The following words, written by me a few days after September 11, 2001 and printed in The Tomahawk September 19 of that infamous year, call for no changes or amendments today, 10 years later.
The initial shock and disbelief of a nation has not so much faded as it has changed. Disbelief gave way to reality and shock turned to cold anger. We still mourn for the lives lost and for a way of life forever gone for our nation. We picked up the pieces but found they didnt fit together as they did on September 10, 2001. We made and continue to make adjustments to try and retrieve the sense of security and safety that we felt before, but find those assurances as elusive as the changing winds of time.
We cannot deny the losses sustained that terrible day. Perhaps we will never regain everything that we were. But we have adjusted and we have gained new attributes and attitudes. If we were complacent in our innocence, we are now vigilant. Where there was divisiveness, there is unity and solidarity. Our vulnerabilities have become our strengths, and the things that our enemies most envy about us have only grown stronger in adversity. Prayers have gone up that might never have been uttered, and flags fly in the skies over a free nation.
Are we a changed people?
No doubt about it.
Are we stronger?
Are we more unified?
Would we change what happened on September 11, 2001 if we could?
But we have done what Americans have always done. We have taken what was dealt to us, we have looked it full in its ugly face, and we have grown from it.
And thats what makes us strong.
Thats what makes us Americans.
SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 ~ Its a small world after all. Its a small, small world.
The words to this little tune rang clear and true last Tuesday morning. Their truth hit home in our little corner of the world and in every town and city across this great nation.
As we gathered around our TVs and watched the horror of last weeks terrorist attacks unfold, some of Johnson Countys own were almost in harms way.
Paul and Kathy Stout were in Washington, DC that morning, and, in fact, had just completed a tour of the White House, when disaster struck.
We were standing with the rest of our tour group on the White House lawn when we heard a loud noise and looked up to see a huge airplane overhead. It came right down Pennsylvania Avenue and flew over the White House. There was no landing gear down, and its nose was turned up as if it had just taken off, said Stout. I told my wife that I didnt think planes were allowed to fly directly over the White House, but we didnt have time to think about it or process what was going on as things started happening pretty fast then.
As they, and the rest of the tourists, stood dumbfounded watching the unbelievable scene unfold, guards and police ushered them across the street and then to the far side of the park. We werent really scared, because we didnt know enough about what was going on to be scared. Obviously something was going on, but we had no idea what. We overheard someone say that this must have something to do with what had happened in New York, but at this point we didnt know what had happened in New York. It wasnt until we heard a news report from a radio in a car parked nearby that we began to understand what we were seeing.
In a matter of minutes, people were pouring out of the White House and nearby offices. We realized they were evacuating the White House, and when we saw the housekeeping and kitchen crews running out – many of them young women crying and holding hands, we knew something was terribly wrong.
The Stouts watched as a cloud of smoke began to rise over the West Wing of the White House. They would learn later the plane they had watched overhead had crashed into the Pentagon building a short distance from them. Sharpshooters appeared everywhere, on top of the White House and all the surrounding buildings. The sound of helicopters, military jets and sirens was deafening. F-16 fighters were flying overhead and not far from us, a policeman was standing in the street with a machine gun.
As the Stouts watched local business people scampering from nearby offices, they, too, ran for the subway. With all the cars full to capacity, tempers flaring and fear rising, escaping the mayhem was no easy task. When they finally reached the campground where they were staying, all plans of spending the rest of the week were discarded. We packed up our camper Wednesday morning and came home. We stopped along the way and picked up a Washington Post and only then found out that the White House was the original target for the hijacked plane. We will be very interested to hear the report from the planes black box that might tell us what changed their destination. We only know that whatever hand changed that planes course, Gods hand was on us.
In retrospect, the Stouts say something they learned on their tour that morning could have made an already horrible catastrophe even worse. It seems that the White House was readying for a Texas style barbecue that evening. President George W. Bush and his wife, along with his parents, were going to be joined by about 3,000 members of Congress on the back lawn at the White House. Apparently, only a short amount of time and space stood between this event and even worse disaster.
Among the many messages from worried friends and relatives when they reached home, was an unexpected one from Senator Fred Thompson. It seems that his office had arranged the trip for Paul and Kathy Stout and wanted to make sure the travelers had arrived back home safely.
Harvey Burniston, Jr., longtime Johnson County resident and teacher at the vocational center, was also in Washington, DC on Tuesday morning. He was scheduled to speak at the USDA Conference at the University of Washington that day. Burniston and his colleagues were staying at the Comfort Inn which was only one Metro Subway stop from the Pentagon. He had, however, left the motel at 7:00 AM that morning for the university which was about five and a half miles away. We were listening to our first speaker when a photographer handed him a note. He made the announcement that there had been a terrorist attack on the Pentagon, and that he had been called back to his office, relays Burniston. After a five-minute break, the rest of the conference was canceled. It was then that I began to understand the seriousness of the matter. Knowing that his motel was in such close proximity to the Pentagon, Burniston did not know whether he would be allowed to return. With traffic being at a standstill, he knew it was useless to wait on the bus that had brought him there, and he had no idea which way to start walking, so he boarded a Metro car. The mood on the street and the subway was one of deep concern. There was no talking or laughing, just an eerie quiet, says Burniston. I never had the feeling I was in immediate danger, but the sound of F-16s and military helicopters flying rather low made one a little anxious. I knew they had stopped all air traffic, and you just hoped they were ours. Burniston was allowed to return to his motel, but the air was so thick with the smoke from the Pentagon wreckage that the building itself was not visible.
Knowing it was senseless to try to leave Washington in the midst of the chaos, he waited a couple hours before starting the drive home. Burniston offered rides to several of his colleagues that had flown to Washington, but they declined, not realizing then how long the airports would be closed. It was the kind of situation that makes you thank God you live in Johnson County. Ive lived in many places, and moving here from outside gives you a real appreciation for our home.
Burnistons brother, Jim, and his wife, Susan, are both members of the United States Air Force. They are stationed in Germany where they have been put on alert. The school on the base has been closed as a precaution, and were just waiting. If they are both called out, they will be sending their children back here to us to the United States.
Another native of Johnson County experienced the events in our nations capital firsthand. Dan Bellamy is the director of a hospital located in close proximity to the Pentagon. According to his sister, Ina, who still lives in Mountain City, the family was very uneasy about him and were not able to reach him by phone until after 10 p.m. on Tuesday night. As it turned out, he and his family were okay, but many of their friends and acquaintances were lost in the disaster. They are presently caring for several children whose parents worked at the Pentagon and are presumed dead. Bellamy himself was not able to check on his own family until everything was under control with the victims being brought into the hospital where he works. Ina Bellamy, in speaking for her brother, asks that we all pray for everyone involved, and we should all remember that its not over yet.
Ed and Evelyn Cook and Richard and Romayne St. John were in Ireland last Tuesday morning when they got news from home of the crashes. They have since traveled to Scotland without incident. They report security measures understandably being tightened, but say they have been treated very well by everyone. Wherever we have gone, people have gone out of their way to express their sympathy, concern and solidarity with America. We have been surrounded by love and expressions of God Bless America from people who are nationals of Germany, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, England, Belgium, and others, they report in an e-mail to The Tomahawk over the weekend. Ireland literally shut down on Friday for a day of mourning for this tragedy. Tonight we heard a service of healing from Westminster Abbey in London that was beautiful and encouraging. An earlier one had been held at St. Pauls with the Queen in attendance. The Cooks and the St. Johns send their love to Johnson County and ask that we pray for them as they do us. Their immediate plans are incomplete at this time, but they look forward to returning home soon.
It is, indeed, a small world. A world made even smaller by last weeks events. No longer are we isolated. No longer are we separate. The horrendous events of last week have burned lasting scars into the heart and soul of every American – in New York City, in Washington, DC and in Mountain City, Tennessee. We are one. We are the United States of America, perhaps more now than at any time in recent history.