I was nowhere near the Twin Towers on September 11th. Like many of us, I was almost 3000 miles away (2820 to be exact). I watched the towers come down like many of us and thought it was a movie or an animation. I didn’t seem real. But it was.
A week later it came home a little bit closer. I was having lunch with a Navy friend. He didn’t seem to be himself. It turned out he had transferred from the Pentagon on September 7th, the previous Friday. The plane hit his office. The guy who took his job it turned out was an acquaintance of mine. If it hadn’t been Sam, it had to be Bob.
The next year I had dinner with another Navy friend. He brought his sister with him, who was a firefighter. Her husband had been a firefighter as well and he went to New York to help. He died a few months after he returned from the toxins he had accumulated at the Twin Tower site.
Then I read the September 11th report. It turns out that one of my grad school professors was the executive director of the report. I think he did a credible job…
Finally, as time wore on, the death toll began to mount. Not perhaps for those directly connected to the Twin Towers but rather to its aftermath.
There is a hallway in my old building at the Naval Amphibious Base. At one time, we had photos of Spec Ops sailors diving, parachuting, and blowing things up. Fun stuff. Those photos were taken down in the aftermath of the Twin Towers.
Instead, the hallway had perhaps two dozen photographs of dead Spec Ops sailors. All of them sacrificed on the altar of directly combating a nebulous enemy, combatting an idea. And we eventually found that this phantom enemy of terror can germinate in the most unlikely of places – in Oklahoma City or even on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol.
I knew many of those sailors, not all, but many. Saw them grow and become professionals. And now they were no more.
As Hilary Mantel hinted in her second Cromwell book, to understand what has happened you need to bring up the bodies. And then ask why.