9/11: Remembering the day that changed America

September 11, 2001: A clear, crisp fall day in Washington, DC, and New York.

I was shooting a routine photo assignment in the District when my Blackberry went off.

“Explosion: Pentagon” the message read. I walked out on the street and looked towards Virginia. Smoke snaked into the air from the direction of the Pentagon. I loaded my cameras into my Jeep Wrangler and headed towards the 14th Street Bridge.

But police had already closed off the bridge so I headed towards Southeast DC and the entrance to I-295, which led through Anacostia towards the DC Beltway.

While waiting at a stoplight near the main gate of the Washington Navy Yard, I saw Marines armed with M-16s guarding the gate — an unusual site. I snapped some photos from the open Jeep before the light changed.

Arriving at the Pentagon, I pulled the Jeep into the grass alongside Columbia Pike. A morning commuter sat by his car. He looked dazed.

“A plane hit the Pentagon,” he said. “It just flew into the building and disappeared. Then the explosion.”

A light pole crushed the front hood of a taxicab. The driver of the cab said the plane flew so low overhead that it knocked the pole down onto his hood.

I grabbed my cameras and headed a rise to get a better view. Smoke poured out of a gaping hole in the side of the huge structure. An acrid odor assaulted my senses: Burning kerosene and something else — the stench of burning human flesh. I had smelt it before, many years ago in a far off land. It was something I hoped I would never smell again.

For the next 17 hours, I went on autopilot, shooting photos and handing the compact flash cards from my Nikon D1s to a runner who brought fresh cards and a batteries. I would be several hours before another photographer and I working on that hillside would learn that two other planes had struck the World Trade Center in New York and even longer before hearing the news that United 93 had crashed into a field.

My photos would not only appear on Capitol Hill Blue but in newspapers, magazines and web sites around the world.

And it would be early the next day before I staggered home to our condo in Arlington — only about five miles from the Pentagon.

Stuck in the door was a card from an Criminal Investigations Service at the Navy yard. I called the number. He wanted to know why I was taking photos at the main gate the day before.

I explained who I was and gave him the ID number of my Department of Defense press pass. He verified my identity and said he was sorry to have bothered.

“We have to follow up on these things,” he said. “It’s a bit tense around here.”

Yes, it was. I collapsed into bed knowing that life in America had changed on the day before and would never, ever, be the same.

(The video above was produced as my contribution to a local PBS tribute to the first anniversary of 9/11.  It was done in the days before high definition or widescreen.)

4 Responses to "9/11: Remembering the day that changed America"

  1. SDRSr  September 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    I watched the second plane fly into the tower, heard that the Pentagon was hit; figured everything was ok, after all I had an 80% it missed. Watched the towers fall while talking to my daughter in Florida. Later, my wife called to say she was ok and it was her section hit.

    So many, so lucky, so happy, so sad

  2. Jon  September 11, 2013 at 7:53 pm

    site / sight? 4th or 5th paragraph depending upon how you count.

    Possibly an unusual place for them, but more likely unusual to see.

    Please delete this comment when a correction is made or if the original was correct.

    Thankx,

    J.

  3. Jon  September 11, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I’m not sure it really did change America, actually. It definitely accelerated the creation of the surveillance state, but that was brewing from long before.

    The Dow Jones Index dropped quite a bit, but immediately rebounded. The NYC housing market glitched, but no long-term trend started there. International financial markets were barely affected (contrary to what they did to themselves ten years later).

    Presidents and Vice Bush and Cheney were chomping at the bit to start a war with Iraq long before then, mostly because (in my opinion) unrest in the Middle East means gargantuan profits for American oil companies. War meant immense popularity for President Bush’s father, and to a cheerleader, popularity is everything.

    That both soldiers and citizens died more by the response to the attack than by the attack itself (look at how many chose to drive instead of flying, despite the fact that flying is so much safer. Also look at the losses due to security theater as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan) is irrelevant to them. Don’t even look at the local civilian casualties of those wars – It’s depressing.

    Circuses are more important than bread these days.

    The security state was already brewing. Unwarranted searches and seizures were already part of a typical law enforcement playbook. That they now have a new and different justification is only another one in a long line.

    The secret ‘Star Chamber’ FISA court existed before September 11th, 2001, and it’s here now.

    Still, “It keeps us safe” – except from our own government.

    So it might have accelerated the crash of the American Empire. But it certainly didn’t cause it.
    (Read your Gibbon. Thank me later).

    No. Nothing really changed on Sept. 11th, 2001. The ideals of America were already eroding – They’ve eroded further now. The American empire was falling – It’s falling further and faster now.

    No. Nothing changed. Might have accelerated things a little.

    Four thousand people died. In that same year, thirty thousand people died in car accidents. The next year, thirty thousand more died in car accidents.

    The next year, thirty thousand more.

    So no. It changed nothing at all.

    That’s my opinion.

    Jon

    • Carl Nemo **==  September 11, 2013 at 11:19 pm

      Solid analysis Jon concerning 9/11 as opposed to the greater, protracted deterioration of America over time. Most of us focus on a single event as being the premier catalyst for change, but rarely view things in a broader perspective.

      I think our desperate plight as a nation is best summed up by this quote:

      ***

      “Here, as elsewhere, people are outraged at what feels like a rigged game…an economy that won’t respond, a democracy that won’t listen, and a financial sector that holds all the cards”…Robert Reich

      ***

      Carl Nemo **==

Comments are closed.