DeWayne's World — A day of bitter tears recalled
The first time I saw the Twin Towers was flying into Newark, New Jersey. It was evening and they were an impressive sight even from miles away.
It was 1994.
But, my trip was a one-day affair and the lure of Times Square in 1994 was too great for me to trek from Midtown Manhattan.
The second time I saw the Twin Towers in person was spectacular. On that trip I ventured right to the front doors. The Twin Towers were like mountains and the streets surrounding them deep, deep valleys.
I made the trip that time because I had interviewed Fred Kirschhock, who worked on the Twin Towers. After meeting him I wanted to see these buildings.
Standing there looking up, it made me feel very small, like looking into space in my telescope.
It was a bitterly cold day in Manhattan. But, there I stood mesmerized. The buildings dwarfed everything around them that I saw — the Statue of Liberty, even the Brooklyn Bridge.
That was February of 2001.
Seven months later when I saw the Twin Towers for the last time I found the sight of them equally mesmerizing, but for a very different reason.
There is one searing memory from that day that I don’t believe time will ever erase from my mind.
I was in my bedroom. I was getting ready to walk my grandson, Bailey, then 5, to kindergarten. Sept. 11, 2001, started as an average day.
I was getting ready and Bailey was jumping on the bed.
The Today Show was on in the background. They came back from commercial and Katie Couric and Matt Laurer announced that something was amiss at one of the Twin Towers.
Minutes later we saw the second plane hit the next tower right there on the screen. As the commentators talked about the fact that it seemed America was under attack, I called my wife into the bedroom. I told her I had to get to work, that this was going to be something big that would need covering.
At that moment Bailey burst into tears ripping our attention from the TV. He jumped off the bed and grabbed my legs.
“Don’t go, grandpa. Don’t go,” he cried.
“Go where?” I asked him trying to pull him off my legs. He held tight.
“Don’t go to New York,” he sobbed. “Don’t go where the news is. Don’t go to those buildings.”
He knew I’d been to New York earlier that year. He’d seen my photos of the Twin Towers.
It took several minutes to convince Bailey that I was not going to New York City. I explained I would cover the story from Peoria.
I was in tears as I left the house, that little guy standing in the doorway.
“You promised,” he said as I ran to the car.
At work I watched on TV as the Twin Towers fell.
I began calling people I knew in New York City. Some I got into contact with. Others I couldn’t reach.
Then word of the Pentagon attack surfaced. I talked to people in Washington, D.C.
Then came word that all air traffic was being grounded. I headed to the then Greater Peoria Airport and interviewed people being deposited there without much warning.
All the while a little boy’s cries reverberated through my brain.
I wrote stories. I answered calls. I took pictures. I attended hastily called church services that day. I attended street corner prayer vigils.
But, Bailey’s fear was always close. His fear was different from mine but we were both filed with fear.
I didn’t know who our enemy was. I just knew we had one and a devious one. I had been wrenched suddenly from my comfort zone as an American. In a span of just one day the whole world had changed.
Ten years later those feelings are still there. I am not totally comfortable as an American in the world we now find ourselves in. I’m fiercely proud to be an American, but I’m not in a place of total comfort.
The world has changed, and so have I. Bailey has changed. He is now 15, a sophomore in high school.
He is a tall, strong, courteous and friendly kid.
He does not remember his reaction to that terrible day. I’m thankful for that. But, more than anything else I remember his tears and the tears he brought to my eyes that day — a day of many tears.
DeWayne Bartels is news editor of the Woodford Times in Peoria, Il.