Paul Simon Sings “The Sound of Silence” At 9/11 Ground Zero

Perfect song.

Letter From Home “Ten Years Later” 9/11/11

The place where James and I observe the 10th anniversary of the most horrific events of our lifetime is also the same place where we watched for hours with friends the madness play out on 9/11.

Now we own this home, but 10 years ago prior to having inherited it, this place belonged to a long-time friend.   A friend I knew while working at the Wisconsin Capitol, and years later James would meet and connect with over languages and classical music.

My memories of that day are etched so finely and deeply that I will never forget them.  Most people who were old enough to recall the events have a set of recollections of the most mundane things they might have done.  Any other day those memories would have been filtered way with time, but due to the gravity of events that took place on that morning we are not allowed to ever forget.

I was living in an apartment and had turned the television on as I came downstairs for coffee.  The first plane had struck  one of the towers and the smoke could be seen pouring out, but the general consensus was that an accident of some kind had taken place.

Then the second plane struck and by now I was holding my cup and wondering what in hell was happening.  Though none of us knew precisely what was occurring it was clear that some type of attack was underway. 

I called James at once as he had worked as a teacher in New Jersey, and had friends living in New York he had met while attending Vermont’s Middlebury College.  James was living in downtown Madison in an apartment as we had only known each other for 16 months and had not yet moved in together.  That huge moment for both of us would not occur until the following April.  

James was in the midst of making an apple cake and was finding he had more batter than pan.   Since we spent a lot of time together he had his apartment fitted out for basic living but somehow had not found it necessary to have a television.  So over the phone I was telling him to get his radio dial turned to WBBM-AM 780, the all-news station from Chicago that had been my station to turn to for instant information since being a teenager.  He has never been a fan of AM radio, but that morning I think he altered his feelings a bit as he listened to the news.

In those first minutes of the national tragedy, and while speaking to James we made plans for me to pick him up later in the morning.  

I called my sister, Ginger Pfaff in Coloma, and told her the news.  She was unaware that anything had happened.  She had driven a kid to school and for whatever reason had no radio on during the time.  I recall her tone and the surprise of hearing something so outlandish.

I called Mom and knew she was truly upset and not wanting to think about what was happening.  Dad had taken the car out for something to be fixed (oil change?) that morning and so Mom was, for a brief time, hearing all the news while alone.

Shortly afterwards news reports made known that the Pentagon had been hit, and it was then I called an older friend, Kaye Fauerbach, and  asked “what is happening to my country?”  Kaye had worked for years in our Capitol office as a floating secretary, and as such we had become good friends.  (That friendship would sadly dissolve after I took a firm and outspoken stand against the Iraq War and marched for my beliefs.  Something she much disproved of.)

Over the years Kaye and I had traded phones calls about every sort of news event as we both loved politics and history, but this one was so god-awful that I recall crying while talking on the phone and watching the events play out on the television.  She was nervous and yet more contained.  She had lived through World War II.

My generation, however, had never witnessed anything like this.

When the towers fell it was the most gut-wrenching moment ever to fill the television screen.  I bolted to the shower and just wanted to get together with James.  There was something about the events that played out that day which demanded connection to others. 

On the way downtown I stopped for more coffee at Borders on University Avenue and will always remember that one of the nicest guys who worked there named Parrish was arriving for work as I was entering the store.  We had talked many times in the past, but that morning we looked at each other and both just shook our heads and walked in silence through the store door.

James’ cake was cooling by the time I arrived at his apartment and we started that running conversation that would last all day and into the night, and in time would include more people along the way.  

As James lived on the isthmus we walked just a couple blocks to the Capitol Square and what struck me was the fact of how quiet it was.  People were out and yet the loudness of the city was calmed by the horror that had struck the nation. No one was yelling, or screaming across the street.  It was a serene sadness.

Signs were going up on banks and stores that were all individually created, but all with the same purpose of alerting customers that their place was closing at a certain hour in light of the news from New York.  It was something that will never leave my mind in that no two signs were alike, and yet each conveyed the sadness and the shock that all felt.

We took the cake to the home that I am now typing from this morning and talked for a long time with Henry, the man who then lived here.  We made plans to come back and meet all the others for cake and tea who were part of his salons where over the years politics, books, and movies had been the topics of grand discussions.

James and I left and wandered around for a bit and finally drove to Hong Kong Cafe on Regent Street.  The Capital Times had printed their afternoon edition and it had landed in the news boxes.  One box was outside the Chinese restaurant and I bought two copies.  On the front page a searing image of one of the towers on fire dominated all else.

Inside the restaurant the mood was so quiet.  All were watching CNN from the TV and ordering quietly and eating slowly.  There are big windows that face out onto the street, and I recall I was looking out on Mills Street and young college students were huddled and lacking the usual energetic movements that accompany such a gathering. 

Later that day back at Henry’s home a group of us gathered in the living room and watched the coverage.  Hour after hour.  The only bright spot was the apple cake with topping and the tea selection that always made Henry‘s home a perfect place to weather a storm.

That single day changed our politics, international affairs, how we fly, and the way we think.  While we still have many of those same people over for tea and dinner and conversation I am hopeful that we never again meet in this nearly 120-year-old house for a day like which we joined in friendship to deal with 9/11.

How The News Anchors Dealt With Events On 9/11

Marvin Kalb has done a remarkable interview with a roundtable of journalists who were front and center when the planes hit the World Trade Towers in New York City.  This is fascinating, and wonderful from start to finish.  I offer a snippet from Charles Gibson who was on ABC’s Good Morning America.   If you have an interest in the media, and journalism as I do then the entire event is worthy of your time.

CHARLES GIBSON, who recalled: “The first plane hit at 8:46, 8:46:54 to be exact. And we were in a commercial break. We had run over in the previous segment. We had to get ‘Good Morning America’ off the air at 8:55 and we had just a few minutes and we had to get in another commercial break. And Diane [Sawyer] and I were discussing what we would do. The stage manager had just yelled ‘One minute,’ and Stu Schwartz [Dana Bash’s dad], who was our producer in the control room, said in our ear, ‘Something has happened at the World Trade Center. There is fire coming out of the side of the building. We have a WABC traffic cam. You’re on the air. Go.’ And you, at that moment, have to acknowledge to yourself that you don’t know what the hell is happening. And I knew from the size of it that this was not some small plane that hit the World Trade Center as it occurred in the Empire State Building back in the forties, I guess. And we began to fill. And the pictures, obviously, went to the ABC traffic cam.

“We knew right away we were going to have to go to Special Report. So we broke for the rest of the nation to join us. And we said, ‘We don’t know what’s going on.’ And we were filling and talking to Don Dahler, who was one of our reporters, who lived in the shadow of the World Trade Center in an apartment. And he had called in. He’d heard a high whine before he heard something hit the building. And he was questioning whether it could be a shoulder fired missile. But it looked too big for that. … And madly we’re writing notes. When did the one-eyed Sheik, his group, you know, attack the building? How many people work in the World Trade Center? We got people running to try to get us information. The second plane hit at 9:02. And it is amazing how fast your brain works. I saw it come into frame. My first thought was, this is forest fire season in California. And I thought, maybe it is one of those planes with a fire retardant bucket hung underneath. And then I thought, ‘Where did he get that in New York?’ And my second thought was, ‘It’s a traffic copter.’ Those two thoughts went through my head.

“And then it hit. And you saw-you couldn’t see the building but you saw the fire come out the other side. And I will forever think to myself of my reaction on the air. Diane was the first to react. And she said, ‘Oh, my God!’ And I said, ‘Now we know what’s going on. We’re under attack.’ And were in the chair until Peter got in place in New York. … And Diane went to get as close to the buildings as she could. I was told to go up to 72nd Street on the Hudson River. And we had a boat there. And it was going to take us down to get a shot from the River. Of course, we got only as far as 50th-something Street and then the police stopped us. We couldn’t get there. But I remember going to the studio and David Westin, who was the president of ABC News, said, ‘Stand by. You are going to have to fill in for Peter because we are going to be on the air for six or eight hours straight. I think this is too big.’ And I remember saying to him, ‘David, we’re going to be on the air for six to eight days and maybe weeks.'”

Video: Reaction In Real Time To Events On 9/11

Over time I have viewed many more videos than I care to think about of the events from that awful day when the world seemed to turn upside down.

There is one video however that stands out.  It is more shocking I guess due to the emotions of the ones who witness the events from their apartment located not so far from the Twin Towers.  The sounds and cries ands gasps are the way we all reacted.  But their voices were recorded for us to rewind in time.

This is probably the only thing I will post about 9/11 on my blog as there is just so much all around for us to read and reflect upon.