Worth a Thousand Words: Remembering my generation’s Pearl Harbor

While I consider myself as having a good long-term memory, there are few days in my life that I can recall as vividly as the one 20 years ago Saturday. On that day, our entire world changed as the nation was shaken to the ground, both literally and figuratively.

I first heard the news of the planes striking the Twin Towers while driving to work. Like usual, I was listening to the Dave Ryan in the Morning Show on KDWB when their usually jovial production took an ominous turn to darkness as cohost Pat Ebertz first reported about the first plane hitting, and in mid-report giving the astonishing news that a second plane had just hit the building. As he did this, he immediately declared what everyone was assuredly thinking - “this was no accident.”

As soon as I reached work at One Hour Roseville Photo, I hurried inside and immediately turned on the TV, which only received over-the-air stations. That TV was actually only there for us to transfer VHS tapes to DVDs. Usually, our boss frowned on having it turned on for any other reason, except for during the State High School Hockey Tournament. But this was definitely an exception to the rule and he was just as fixated on the horrific images as everyone else.

We barely did any business that day. Maybe a half-dozen customers at the most, so a majority of the day was spent watching the news. And when I left work, KDWB had even switched over to broadcasting one of their sister station’s news broadcast.

Since it was a Tuesday, I did have high school sports to cover, although it was one of those times when I wasn’t really into doing it. The one home sport that day was a C-I girls tennis match. I don’t remember who the opponent was, but it was by far the most surreal sporting event I’ve ever attended. During changeovers, there was little strategy spoken. In fact, even the players were talking with their opponents about what it was like in school that day. “Yeah, we had a TV on in every classroom and we didn’t do anything all day.”

After the match, I had to go out to the grocery store to grab something for dinner. I even remember deciding on pigs in a blanket, so I needed crescent rolls and hot dogs. At the store, the credit card machines weren’t working properly, which was also contributed to what happened in New York.

At home, I continued watching the news, which was literally the only thing on, with even channels not normally dedicated to news broadcasts switching over. I remember hearing about the sudden panic over getting gas, and how prices were spiking as a result. I had just filled up my car a day earlier, so I didn’t need any. But my sister was instructed by her husband (who was actually in St. Louis in training for his new job) to fill up. This was also the primary piece of news that immediately came up locally, and I recall how Westrom’s Corner was reportedly at the center of the chaos.

The day concluded with my finally prying myself away from the TV, but not completely as I left it on and just retiring to my bedroom so I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could still hear if something else happened. 

In the subsequent days, I only remember bits and pieces. I remember lucking out and finding two American flags at either Ben Franklin or Anderson Drug and buying those - one to fly at my apartment and one for mom and dad to fly. I also remember finding an American flag pin and wearing that for a long time. I remember listening to every radio station simultaneously playing the National Anthem and us stopping what we were doing at work.

I remember how it actually seemed strange the first time I saw a plane in the air once they were allowed to fly again.

But perhaps what I remember most is how unified we all became. This was our generation’s Pearl Harbor. And like that event, we would be damned to let a direct attack on us go without severe retribution. And as we recognize the 20th anniversary of this horrific event, I hope we can rekindle some of that unified spirit, only without needing a similar event required to instigate it.

BILL STICKELS III is editor of the Isanti-Chisago County Star. He can be reached at 763-689-1181 ext. 107 or editor@countystar.com. 

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