Fifteen years ago, America was brutally shaken. Living on the west coast, having never visited New York or Washington and not knowing anyone who lived in those places (save for a few internet acquaintances), I didn't feel the events as harshly as some did. I wasn't even aware of the attacks until hours after they happened, when my brother showed me the news on AOL. He said that planes had knocked down the World Trace Center towers, crashed into a field, and hit the Pentagon. I couldn't even get my mind around the information.
I immediately went upstairs and turned on the TV. I then spent hours watching the horrifying images of the second plane hitting, the towers falling, people screaming, newscasters speculating.
I remember how little anyone knew, then. Was it terrorists? It had to be. It couldn't be an accident if it involved so many planes. Were there any survivors? People thought there might be a lot of people buried alive under the WTC rubble. There were long lines at the Red Cross, people giving blood for the living-but-injured WTC victims, who (we now know) numbered few.
Chaos. People in New York couldn't find their loved ones. There were The Missing Posters/fliers. Have you seen my sister? Have you seen my son? He worked in the North Tower. Please call 555-XXXX! There was hope that these missing people were in a hospital somewhere, merely dazed. It's so sad to think that this was probably not the case.
Between tears, we felt anger. This was, we were sure, a deliberate attack against America. What could we do? If we didn't do something, the "terrorists would win!" Some people decided wearing red, white, and blue clothes and/or American Flag shirts was the thing to do. It was silly, but we wanted to do something. We wanted to show our pride in our country, a country that was hurting so much. We wanted to be "united."
Things changed. Security tightened even more at airports. After the crash of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 (which people had thought was a terrorist attack for some time) it seemed like security in airports had gotten more strict. But up until 9/11, nearly anyone could go through the security checkpoints. You could go right to the gates to see someone off, or welcome someone who was arriving. After 9/11, and ever since -- nope. Not without a ticket, you don't. And now they lock the cockpits on planes.
We were all super sensitive in that first year or two or three. Sensitive to anything to do with New York City, terrorists, bombs, airplanes, or even tall buildings. I remember a debate as to whether they should change the name of the upcoming second Lord Of The Rings Movie, The Two Towers (adapted from a book published in 1954), to something that didn't remind people of 9/11.
If you turned on the TV in the days and weeks that followed the tragedy, you'd usually be seeing some version of the news, something about 9/11. September is normally when new TV shows premiere, but a lot of those shows got pushed back a month or more. Shows that had "terrorist" or even "airplane" elements to them were edited to remove anything that might potentially upset people. I remember NBC aired Back To The Future in the weeks after 9/11, and the terrorists-in-the-parking-lot scene was so edited down, you would have thought Marty McFly went back in time just for the heck of it.
For a long time after the attacks, we looked for heroes. We began to elevate the first responders (firefighters, police officers, etc.) who either ran into the WTC without blinking or lost their colleagues on that day. Actually, anyone on the planet who was a police officer or firefighter could have our hero worship after 9/11.
Even Rudy Giuliani, then-mayor of NYC, got to be a hero for a while. He helped out and boosted morale until such a time as everyone remembered he was actually pretty terrible.
Americans were still pretty raw a year later, when the 1-year-memorials aired. I remember watching one broadcast where they listed the names of everyone who had died in the attacks that day.
I remember ABC did an episode of one of their news programs that featured all the babies who had been born in the months after 9/11, whose fathers had died in the attacks. Their moms were pregnant with them on 9/11/01. Some were far along; others weren't even aware they were pregnant on that day. I have the episode on tape somewhere, and it always makes me cry. Most of those kids have now just started high school. (Here's a video from when they were all 9 or 10.)
Fifteen years. What a day. What a decade and a half.