Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I remember 9/11

I got a phone call from my father: "Are you watching TV?  We're under attack."  I was studying for a research statistics class; my parents were on a cruise.  That's where I was when the twin towers were hit.

My parents were on a New England and Canada cruise.  They had steamed out of New York harbor, sailing past the twin towers, just the evening before.  The ship was buzzing with folks trying to get phone connections, internet connections, even television signals.  Later, my folks commented on how eerie it was to see completely empty, contrail-free skies.  Several days into the trip, when they landed at a town in Canada, the locals were on the dock, greeting them with American flags.

I was at home in Kansas.  My research statistics class had a test that evening, and it took a while to get through to the university to find out if we were still having class, which we were.  I felt a strong sense of dissonance -- the images on the television were of a disaster, very severe and very personal, but in Kansas it was a lovely day and there wasn't really any reason not to carry on with our business.  My friends and I drove to Manhattan (KS) to class, speculating on what the consequences were going to be.

Kansas State University is in Manhattan, KS, which is only a few miles from Ft. Riley.  Our graduate program has very strong ties to the Command and General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth.  About a third of the students in my class were former or current soldiers.  It was clear that they shared our shock, grief and anger, but added an additional factor -- they didn't know when, they didn't know where, but they were all sure that they, personally, were going to war, and soon.  Several had children who were also in the military.  It wasn't that they had any inside information -- they said they didn't, and although I know they wouldn't have told us if they did, I believed them.  It was just that these were men (and that day it happened to be all men), who were teachers of military history and strategy and officers learning to lead, and they had a very good idea of what was going on behind the scenes.  They shared what they felt they could. It was a very sobering evening, and the things I learned had nothing to do with statistics.

Looking back, I'm glad I spent the evening with my fellow students, rather than with CNN.  Even without all their video and interviews with "experts," I learned much more about what the fall of the twin towers was likely to mean to all of us.