams of light at night representing the Twin Towers in 2006.
The “Tribute in Light” memorial in remembrance of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The lights are from two banks of high wattage spotlights that point straight up from a lot next to Ground Zero. This photo was taken from Liberty State Park, N.J., on Sept. 11, 2006, the five-year anniversary of 9/11. (Photo: Denise Gould/U.S. Air Force)

Steve in the U.K.: “This may be an unorthodox channel, but I want to say everyone over here is with you right now. Ich bin ein New Yorker.”

Anders in Denmark: “I send you the following primarily due to the HS Special Edition sent out by you, but also to show — should there be any doubt — that this horrible act is not at all considered a U.S. matter. All over the world people are suffering with you and are influenced by this — I myself have one friend in the NY area I haven’t heard from yet. In Denmark, this is being sent around in both Danish and English:

Light candles in the windows tonight to show that we feel with America and the tragedy that have hit them. Light it for all the people who have lost their lives and for their family that now are left behind, especially for all the children who will not see their parents again. Let them see that we stand together.”

If you follow this suggestion, PLEASE be careful with your curtains, and carpeting if you have pets that may knock them over! Any light will do. We don’t need more tragedy of house fires.

Ian in Malaysia: “It was Tuesday evening here in Malaysia. I was at a church friend’s place for dinner, and we had just finished a game when my dad called, saying ‘Turn on CNN!’ The eight of us watched horrified as the second tower collapsed, live, on the CNN broadcast. What started out as dinner and games ended as a prayer meeting. I’m sure similar scenes were repeated all over the world. We’re praying for you, America.”

Dave in the U.K.: “I can only image the horror faced by those, closer to the events that have unfolded today. Please accept our heart felt sympathy for all those involved with the tragic story that has affected so many of your innocent countrymen. Our thoughts are with you.”

To sum up, these writers are correct: this is not an American issue. What we saw yesterday was international hatred. It affects the world. Relax when you see an Arab; even if Arab terrorists did this, most Arabs will be ashamed of their brothers for what happened. Hate is not the answer to the problems of the world, and it won’t be the answer to this event. Be good to each other; no matter where you are, there are many people around you who need a kind word today.


2022 Postscript

As Kit and I went back to work at the Red Cross shelters around Denver International Airport, HeroicStories managing editor Joyce Schowalter took over publishing submissions from readers who told stories of people pitching in to help.

The Honorary Unsubscribe Later that Week

Passengers and Crew of Flight 93

The passengers aboard United Airlines flight 93 knew the plane had been hijacked and realized that they were pawns in a larger plot. By vowing they were “going to do something” (as one said to his wife on his cell phone before the crash), they foiled the use of their plane as a bomb the same way the two planes that hit the WTC and the one that hit the Pentagon were. The dozens of passengers — mothers, fathers, sons and daughters — were killed on impact in western Pennsylvania the morning of September 11 …or were killed slightly before that during their attempts to fight off the several terrorists.

Originally published 14 September 2001

A few days later, it was time to write the first post-9/11 stories for This is True. The story that got me into the groove is in this blog under Fundamentally Wrong. Later that day was a follow-up with reader response, 9/11: The Aftermath, and then the understated announcement of what Kit and I did as a direct result of that day, 9/11: More (but Happy) Aftermath.

– – –

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8 Comments on “21 Years After 9/11

  1. I hope you saw ‘Come From Away’ ~ the musical then film which tells the story of that stranding time in Newfoundland. And in 2001 you were my best & most solid source of information, Randy ~ thank you.

    I appreciate your kind words. I’m aware of the film (though I don’t remember it started as a musical), but still haven’t seen it. I’ll kick it to the top of my viewing list. -rc

    Reply
    • The musical is just amazing — I had the opportunity and pleasure of catching a show when it was playing downtown Toronto, and I learned so much. The Newfoundland-er accent was so well done, I seem to recall there were quite a few Canadians in the cast? 🙂

      P.S. Randy, I think the count was 7k stranded folks, vs 17k lol I think that was already enough to double the population of the town….!

      I went with the info I had at the time, but I’ll add a note to the text. -rc

      Reply
  2. Reading this brought back a flood of memories and emotions. We donate regularly to the Red Cross. I hope I never need their services.

    If you do, you’ve already paid it forward. -rc

    Reply
  3. It is interesting that you got in a tiff with your readers about the choice of the word cowardly. You do remember, do you not, that a thought on this topic was the thing that got Bill Maher thrown off his show Politically Incorrect?

    I do remember there was controversy after his comments, but had to go look to refresh my memory on the particulars. Interesting indeed. -rc

    Reply
  4. This ​brought to mind something I heard recently on our local classical music station. In the last 300 years or so, only ONCE has the national anthem of another country been played during the Changing of the Guard ceremony at Buckingham Palace: when Queen Elizabeth II asked that the Star-Spangled Banner be played after the attack on the Twin Towers. They mourned for us — we mourn for them.

    Reply
  5. The 9-11 report does contain one lie that I specifically know of. In the report they say “Who knew, who would have thought of an event like this ever happening?”

    On Wednesday, the 24th of September, 1986, the FBI held an international symposium on anti and counter hijacking, at Rhein Main Air Force Base, Frankfurt, West Germany. As part of their presentation they invited a resident expert on counter hijacking from the US Air Force in Europe, who was stationed at Tempelhof Air Base in West Berlin. The hijack operations center there had dealt with 25 hijackings over the years. This Air Force Major, who was the hijack operations center manager, gave a 45 minute presentation on their specific experiences and their lessons learned. At the end of his presentation he opened it up to questions and answers.

    One question was, what is your greatest fear about a hijacking? His answer was the fear that one day a hijacked aircraft will be used, not for ransom, or to force the release of political prisoners, but rather to crash it into a high value target. The follow on question was, what can we do to prevent hijackings? His response was lengthy, including many of the recommendations that came out as a result of 9-11, plus other procedures already in place with El Al, BA, LOT and others, and even more that are rarely in use today.

    After his presentation, the FBI agent in charge, approached him and said, “Don’t talk about that because it will never happen.” And I replied, “What did you just say?” and he repeated himself, “Don’t talk about that because it will never happen.”

    How do I know all this? Was I present at this forum? Yes, I was there, in fact, I was that Air Force Major from West Berlin.

    Dr. Kim Major, USAF (Retired)

    Denial is dangerous, and expensive (in many ways). -rc

    Reply

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