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United States


The Anniversary of 9/11

alec vanderboom

I moved to Washington DC a few years after 9/11. It's been interesting as a historian to learn about other people's first hand accounts of how 9/11 impacted this City. We're not New York City. Yet it has shocked me at how deep the trauma remains 13 years later.

My grandfather's house is less than a mile from the Pentagon. He was an eye witness to the plane crashing into the Pentagon.

My best friend from High School lived in Pentagon City, a residential and shopping district around the Pentagon, on 9/11. She was 9 months pregnant and working at home. He husband worked outside the beltway. After the explosion at the Pentagon, every single street was closed around her house. It took more than 12 hours for her husband to get home. She spent the day afraid that she would go into labor all alone. She was scared that there was no way for her to get to the hospital, even if she called an ambulance, because her immediate neighborhood was on total "lock-down."

This year I met a veteran who was actually working at the Pentagon that day. He earned the nickname "Hit The Deck Harry" because he saved lives by calling out a warning to his co-workers before the plane hit the building. He told me that he was so close, that he could see the pilot's face before he crashed into the Pentagon. I asked him "What did he look like?" He said "It was bad."

In 2005, I was in the middle of a Catholic Moms group. It was a normal sunny morning. One of the Moms started talking about some Muslims taking pictures of a Target in a DC suburb. She was so upset that she saw them taking pictures, that she started screaming at them to stop and reported their "suspicious" activity to a Target security guard. Myself and a couple of other Moms suggested that these were probably just tourists. (DC has nothing but throngs of international visitors in the summer). The Mom violently disagreed. "Who takes pictures of themselves at Target? Target? They were planning something!"

I just saw in that moment how deep the scar of 9/11 remained, even in families far from the actual attacks on the Pentagon. The "fear scar" was deep enough that 4 years later a Mom's first reaction to seeing people in headscarves posing in front of a Target store in Northern Virginia wasn't "happy tourists or new immigrants", but "dangerous terrorist casing the joint." I said a prayer for her. I couldn't imagine carrying around that level of daily anxiety while driving with my kids to pick-up extra paper towels and peanut butter.

Update: Leila has a great post titled "Where were you on 9/11?" Check out her interesting comments.