Most of us have moments from 9-11 permanently etched in our minds. Like many, I first heard from Bob Bonner that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. After his bulletin we turned on a TV in our studio and watched the surreal scene of the second plane crash. At that point we decided Magic listeners would best be served by wall-to-wall information, so for the better part of two days we broadcast CNN audio. It's dark in September when I arrive at Magic, and I will never forget seeing a huge, brilliantly lit American flag on the Beltline as I drove to the station the next morning. We opened our show with Paul Simon's "American Tune," with it's reference to the Statue of Liberty. Then, caring and concerned Magic 98 listeners took over, phoning in thoughtful observations. One of Bob's friends is a psychologist, who joined us on-air with helpful information on dealing with kids during such a stressful time. Production Director Paul Blair brilliantly captured audio from New York and Washington for Magic's audience. I wrote this piece for the Magic website a year later.
It was my first visit to New York City. August of 2001, just a month before the terrorist attacks. My wife and daughter and I did the things visitors to New York usually do. Broadway shows, a sandwich at Rupert Jee’s deli just around the corner from David Letterman’s studio, a drive through Central Park. While my family was occupied in the garment district, I toured NBC. On our way to hop the ferry for the Statue of Liberty trip…and doing 50 mph, thanks to our New York cab driver…we zoomed past the World Trade Center complex, never dreaming what would happen on that very spot a few weeks later.
Our vacation ended way too soon, as most vacations do. We loved our visit and we discarded our stereotypes of New York. The energy and excitement of this city is found nowhere else.
As we watched the attack a month later, it was eerie to think…”I was just there.”
A year later, August 2002, the three of us piled in the car for a long drive east, this time to look at college opportunities for my daughter. We toured several schools up and down the East Coast, then drove into Manhattan…an experience in itself. We arrived late afternoon, checked into our hotel, hailed a cab and headed to Ground Zero.
The cabby said nothing…clearly, he’d made the drive hundreds of times. He dropped us off in front of St. Paul’s Chapel, the oldest public building in New York. George Washington attended services there. It’s surrounded by a beautiful wrought-iron fence, about 12 feet high. Every inch is covered with a child’s artwork for a missing parent, a friend’s poem, pictures. Ballet slippers hang next to fireman’s boots. There’s a T-shirt sent from the Reedsburg, Wisconsin fire department.
My family joined the dozens of other people taking the emotional walk around this memorial. Ground Zero is bigger than it appears on TV. Hundreds of people are there around the clock. We introduced ourselves to a young policeman. His name was Chris, and he spent an hour telling us about September 11th.
He was testifying in a nearby courtroom when the first terrorist airplane hit. He raced to the scene, assisting a woman suffering an apparent heart attack. Concerned that buildings were in danger, he argued with a reporter to leave the scene…but the reporter, working for the Wall Street Journal, was on-the-air with CNN and refused to leave his vantage point, locking himself in an office.
I asked Chris to do an interview with us on Magic 98, knowing he might feel awkward doing so. As a police officer, he’s not allowed to comment on-the-record. Unofficially, he’s another example of the people that served above and beyond that day. He would be uncomfortable with the label “hero.”
What for him was just another conversation with a visitor to New York, was for my family a moving and meaningful visit with someone that was there. As this officer wondered out loud whether people thousands of miles away from New York cared about what had happened there, we let him know that this place was close to our hearts before all this happened…and it’s even closer now. We will never forget.