When someone asks you, “Where were you on September 11th,” you instantly remember. You probably remember the clear, blue sky on that sun-drenched Tuesday morning as summer started giving way to autumn. Today, almost ten years later, I learned more about what I did that day and how it affected one person who lost their loved one in the terror.
My routine at WHYY’s Morning Edition was set in stone: deadlines every ten minutes; running in and out of the studio with news, weather and traffic updates and longer, local newscasts at the top and bottom of the hour following NPR’s national newscasts. I always had the TV news on in the newsroom since “staffing” involved me and a part-time production assistant. I had to keep my fingers on the pulse of the rest of the world so I knew what was going on outside the local studio.
Moments after that bottom of the hour local segment at 8:30, I saw on one of the network morning shows, a plane hitting the first tower. I sprinted around the corner and across the hall to where my VP of News – and the man who hired me at WHYY – Paul Gluck – was in an executive staff meeting in a glass-enclosed conference room. I waved to a colleague across the room, since Paul’s back was to me; she got Paul’s attention and Paul jumped up to see why my face showed so much alarm. When I told him what happened, in seconds we established that NPR was dropping the ball – in a big way; NPR was NOT breaking into what was a re-run of an earlier broadcast hour. Paul told me to sit down behind the mike – and start talking. An engineer was rolling TVs into the studio (which stayed in that studio for all the years I remained at WHYY) and I literally did play-by-play about what was unfolding, ad-libbing as best as I could with information from the news wires and what I saw on television – telling whoever was listening that morning – what would turn out to be life-changing events. I saw the second plane hit the South tower – live. The Pentagon scene was also unfolding. My colleague, Marty Moss Coane joined me in describing what was going on. At some point, NPR finally started coverage.
At first glance, the long camera shots of the twin towers, the plane that hit first appeared small; that’s what I told people – a small plane had hit the tower. That was moments after 8:46 a.m. on September 11th. There was no time to think about how many people were listening in those seconds; I knew I had to be as calm and clear as possible. A million thoughts were racing through my mind. Not the least of which was how BIG was this disaster going to get?
Fast-foward ten years. Today, I read in the Inquirer one of the remembrance stories about the people in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County where 18 of the September 11th victims called home. Tara Bane DellaCorte who lost her husband, Michael Bane, was profiled in the September 4th newspaper. She described how she found out about the twin tower attacks.
“He woke her on their last morning together because he couldn’t find his laptop bag.
“I said, ‘Oh, it’s over here,’ and he kissed me goodbye. I can still see him walking out of the room. And I said, ‘Be careful,’ as I always did.”
Tara had a client at 9. She was making a quick bank stop on the way when “I heard — I guess it was on NPR — ‘ A small plane has hit the World Trade Center.’ That’s what they said at first, a small plane. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, I’ve got to call Michael.’
“I called his office, and it rang, but then it went to nothing right away. I called his cell, and I think it went right to voice mail.”
She realized later that Michael may already have been dead. The Marsh & Mclennan offices were right in the path of American Airlines Flight 11, hijacked en route from Boston to Los Angeles, as it nose-dived into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m.
By the time she got to the parking lot at work, the radio news had grown much worse. A second plane had hit the South Tower; there was talk of a terrorist attack.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 4, 2011)
Tara had heard me announcing that the plane had hit the North tower.
Broadcast news is often bad news. But there was no worse news than this news on this particular day. I was far removed from the many reporters who were thrown into covering the attacks in New York, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, PA. My role in telling listeners what had happened was so small – but in many ways so incredibly powerful. Many people were driving from here to there. They could not get to a television. The fact that I was the one who told Tara Bane DellaCorte that her life had forever changed, makes me incredibly sad. My job was not personal, it was professional and I handled it that way. But this day was incredibly personal. People had to know what was happening and the listeners needed to hear this horrible news in as straightforward a manner as possible. I gave them that. It wasn’t until very late in the afternoon until I finally went home to be with my family and give thanks.
This is a time to remember – to mourn – and somehow make sense of the pain that so many people have suffered for these ten years. While I will never be a part of a news event that huge, I know that what happened that Tuesday in September had a purpose. I wish I could know how many people my words reached and I wish I could tell each of them – including Tara Bane DellaCorte – that I cared, I wish they never had to feel such pain – and I’m so sorry for their loss. Reading the survivor stories now though, we learn about the resiliency of people. Their lives were changed forever – but they have found ways to remember those who were lost while forging on with another chance at happiness and peace.