9/11 on richardhowe.com

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, here are some items on those events that have appeared on this website:

Notes from September 11, 2001

By Richard Howe (on Sept 11, 2011)

Within days of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, I sat down with a pencil and a yellow legal pad and made some notes about what had happened. Here’s what I wrote in the days after 9-11:

When Franklin Roosevelt spoke to the country after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he said that December 7, 1941, was a day that would live in infamy. September 11, 2001, became such a day when terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, crashing two of them into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon, killing more than 5000 innocent civilians.

The story is well known. At 8:48 a.m. last Tuesday, an American Airlines 757 that had left Boston bound for LA smashed into the upper floors of one of the two towers of New York City’s World Trade Center. Eighteen minutes later, while the world was watching on live TV, a United Airlines 757 smashed into the second tower. About an hour later, an American flight from Dulles Airport to California crashed into the Pentagon. The fourth hijacked plane took off from Newark, flew almost to Ohio, then turned back on a course towards Washington, DC. That plane crashed in an open field near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The investigation has thus far identified nineteen hijackers, all from the Middle East. In teams of four or five, they boarded these planes armed with knives, razor blade box cutters and, perhaps, explosives. Much of what we know about what happened on these planes came from passengers on the planes who used cell phones to call people on the ground. Many of these conversations, related by relatives, were heart-wrenching, with last goodbyes and admonitions to take care of the kids.

But the calls also painted pictures of what happened on the planes with people being stabbed. By the time the Newark flight was taken, the whole country realized this was a massive terrorist attack. The cell phone calls from that plane brought the passengers the news that their captors were on a suicide mission. At least three passengers said they were about to try to retake the plane. Whatever happened – a deliberate crash, a bomb, or just a loss of control – the passengers on that plane are viewed as heroes, because that aircraft’s target was undoubtedly the White House, the Capitol, or some other such building.

The other heroes on this sad day were the firefighters and police in New York City, more than 400 of whom died. Here is what happened: The terrorists had planned well. They took over planes on cross-country flights early in their journeys when they were still full of highly flammable jet fuel on a Tuesday, statistically the slowest day for air travel, with fewer passengers to control. So when the planes hit the World Trade Center, each created an immense fireball of burning jet fuel. Photographs show dozens of people in proximity to the flames dangling from windows. More gruesome pictures freeze people in midair as they plummet to certain death one hundred floors below. At least one fireman was killed when such a person landed atop of him. In such desperate circumstances, hundreds of firefighters streamed into the building, laboriously climbing the stairs as thousands of the buildings’ occupants passed them as they evacuated down the stairs.

Then, about an hour after the first plane struck, one of the towers collapsed. The already weakened structure could not withstand the incredible heat of the fire, and the upper floors suddenly plunged downward, creating a chain reaction until there was nothing left but a pile of rubble and a huge cloud of dust – and thousands of dead buried within the rubble. Just eight minutes later this unbelievable scene was repeated as the second tower followed the first, straight into the ground.

Only a dozen have been rescued and there is little hope for anymore. The death toll won’t be final for weeks. More than 5000 are missing including 300 firefighters, 50 police officers and the passengers on the two planes.

Compared to the World Trade Center, the casualties at the Pentagon were relatively light: Had the Pentagon happened on its own, we would have judged it to be a devastating attack. The death toll there, including those on the plane, was about 180.

Here in Lowell, the weather on September 11, 2001, was absolutely beautiful. The sky was a cloudless blue and the temperature was comfortably warm. I had walked from the courthouse down to Kearney Square for a meeting. Someone said they thought there had been an accident involving a plane and the World Trade Center. We found a TV and saw a video replay of the second plane striking the second tower shortly after it had happened in real time. Though the second plane made it apparent that none of this was accidental, it was still impossible to comprehend: Even though I had seen the video of the plane crashing into the building, I assumed it was a small private jet because after all, we had security at our airports and commercial jetliners just did not get hijacked anymore.

I walked rapidly back to the Courthouse and turned on a portable radio. The court officers had tuned the TV in the jury room to a news channel. Many of us sat there watching as the towers came crashing down on live TV. After the attack, our internet service went down, I assume from overuse of the network. At noon, Governor Jane Swift ordered that all state buildings be closed. At 12:30 pm I went home and spent the rest of the day watching CNN.

Because two of the planes had left from Boston, the Greater Lowell community was touched by loss – Ogonowski, Quigley, Kinney, were just some of the names of those who perished. A special mass was held at St. Louis church and community vigils took place at JFK Plaza and Boarding House Park. Everyone was flying the flag, but whether the average American is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to successfully respond to this attack is still an open question.


September 11

By Steve O’Connor (on Sept 11, 2008)

Seven years ago today, I was teaching a class at Greater Lowell Tech as a few hundred miles south of us, men guided hijacked planes full of innocent people toward targets full of innocent people. When the bell rang and I emerged from my class, Bob Dick, another teacher, was standing by my door. “Do you know what’s happening?”

“What do you mean?”

“The United States is under attack.”

His look told me that he was in earnest, and I knew that those were words he would never speak in jest. He explained quickly what had happened so far, jetliners full of fuel had slammed into the World Trade Centers and the Pentagon; other hijacked planes were unaccounted for. Someone said there was a television on in the cafeteria. I had the next period off, so I ran to the cafeteria. Students and teachers sat transfixed, watching black columns of smoke rising miles into the sky above the burning towers. The camera panned in to show people leaning far out of the upper windows, driven to those dizzying perches by the scorching heat within. The camera pulled back while the stunned commentators tried to make sense of what was happening, and then, before our eyes, the South Tower crumbled into a pillar of cloud.

If you were alive in 2001, I don’t need to remind you of all of this. As Americans, as human beings, the scenes of destruction and grief are etched in our memories. Beyond that, there was the way that that day touched so many of us individually. I saw a young colleague in tears. Her brother worked in the Pentagon, and she had not heard from him. The husband of another had been scheduled to be on American Airlines Flight 11. The day before, his boss had decided to send someone else. The following Sunday, I went to play with the over 40 soccer team from Pepperell against Nashua. Before the game, both teams gathered in a circle at the center of the field for a moment of silence. The brother of one of the Nashua players had died on one of the hijacked planes. My wife told me that a young man who worked at the gas station on the corner of Fletcher and Pawtucket had also been killed. He used to say hello to her every morning as she walked to her classes at the university. On September 12th, as I entered Greater Lowell Tech, I saw school custodian and former Dracut selectman Doug Willet, lowering the flag to half mast. There were tears in his eyes. He had been a personal friend of pilot John Ogonowski.

My sister in law, Maria Elena Ortiz, had a nephew named Danny Correa. He was born in Colombia, but came to this country as a child, and grew up in Union City, New Jersey. At the age of 25, he had realized the American dream. He was near completion of a degree in Accounting earned while working as a manger in a Loews Theater in Secaucus. He applied for a job in the accounting department of an insurance firm, and was hired. His office was on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center. “It’s like working in the clouds,” he told his aunt, “I feel like I’m in heaven.”

His father dropped him at the PATH train station at 7:45 AM that Tuesday morning. Several hours later, his father and mother were wandering the streets of New York, checking the armory, Red Cross stations, hospitals, one of an army of helpless people searching for loved ones. But like so many of those whose destiny it was to be in the towers that day, Danny Correa was never seen again. His mother Marina fell gravely ill and spent some time in the hospital. The inexplicable tragedy of that day eventually tore her marriage asunder.

Danny Correa had formed a garage band called Lucid A. He played guitar, drums, keyboards and horns. He was also the band’s songwriter and lyricist. In a song called “London Kills Me,” the young immigrant had written, “London kills me in the morn. New York saves me by the dawn.” He had become a true New Yorker. Looking out from his office window on the 98th floor of the World Trade Center, he wrote to a friend, “I dance in the clouds, and soak in the haze.”

They say that the hijackers who murdered thousands that day believed they would go to heaven. I don’t think so, but as for Danny Correa, he was already there.


9/11 at Home

By Paul Marion (on Sept 10, 2016)

I waited a long time before writing about 9/11, not because I didn’t want to but because I could not find the right words. I had composed a short, oblique poem called “The Cut” that delved into the way Nature tends to heal itself when it can, the way tree bark will close up over a lost limb. There was nothing specific about 9/11 there, however, I was trying to get at the idea of loss and recovery, wound and scar. A few years later, after reading my friend Jack Neary’s tribute to his high-school friend John Ogonowski, I found a way forward. It was the Dracut connection. I didn’t know John, but I had gone to school with members of his extended family. I knew the landscape, the culture of the town we shared. We had graduated from the same college. For those of us who live in eastern Massachusetts, the brutal attack on the planes that day was searingly real. Many of us knew somebody who was killed. These were our people. Of all the projects I worked on during my time on the UMass Lowell staff, the 9/11 memorial on campus may be the one that means the most to me. The original idea and specific design came from students, and with people on campus working together we got it built in a timely way. I was glad the university yesterday re-dedicated the sculptural tribute called Unity on the East Campus along the River Walk. After several attempts, a few years ago I completed a prose poem or sketch that is an elegy for John Ogonowski, not the conventional elegy form but one where form followed content.—PM

On a rise on the southern bank just below the rocky grill of the riverbed, students at his college carved into stone his name and those of six others to remember John, who grew up to be a pilot and a farmer, who shared his land with Asian refugees who had resettled in the inner precincts of Lowell and who wanted to grow vegetables as they did in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos, places from which John had flown home hurt soldiers in the closing years of the war in Southeast Asia,

John the preservationist, who protected open space in his town whose English name is Dracut, from the 1600s, called Agumtoocooke for ages by native people for its vast forest, John, who on September 11, 2001, lifted his passengers into a “severe clear” sky, nothing but blue on the route west, John, who guided American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston’s Logan Airport, where so many of us have flown away with faith in the promise of technology, management, and civilized behavior,

John, who carried his travelers into boundless air on a day when he had as usual driven in early from Marsh Hill in Dracut to captain his plane across country, that day like any other in the late summer, not officially fall even though schools were in session, that day like no other by the end of the morning, by the end of the paper rain and ash-cloud, by the end of the twisted steel and burnt ground, by the end of John’s life,

on that day from which we have not fully recovered the bounce that had always made people elsewhere admire our sure belief that Americans could figure out a problem and invent the next dazzle, a day that moved John’s neighbors and even strangers who had never heard of him to drive slowly up the winding hill road that leads to his farm, where they heaped flowers, hand-made signs, candles, and sympathy cards in front of the wide white gate leading to the farm, piled high the cut flowers, placed in silence,

and past the white gate up the driveway a giant crane held an American flag as big as the flag that covers the left field wall at Fenway Park on opening day, and past the crane and flag was the farmhouse of John’s family, his wife and daughters, who needed him to come back so he would sit next to them at the table in the house one more time.