Toon with editorial

The day we grew up

We all remember where we were on Sept. 11, 2001. My panic began on the shoulder of the Major Deegan Expressway in the Bronx, New York.

On the fourth day of high school, all I could think about was being late to class. Our school bus was involved in a minor accident. We listened to the radio on a boombox — a crew of naive 13- and 14-year olds — anxious to see if our fender-bender made the morning traffic reports.

Just before 9 a.m., we were growing up. We looked south and saw smoke clouds billowing above the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Once we made it to homeroom, we listened to announcements over the loudspeaker about a terror attack hitting our city’s core.

Life as a 13-year-old seemed trivial. “What should I bring for lunch?” or “Should I try out for the basketball team?” were replaced by “Will I make it home?”

Most of us didn’t have cellphones yet, so the line to use the school’s two payphone banks was long. Bridges and tunnels were shut down. Cots were set up in the gym.

By mid-afternoon, most of the subway lines to Manhattan somehow reopened. I rode an eerie, half-empty D train with a few friends, where my dad managed to pick us up at the Herald Square station. He was home that day and snapped some photos with his camera. The towers that stood outside my living room window were gone — and so was our sense of innocence.

Every 9/11, I listen to the reading of the nearly 3,000 names of the dead. It’s a tribute to the citizens who lost their lives and the first responders who fought to rescue and recover our city. It’s a reminder of the day we grew up.

Chris Gentilviso

‘All changed, changed utterly’

I was walking out the door on my way to a day of election-related assignments when my husband called. “Are you watching the news?” he asked. I turned on the television just as the second plane hit the Twin Towers. Incredulous, I blinked my eyes repeatedly, assuming I was seeing things. Sadly, I wasn’t.

Driving to the RTD’s newsroom, the streets were eerily clear of traffic in the aftermath of the attacks. Normally bustling Monument Avenue was void of activity on a beautiful, sunny Tuesday morning. A strange quiet pervaded downtown Richmond. Not so though at the RTD, where the newsroom hustled to produce a 10-page extra edition that hit the streets in the early afternoon, providing updates and photos in the pre-smartphone era.

Political reporters turned their attention from that season’s legislative and statewide races to the terror at hand. All scheduled events were canceled. The state Capitol, Executive Mansion and the General Assembly Building were closed to visitors as police strengthened security at Capitol Square — an omen of tighter measures to come.

During a somber meeting with reporters in the conference room near his third floor Capitol office, then-Gov. Jim Gilmore provided updates and assured Virginians they were safe in the wake of the attacks. Asked about his personal feelings about the tragedy, the RTD reported, Gilmore said, “It’s not my job today to be emotional. It’s my job today to be governor of the commonwealth.”

Driving home that night, a line from a William Butler Yeats poem echoed through my head: “All changed, changed utterly.” A terrible feeling was indeed born.

— Pamela Stallsmith

A call to arms

After 9/11, almost overnight, our armed forces evolved from the guardians of a nation at peace to a full-time fighting force.

Before 9/11, few active duty members had actual combat experience. Often, military doctors, medics and corpsmen were sent to inner city emergency rooms to gain experience in treating trauma and gunshot wounds because there was little opportunity to train in military hospitals.

On 9/11, unsure of the scope of the attacks, all military installations were placed on Force Protection Condition Delta. Nonessential personnel were sent home. Many units recalled all active-duty personnel. Ships got underway and weapons systems were activated.

I was stationed with the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis. The resolve of those young midshipmen in the days following the attacks was inspiring. Although they knew they were now training for war, the knowledge only reinforced their determination to serve.

Since 9/11, those young men and women and nearly 3 million others have served on more than 5 million deployments. From that day forward, we have asked a great deal of our warriors. And they have responded incredibly. I will never forget a letter sent in 2008 from a friend in Iraq who wrote: “It would make you cry with pride if you could see what these soldiers and Marines do to help the Iraqis. Schools, roads, infrastructure are all being rebuilt. It is simply amazing. Everyone is operating several levels above their pay grade. They accept the responsibility and accomplish the mission.”

They continue to do so.

— Robin Beres

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