9/11: 102 Minutes That Changed America

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If you have not seen The History Channel Special “102 Minutes that Changed America“, please, do whatever you need to do to see this video-is the real, actual  history- filmed and recorded by 102 people while the events of 9/11 unfolded on that sparkling Fall day, 2001.  This is the professionally pieced together time-lined historical footage of everyday people’s and fire, police and emergency responders’ own cell phone calls, cell phone videos, home movies, 911 calls, live news reports, and “you-are-there” eyewitness reports of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center as they actually occurred.  No “spin”, no announcers-just the raw, true, stunning, incredulous, horrified, auditory and visual reports, emotion filled and visually graphic footage of the two plane crashes, the fires, the archival record of the 102 minutes that changed America..

Over and over again, you hear 911 operators telling people to stuff material under the doors, to sit tight and wait for someone to lead them out of the building, not to leave their office, not to leave their floors, that they have every fire and emergency person headed their way.  The  South Tower Command Post Commander is heard getting the list of engine, ladder trucks and fire battalions on the way, an unbelievable list, and the Commander asking if they can keep his line open. So tragic…

Virtually everyone in Lower Manhattan, it looks like, begins walking-you can here them being evacuated, “All civilians keep moving North”! People hang out the windows, drop from the windows, and you can hear people in their home movies going from variations of, “What in the world is going on here?”, all the way to someone in his home movie with horror and anguish, “He fell out the window, oh my God!  The guy waving the flag-he fell, oh these poor people…”

I’m sorry that this blogpost skips around but I’m watching as I try to type and tell you what I’m seeing and hearing.  It’s so painful, but we must never forget these poor people who died!  There were incredible people who never knew they would be called upon to help who you see giving help to others.  One man was prepared-after the bombing in ’93, Rick Lescorla of Morgan Stanley was determined it should never happen again, and did everything he could to warn everyone that another attack, from the air, was probable.  He worked to get emergency procedures changed, and Rick trained his company’s employees with fire drills every three months, and got 2700 people out from Morgan Stanley safely.

It’s impossible to say which part of the “102 Minutes…” special is the most compelling, but this has to be seen more than once to be comprehended. the screen goes completely black at times-and all you hear are the sounds, and then there is no real sound except the sound of the buildings coming down and the visuals from different perspectives, up close, from a block away, three blocks away- of the the smoke coming out from around the buildings as they fell- the panicked people running for their lives up Church Street as the sirens wail.

“Help me, somebody, help me!”, you hear from a brown haze of swirling debris so thick that sunlight can barely be seen.  In the haze, you can hear someone banging and yelling for help. It’s chilling beyond anything you can imagine but it has to be heard, it has to be seen, and remembered,

One of the things that pains me most is simply all the footage that people didn’t even know they were filming as they ran, the crazy swinging view of the floor and the stairs as individuals and families scrambled to get out of their high rise apartments buildings. It took people four and five hours to be able to talk to their family members to let them know they had survived.

Also touching is the sight of a couple of dust covered firemen calling their families, a man who looks like a hotel manager says to someone off screen, “Everyone is dead.”, asking “Do you want to call someone?”  People just coughing and coughing, barely able to ask for water.  Whie dust covers everything-four inches thick.  Buildings that took 10 years to build fell in ten seconds.

There’s an early scene of chaos before the first tower actually fell, with nothing but police on the scene running everywhere and barking orders to a very confused looking business man in a crisp white shirt and tie carrying his briefcase, who has obviously walked out into the wrong street and doesn’t know which way to go.  He could be my husband, my brother, and the shock on his face, in his eyes, is piercing.

Thousands of people stand on the street sobbing and standing in shock, blessing themselves, praying, trying to dial their cell phones, “I’m ok, Mom!”  How grim to see and hear the sights and sounds of a busy fire batallion getting ready to enter the second tower as walking resolutely with grim faces to what we now know is their death, and the only sound is their fellow firemen already in the Towers yelling over their walkie talkies, and then a couple of minutes you watch the Tower they entered fall in a tower of smoke and dust.

From comments by one of the people who filmed, it was it was 288 from Queens. Again the sirens and the blackness and then the brown debris-filled haze.  The calls of dispatchers talking to firemen still on theway to each other over the radios, “We are unable to hear any communication”.

My heart is wrenched by the sound of the soft sobs of the young mother in the arms of her husband, so quiet and so heartbreaking, trying not to let her preschooler hear her crying after she and her husband, and the viewer watch the second tower fall from their apartment window.

Other stunning visuals: the harbor scene where the whole of Manhattan is one billowing cloud.  A dust covered man-totally white in a white haze, says to an unseen person with a rueful grin, “Thank God, I can still run-I’m 69-but I can run”. He stands alone in what looks like the end of the world.  In some ways, it was the end-the end of our country’s innocence.

Feet trudging up a debris filled street like the scene of a war movie-camera forgotten it films the littered roadway.  Clean, newly arrived firemen wearing masks, gingerly pick their way in silence through the rubble-there is nothing to do-no one to save.  They stand and stare silently in obvious shock at what remains.  There’s footage of the street obviously filmed by a woman as she escaped through the devastation sobbing quietly as she walks.  I’m amazed by the sight of a man wearing a full face gas mask carries a toddler who has nothing over his wide-eyed baby’s face.

My eyes fill with tears at the sight of the dust covered high school aged son coming into his apartment, filmed by a camera swinging forogtten on someone’s arm-perhas his mother?  She keeps saying through her panicked tears, “Frank?  Frank?”

A preschool child walks up and stands in front of her father and his camcorder, and reports what she’s noticed from the window directly to the camera, “The World Trade Center-it’s not there anymore, right, Dada?” She has no idea what she’s saying, just as old as my own son was when the Towers fell, just that sweet age when he still called is father Dada too.  He was home from preschool that day, safe in Atlanta ona gorgeous Fall day, “helping” Daddy wait for our new den carpet to be installed, a rare chance to play all day on a week day with dad.

You don’t want to believe it’s true, but it’s all too real.  You see people’s reactions, and hear them to news reports and see and hear them calling their family and friends, “Monday night football saved my life-I was 15 minutes late this morning, or I would have been inside that building”.  You see the blue sky where the towers used to be.  Watch them listening to radios, watching the big news screens in Times Square.

It’s so hard for me listening to the families-especially the family with their school age children at home who see the fire out the window.  “DAd, what is that falling-is that a person?  Oh my God!”  The woman who filmed that said she had no idea at that point she filmed people jumping out the windows to get away from death by fire. They’re watching when the second plane hits-and you hear the whole family screaming and crying- the boy yelling, “Oh no..What do we do?!” and you watch what they’re seeing, the explosion of fire spreading across the second Tower.

“It came straight down like a sand castle.”  Some families have their cameras running out the window, with small children at home who are being asked in the sweet voices Mommies use when they want to go to their rooms and play so Mommy and Daddy can watch tv, and the wife saying, “I can’t see the Tower-it’s gone, the Tower is gone!” and her husband (sounding like mine probably would) telling her they are not going anywhere.  And then they find out they have to evacuate but there is really no where to go because of the dust.

Here in Atlanta, the sky was so beautiful and the air crisp and clean-a memorably gorgeous day and I went off to teach dance at my sons preschool without a care in the world-I didn’t watch the news or listen to the radio, which is unusual for me, but I was enjoying the morning.I didn’t fully understand what happened until I left my son’s preschool and headed to my studio at Peachtree Road United Methodist Church.  It was the first day of dance classes there, and I was stopping by to help the teacher, who had been my own student from age 3-18.

Rebecca Rachelson called me as I was driving towards the studio just a few blocks away, and was crying uncontrollably because she was so shaken by what she had seen on tv and -understandably afraid for her family members and friends in Manhattan and NYC.  I’m grateful for her call to this day because it prepared me for the shocking sight I got when I approached the driveway to the Church  closest to the Preschool and Recreation Department where and my dance studio-parents everywhere, most of them fathers-a very unusual sight in the middle of a weekday morning in the Church driveway.

They were abandoning their cars and running full speed onto the playground, grabbing their toddlers and small children up intheir arms -running back to their cars and leaving.  As I waited, trying to figure out how to turn into the parking lot, a mother drove up, got out of her car, leaving it running in the middle of the street, with the driver’s side door wide open-she jumped into her husband’s car and they drove off with their child- her car was left right in the middle of the carpool lane.  You can’t believe what this represented to me-total and complete panic.

I somehow managed to park and after a quick call to my husband, called my daughter in her college in Boulder, Colorado to tell her what was happening, and then went to my studio- where I sat all day alone, not watching the tv or listening to the news on purpose so that if a child was dropped off for dance that day, I would not show any distress in my face, voice or demeanor.  A few did come but were quickly taken away by parents.

I spoke to my friend in Savannah several times because her sister had business directly across the street from the Trade Center, and her sister’s 4 year old daughter and husband had come with her on her trip, and were walking to catch the ferry to see the Statue of Liberty when the whole nightmare began.  It wasn’t until 9pm that I found out they were finally reunited and safe, and got off the phone to watch the news and saw the Towers come down.

Like everyone else, I’ll never forget that day-and the days that followed.  We kept waiting for someone, anyone to be found, but as the film of the Towers falling was shown over and over, we had to admit that their was probably nothing left to find of any of the people.  Pray for them and their families.  Don’t ever forget.

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