Saturday, September 10, 2011

What "9-11" Means to Me

United Flight 11 September 11, 2001
Photo from
Escorting the body of
PO1 Tumilson home.
The other day I was talking to someone I know well.  I don't wish to really embarrass this person, but they made a comment to me that just floored me.  Our conversation was on my efforts to support the mission of the Patriot Guard Riders.  Eventually we discussed the upcoming 9-11 Remembrance ceremonies scheduled, and he remarked that he was "..quite tired of all that fuss over a couple of buildings".  I felt like someone had just punched my gut.  I walked away from him, and we haven't discussed much since.  I simply could not believe how utterly arrogant his comment was.  It flew in the face of all those people who died not only in the Twin Towers, but those aircraft, and even the over 6000 military lives lost pursuing justice since that day.   To that end, instead of focusing on me, my life, my family, my Harley (more on that later!), and my sometimes rather nonsensical gibberish on life here in Iowa, I decided I would write about what 9-11 means to me.

Funeral for PO1 Tumilson

That day plays in my mind like a movie.  I had just gotten my job with the D.O.T. not maybe 8 months earlier.  I had started my day like any other, brought my cup of coffee - only one - in to work along with some project files for my consulting work.  There wasn't anyone in my particular office area, although I could hear some mumbling out in the hallway about a plane.  At the time I had thought a Cessna aircraft had gotten lost in the fog and clipped the towers.  At about 7:42 AM, I remember because I looked at the clock on my computer, Mary called to tell me a larger commercial airliner had hit the Twin Towers.  The thoughts in my head were all over the place.  Maybe the pilot had a heart attack, perhaps the plane had suffered a mechanical malfunction.  Mary told me she loved me, but I could tell she was a bit upset, so as I hung up, I tried to look up something on the CNN website.  It was not responding.  Lets try ABC, NBC, CBS.  All were so overloaded they were simply unable to load anything.  Finally a coworker came in and told me a plane had hit the Towers.  As we walked to the break room, where other coworkers were watching on our tv, I just was not mentally prepared for what I would see in the next hour.

Flag line for PO1 Tumilson

To say I was shocked might be understating the obvious.  The weather was clear over New York.  Clearer than usual I thought.  Then the images started coming in of the tower, and the impact scene on the Tower.  I had taken some time while I served in the navy to visit New York a number of times.  I never got tired of that city.  I have been to the Towers, the Empire State Building, Macys, you name it.  One particular time I had gotten a little lost in Manhattan, and two police officers guided me back to Penn Station, where I eventually found my way back to Queens where I was staying with friends.  As I watched those scenes coming in, I recalled my old friends, and hoped that none of THEM were in those towers.  We continued to watch replays over and over of that first tower, until suddenly Katie Couric ( we all know her!) suddenly said "Oh My God - there is another plane!" and not two seconds later the second impact on the second tower exploded in a ball of flame, and for what seemed like hours no one on tv, in the break room, not even on the street, could so much as utter anything at all.

The Pentagon Sept. 11. Photo by

The next hours included watching the towers fall, the reports of the attack on the Pentagon, and the demise of Flight 93.  I remember thinking about the many thousands of people who worked in those towers.  I remember the sickening images of people plunging to their death from the top of the towers.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  That night too, I was almost sickened by the images and videos that continued to play on the tv, all over the news, even between friends.  That evening I was asked by my business associate to measure pavement quantities in a newer subdivision we had been working on.  I remember making those measurements at dusk, and looking up to see nothing but empty sky.  Not one aircraft was flying that night.  I remember taking pavement measurements in the view of the headlights of my truck, and just in disbelief than any human being would be capable of such utter atrociousness as to drive a plane purposely into a building.  ANY building.  I am not normally a vengeful man.  I may have problems with my temper on occasion, but that day for the first time I wanted to take the life of another person. 

In the days, weeks, months, and years since, our country has brought those responsible to justice.  The price for that has been not only the 2973 lives lost that day, but the over 6000 military lives lost since.   To me, however, the toll that not only our country but our allies have paid has been most steep.  It is not only to them I speak but the families of each one who has given the sacrifice of their life in the defense of every liberty we as common American citizens partake of each day.  It is the Canadian people, the British, even the Australians who have stood with us, and defended our freedoms and theirs.  It is to each of them I say "Thank You" for your service to your country and mine, for defending freedom, and for standing in harm's way on your watch as in the same manner that members of my family and I stood our watches.  It is those reasons that I give thanks every day, and in the hope that we never face the threat of terror or oppression again.

Peace and Love everybody!