On a cold February Manhattan morning in 1993, I finished withdrawing some cash from a bank ATM situated in the shopping arcade that connected the two giant World Trade Center towers, and caught a cab to take me from the Battery Park section of lower Manhattan to midtown.
Minutes later, the first terrorist attack on the Twin Towers took place. A vehicle loaded with explosives ,that had been driven into the underground garage, had detonated.
People were killed and injured, and damage was done to the structure—but I remember me and my fellow reporters boasting how silly it was for a small band of terrorists to actually think they could bring down the World Trade Center towers with some explosives!
Of course, they couldn’t. But they did retool and regroup and rethink—and, of course, by September 11 , 2001, had come up with a plan so diabolical that it actually worked this time: Explosives couldn’t collapse the World Trade Center towers—but airliners transformed into airborne missiles could….and did.
By the time of the 9/11 attacks, I had already moved to Southern California. Because commercial aviation was grounded for days following the attacks, it took a while for me to be able to return to the “scene of the crime.”
But when I did, the neighborhood that used to be mine, looked like another world. A large section of lower Manhattan was closed off to traffic…to people….to life itself. Smoke still rising from the WTC site filled the air and stung the eyes and burned the nose and throat. Stores were vacant. Lights were out. Traffic was diverted. Apartment buildings stood empty.
By the time I got back to New York to take part in coverage of the attacks, there was a new scare: Anthrax. Envelopes sprinkled with the potentially lethal stuff were mailed to various locations and people. Some died. People worried the same terrorists who turned our aircraft into flying killing machines, had now made our postal system an unwitting carrier of death.
The 9/11 terrorists it turned out were not behind the Anthrax attacks—though, as a reporter, I spent what seemed like months, but was probably more like weeks, trying to track this down; trying to make sense of something that simply did not and could not ever make sense.
I’ve been back to my hometown many, many times in the past ten years. Roughly ever 6 or 8 weeks. I have seen the city move on. I have seen its people go forward with their lives and their businesses. I have watched as the massive clean-up operation at the former Trade Center site , turned into an enormous and historic construction site. A new tower is being built. Though not completed, it already is the tallest structure in lower Manhattan. A memorial to the thousands who lost their lives that September day has been built. It will very soon be dedicated.
Like all reporters, I am a witness to history–sometimes joyful, more often than not it seems, tragic.
And then, there are the events that combine the two. This is one of them. That horrible day in September, 2001 was beyond tragic; beyond adequate description. But the rejuvenation of the World Trade Center site should be seen as a joyful event. It says, yes, we remember; we shall never forget; but we are moving forward–the only direction New York, indeed America, can go.