On Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 most people remember where they were and what they were doing.
I was getting ready to head to Northeast Philadelphia to photograph a story for the Philadelphia Inquirer where I had been a staff photojournalist since 1993. With a cup of coffee in hand, I remember being somewhere between the kitchen and the living room when the phone rang. The calm, distinct voice of Berford Gammon, assignment editor at the newspaper, came through the wire at 8:55 that morning.
“I want you to head to New York,” he said.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Turn on your TV.”
I clicked on the remote and a picture of smoke bellowing from a tower of the World Trade Center framed against the background of a cloudless deep blue New York City sky filled the screen. My eyes locked onto the grainy image as my wife stood close.
I remember saying, “What a tragic accident,” thinking a small plane probably on an early recreational flight had navigated off course. That thought vanished as quickly as it arrived at 9:03 a.m. when United Airlines Flight 175 with 65 people aboard slammed into floors 75-85 of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
The morning talk shows abandoned their somewhat empty banter as the airwaves became filled with the words “terrorism,” “attacks,” “deliberate” and “accidental” with the tone of the words unsettling and their meanings inchoate. I grabbed my cameras and stepped out the door into the cool 60-degree morning. I stopped briefly at the newspaper office to pick up extra equipment. Small groups of people were gathered around televisions sets in the newsroom as American Airlines Flight 11 with 92 people aboard was identified as the first plane to hit the 93-99 floors of the North Tower.
I was moving quickly but slowed down when I caught word hijackers crashed Flight 77 with 59 people aboard into the western façade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., at 9:37 a.m. I was stunned, and I instantly thought of Pearl Harbor and my father who had told me what it was like there the morning of Dec. 7, 1941.
As I headed to NYC, I heard that a fourth plane, Flight 93, had crashed at 10:07 a.m. into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, with 40 passengers and crew on board.
A changed skyline
As I pulled off the New Jersey Turnpike to take my first photograph, a changed New York skyline missing its coupled vertical icons filled the viewfinder. I had no inkling about the lives lost or the damage done.
The North Tower burned for about 102 minutes and then collapsed. The South Tower burned for almost an hour and then imploded. In the 9/11 attacks, 2,974 people were kiled and 10,000 others were treated for injuries, many severe.
I stayed in New York for the next seven days and photographed what followed an unthinkable event. On Monday, Sept. 17, I caught a ferry from Staten Island and photographed people heading back to the southern tip of Manhattan for the first time since the attacks. The mood was somber. Two men talked briefly. Everyone else was quiet for the 25-minute ride.
If thoughts could be heard, the question “Why?” would have been screamed loudly. The stoic face of a woman partially obscured by the scattered reflection from a window dipped in and out of the shadows created by the changing light. The world was now a different place.
After leaving New York, I spent 10 weeks in Pakistan and Afghanistan covering assignments related to 9/11. Last week, I visited The Garden of Reflection in Yardley that’s dedicated to the memory of 18 Bucks County residents and other victims who lost their lives in the attacks.
Flag found the site of memorial
According to its website, the memorial came into being on a cold winter day in 2002 as committee members Ellen Saracini, Grace Godshalk, Tara Bane and Fiona Havlish, all family members of 9/11 victims, found a tattered flag caught in the brush in an undeveloped township park. This was to be the omen that marked the spot for the future memorial.
Yardley architect Liuba Lashchyk designed the memorial as a gathering for a contemplative journey of remembrance, reflection and healing. This memorial journey leads from sorrowful reminders of tragedy and grief toward luminous symbols of hope, peace and celebration of life.
On Wednesday, the annual service marking 12 years since the attacks will begin with musical performances at 8:15 a.m. The time of the attacks will be acknowledged by ringing the fire bell, words from members of the clergy, songs and family participation. The names of the 18 Bucks County victims will be called.
A Remembrance In Light ceremony will take place in the evening at 7. The 45-minute candlelight ceremony will include prayers, music and flower placement for the victims. This event is free and the public is welcome.