Everybody of a certain age remembers where they were when president John F. Kennedy was shot. Now, new generations are painfully aware of where they were when the Twin Towers were hit by terrorists in New York City. Today is the 10th "anniversary" of 9/11, though it’s hard to use that word with such a heartbreaking tragedy. Photographer Wayne Glowacki and I went down to The Forks and asked ordinary Winnipeggers where they were and how they were affected on Sept. 11, 2001.
My own story
I will never forget 9/11, and watching the terrorist airplanes hitting the Twin Towers, because I had a sweetheart in New York City at the time. As soon as I saw the TV interruption, I grabbed the phone and called him. He was in his home office in Brooklyn Heights, across the water from the south end of Manhattan Island where the black smoke was billowing into the sky. He’s a psychotherapist, but answered his business phone immediately, as he and his patient were just sitting there watching the TV together, in shock. I stayed on the phone with him as we watched the start of countless replays of the events. It felt surreal and the horror of it was just sinking in for everybody. In the following months, my generous friend would see his regular patient load starting at 6 a.m., and then in the afternoons, he would see distraught people who’d lost their loved ones in the Twin Towers, for no charge. "It’s what I can do to help," he said.
I went to New York City two months later. It was still very quiet in the streets. Tourists were scared to visit and businesses were really suffering. The New Yorkers I met in bars and stores were very kind and subdued, and would often say, "Thank you so much for coming to New York." The effects on me? I don’t feel nearly as safe travelling, I worry what the world will be like for my sons, and I try to live every day to the hilt.
9/11 Memory: "I was turning 45 at the time. I saw it on the TV, before I went to work at Westeel. It was too bad... too sad,"’ he says, looking emotional all over again. "I can’t believe the first time the plane hit — just like a movie. The second time I felt so badly and sorry about all the people and what was going to happen. I phoned my cousin living in New York City and woke her up and she turned on the TV and she could see the smoke. She was crying right away. She lost two friends who worked together in the Twin Towers."
The After-Effects: "I feel safer now, 10 years later, than I did at first. It’s not much of a worry for me. But, I was afraid for a while right after."
owner of Splash Dash boat tours
Memory: "I was 42 at the time. I was running my business as usual, getting a coffee and (former Winnipeg Blue Bomber) James Murphy, who had the fish store, had a TV and I saw it when only one tower had been hit. Unbelievable! I went back half an hour later — and saw the rest. And the Pentagon had been hit. I thought, ‘There we go. It’s a terrorist attack.’ I was walking around in a daze wondering what is going on in NYC."
Effects: "It’s put terrorism on the top of the agenda in the world, and you see all the security measures. They had to catch the people responsible. That’s why they had to take out a country that sponsored terrorism. I don’t feel any less safe in Winnipeg. But I travel a lot and in Frankfurt and Heathrow airports, security walk around with machine guns. In Miami bay, coast guard boats have 50-calibre machine guns mounted on them."
Memory: "I was 59 then, in our house in Winnipeg, and my son’s a policeman. We were both watching TV and I said, ‘Oh my God, Kevin, look at the TV.’ We watched the first tower and weren’t sure if it was an accident, but after the second tower, we knew it wasn’t. I felt sick to my stomach. I watched the TV the rest of the day. It was like having a car accident. You can’t believe it happened."
Effects: "I feel very vulnerable, but I’m not really afraid. My other son works for Air Canada. It could happen on a plane; it could happen anywhere. There are horrible things going on all the time now. But, people must go on living their lives and doing things and we can’t be fearful. We travelled to the United States shortly after 9/11 and to Thailand shortly after the tsunami, for a holiday we had planned. I just said, ‘What’s the odds of it happening a second time?’"
Memory: "I was 56 at the time, a teacher at Argyle Alternative school and I was heading to work when I heard it on the radio. At first I thought it was an accident and then, with the second plane hitting, I knew it was something drastic. Within a couple of hours we all knew about the tragedy, the loss of humanity, the loss of life. Students who were 16-22 congregated in the cafeteria watching what was happening on the TV. I was thinking to myself, ‘The world has changed.’ We are allies of the U.S. and so closely affiliated that what happens to them affects us. It was like something happening to a close friend. I knew they’d get Osama in the end. I knew there’d be retaliation and the guilty parties would be caught."
Effects: "There’s a safety concern now and a feeling of, ‘What’s next?’ I realize how fragile and vulnerable we all are."
Memory: "I was 40 the day of 9/11. I worked for Salisbury House at the time and was having a day off. I was watching a program, and they interrupted to show the second plane and it was all I heard all day long. I sat there crying, watching the whole thing. My aunt in New York phoned me to say she was OK. My sons were 13 and 14. My youngest son came home from school and said, ‘Mom, 2,000 people were killed today. What about all their families?’"
Effects: "A lot more people are willing to help. My sons are 23 and 24 now and were very affected and go out of their way to help people, and me. My oldest son is in the army reserves. I take everything day by day and don’t take life for granted. You never know what will happen."
Memory: "I was sleeping late after my 20th birthday celebration," says Splash Dash boat captain and musician with the Magnificent 7s. "I woke up at 3 p.m. and went late to art school at University of Manitoba. Everybody was walking around like zombies and watching TV. It was surreal. In UMSU people were watching screens. By that time the news was out that it was terrorists. I was wondering what would be next."
Effects: "I feel pretty safe around here. I do understand the world’s at war, and, everything’s changed a lot with security now."
Memory: "I was 28 at the time, working at Dryden GM. We had a big screen TV in the waiting room area, and customers and employees were standing there. Everything came to a sudden stop. Everybody was in disbelief after the first hit, but when we saw the second plane hit, the people in the waiting room were gasping."
Effects: "Now I expect the unexpected," says Birnie who works in Winnipeg now. "I feel as safe here in Winnipeg, as I did before, but I have always believed life is short and realize that even more since. These things can really happen."
Memory: "I was 73 at the time. My husband and I were coming from Vancouver, and stopped at a lake near Edmonton. I was still in bed and my husband came up screaming his head off, ‘You can’t believe what happened!? It’s the most terrible thing!’"
Effects: You don’t trust as much. There are some horrible people — even in Canada where you feel pretty safe."
Memory: "I was 34, working at Cisco Foods. Somebody phoned me at work. I just remember my kid was 12 at the time."
Effects: "There’s still a lot of tension and anxiety. It’s something that happened 10 years ago and we’re still paying for it so the Taliban and Al Qaeda accomplished their goals. I always think of 9/11 when going to a public event."
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