Jason Deal

“Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?”

So goes the first line of a song by country music star and Georgia native Alan Jackson calling us to remember that fateful day Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001.

It’s hard to believe it has been 20 years ago already.

I remember, and if you were here then, you do, too.

It began as any normal day. I was then working at the now defunct The Brantley Enterprise in Nahunta and I was on the news desk. Deadline was breathing down my neck.

I was wrapping up some odds and ends on a municipal election and a civil court case when the phone rang. I had just opened the doors for the day. It was shortly after 9 a.m.

It was our ad director, the late Dot Mims. I was kind of surprised to hear from her since it was her day off. She cut right to the chase. I remember the conversation verbatim. It went something like this:

“A plane has hit one of the trade towers in New York.”

“What?” I asked.

“I was sitting here drinking my coffee and watching The Today Show and a plane hit the trade tower,” she said. “Turn on the news.”

We turned on the radio and kept it on the entire day. The newspaper’s owner refused to allow us to have internet and television, so we had to go to the radio. Flames pouring from the first tower. Then, the second tower is hit. Then, the Pentagon. The White House and the Capitol are in danger.  A plane crashes in Pennsylvania. The towers collapse. I saw things that day I wish I could unsee.

Even 20 years later, we are still trying to come to terms with what happened. Like most other Americans, the rest of the day was filled with horror at what we were seeing, while at the same time being unable to comprehend it. What is certain, is that “normal” changed that day.  

Later in the morning, my editor called to tell me I needed to do a story on it, and not to delay, because it was big.

I am still annoyed by that statement. I admit I am not too bright, but even I realized  it was an event that would be a landmark in my lifetime. I hope I never again see anything like that day.

My annoyance would become petty and trite compared to the big picture.

I called the local leaders. One had a son in the Air Force. Another had a son who had just joined the Army.  Since the armed forces were on high alert, all bases were locked down and those folks were unable to get in touch with their children.   

They would soon learn of far away places like Afghanistan. In recent weeks, that place has come up again in our national conversation.

I talked to my parents, my grandmother and my sister and brother that day. Now that I think about it, it was just to hear their voices.

I talked to a World War II veteran. He had seen something similar on a horrific December day in 1941.

Lots has changed since that time. I’ve been here with The Times for almost the entire time since. The children of those local leaders are now veterans of the War on Terror and came home safe. Both now have families of their own. The World War II veteran has passed on, as has my beloved grandmother and my dear friend, Dot.

It took us almost a full decade, but we finally got Osama Bin Laden. It doesn’t help much, but at least it provides some closure.

One of the things that struck me that day was how we all came together. We were all united and all Americans that day. Why can’t we be that again? Why can’t we live up to our creed: The United States of America?

We have moved on, but we remember. We have returned to some sense of normal, but we remember.

We cannot forget.  

• Jason Deal is the news editor for The Blackshear Times. Reach him at jdeal@blacksheartimes.news.