Where were you when you heard? This will be the question Americans will ask of each other for the foreseeable future. It seems a part of our lexicon whenever significant events occur that affect us all. In what is perhaps the first such moment since 9/11/2001 the President of the United States, Barack Obama, announced that US forces had killed the man responsible for that terrible and tragic day. The upcoming ten-year anniversary of the terrorist attack on our country will have a new meaning, because while we still grieve over the event that shook our belief in our impenetrability, we can now say that justice has been done.
The President delivered a brief statement on the mission that brought an end to our frustrating manhunt at just before midnight on May 1, 2011. He made it clear that from the moment he took office, he challenged the CIA to make bin Laden’s capture or killing a top priority. He made it clear that he was made aware of actionable intelligence that confirmed bin Laden’s whereabouts. He made it clear that he gave the order to bring this decade long struggle for justice to a close. But he spent most of his time addressing the spirit of a nation, and asking yet again, as he has throughout his short tenure as our leader, that we come together in spirit.
The scene outside the White House gates was an uplifting message of solidarity and celebration, as young Americans, just children on that fateful day when planes became weapons, chanted, cheered and waved flags. They may not remember where they were when they heard about the Twin Towers, or the Pentagon, or the last aerial weapon that was taken down by brave passengers before it could reach its target. But they will certainly remember where they were when they heard that our mortal enemy was dead, and dead at our hands.
Where was I when I heard? On Sep 11, 2001 I was in my office when my mother called and told me a plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. Assuming, as I’m sure many did, that it was a tragic accident, I rushed to the break room and turned on the television. I remember thinking when the newscaster reminded us all of the bombing of the Trade Center years ago that it was wrong to scare people with thoughts of terrorism without information. Suddenly a large airplane appeared on the screen and I had just a second to think “he’s getting awfully close” when the plane turned and showed the pilot’s intent. I stayed glued to the set as the break room filled with coworkers and I remained there until the second tower collapsed. I then cried as hard as I’ve ever cried, hidden away in a bathroom stall.
Everyone has their memories of that day, and what it meant to them personally. Mine are mixed with the memories of all the years my mother worked in the World Trade Center, my field trip there in high school when I was overcome with vertigo leaning on the full length window of the observation deck, and my trip to NYC with family on July 4, 2001 when, standing at the foot of the Towers I urged everyone to take the elevator up to the observation deck to no avail. They were tired and hungry. I remember looking up at the mammoth structure and saying “next time.” I recall returning in December of 2001 as I had to go to Ground Zero. I still wear the T-Shirt I got at the Engine Co. 65 Times Square fire station as my wife and I spoke to the firemen, still in obvious shock, while they let my young kids climb all over the fire trucks. I was born just a few blocks from the Twin Towers and they’ve always stood as a symbol of American pride in my mind.
Where was I when I heard Osama bin Laden was dead? In bed, watching the Phillies & Mets knotted up at 1-1 in the 9th inning. The news scroll came on and repeated one message, over and over again: ‘Osama bin Laden has been killed, and US officials have the body.’ Soon, the crowd at Citizens Bank Ballpark started to cheer as the news reached the sold out crowd, and the chants of USA…USA….USA…. filled the stadium. I didn’t cheer, nor did I have any sense of elation. I thought “well, son of a bitch. We did it” and then tuned in to Wolf Blitzer on CNN to wait for the President.
Taken by my wife from the ferry en route to the Statue of Liberty, July 4, 2001