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September 11th Reflections

On Sunday, the Cemetery will mark the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s fitting, because the Cemetery has the Texas 9-11 Monument which has two columns from the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Our public officials have called for a day of reflection and the following are Jason and my recollections of what happened on that day.
On September 11th 2001, I was a reporter in Terrell, Texas. I was the staff police/fire department reporter and part of my daily job was to fetch police reports from the Terrell Police Department for the blotter. I was in my old Ford Ranger heading to the office from the police station when the radio interrupted normal programming and began broadcasting a CBS news feed. They said a small plane had hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. Of course it wasn’t a small plane, but they were live reporting, more reports came in and I was back in the office in time to see the second plane hit the second tower. One could be an accident, two is an attack. We all thought it. Everyone in the news room thought it, but reporters are supposed to report the facts, impartially and we didn’t know for sure at that time.
We had an 11 a.m. deadline, back then the Tribune was a daily paper, and my editor told me to go out and interview people. They wanted me to see what the average person in the street thought and oh what rumors there were. Every theory you can possibly think of, I heard. From the darkest of conspiracies to someone saying it was all an accident, I heard it all that morning and we printed it. We printed what people thought and it was one of the best newspapers I ever helped produce. It was very raw, but it was a true snapshot of that day. It was horrifying, confusing, deeply sad and everything in between. The worst I felt was the sense of powerlessness. Nothing I could do in Terrell, Texas could help those poor people in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania. All we could do was watch, just like everyone else in the country.
I heard the tears in Dan Rather’s voice as the first tower fell. I remember the utterly blue sky, Terrell was on an approach path to the Dallas Fort Worth Airport and planes overhead had become so normal I never noticed, but on that day the silence was deafening. I remember congressmen and women singing ‘God Bless America’ on the Capitol steps, I remember President Bush addressing the nation, but most of all; I felt a sick sense of powerlessness.
Ten years later and I work at the Texas State Cemetery. A big part of my job is giving tours to school children. I’ve been doing it for years along with Jason Walker, the head of the research department. The thing that strikes me the most is that some of the kids we give tours to weren’t born before September 11th, 2001. I gave a tour to a group of kids born in 2001 and one of the kids was born that exact morning. Explaining how a country felt that day is impossible, but I think we can get a little of that across to them by showing them the 9-11 monument. That’s what it’s for, after all.  - WE
As September 11th approaches, looking back on that horrific day brings back some awful memories, but at the same time brings back a real sense of pride in our country. Will and I wanted to share our thoughts and feelings about that day and the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The Cemetery had been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first burial, General Edward Burleson, we were in the middle of planning the dedication of the Gold Star Mothers monument and the arrival of the Traveling Vietnam Wall in November. Life at the Cemetery was busy. On the morning of Tuesday, September 11th, we happened to be sending out letters to Generals and Medal of Honor recipients inviting them to our upcoming ceremony. When word started getting around that a plane had “crashed” into the World Trade Center, I remember wondering if the tower would make it. Then we saw that a second plane had been flown into the other tower. We immediately recognized the United States had been attacked. We flew an American flag at the top of the hill for the rest of the day and watched the news coverage and wondered what will be hit next?
Later that day, when we took the American flag down on top of the hill, I had a feeling of pride in our country, which would be reaffirmed when President Bush spoke to the nation later that evening. And the next few weeks and months I will never forget how unified we were as a nation and think about what the country went through following Pearl Harbor. I will never forget September 11th. When we retired one of the Texas flags that flew over the Cemetery that day, I kept one of the rings from it. I still have it on my keychain today and it is a daily reminder of that fateful day.   - JW