On Sept. 11, 2001, I was working on the news desk at The News-Sentinel, helping put together the day's newspaper when we got the report that a jet airliner had just crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. We turned on the newsroom TV, and I watched live as at 9:03 a.m. a second plane plunged into the South Tower.
Plans for that day's newspaper changed dramatically.
That's where I was during one of the most tragic and unforgettable days in history.
Fifty years ago this coming Friday, on Nov. 22, 1963, I was a freshman at Leo High School sitting in band class in the early afternoon, also a Friday. Suddenly, the school's public address system squawked to life as a radio station announced an urgent news bulletin.
Not knowing what was coming, I facetiously stated in a mock broadcast voice, “The president has just been assassinated.” My attempt at humor turned to horror when the news report corroborated what was not intended to be a prophecy of John F. Kennedy's assassination.
Living through significant and sometimes shocking historical events can burn memories into our brains like a cattle brand. And occasionally we roll up our sleeves and compare those brands with one another by telling the stories of where we were and what we were doing at those times. There are many other significant events in the past 50 years that might create such searing memories.
Slate.com has a bracket — www.slate.com/features/bracketologist/wherewere/index.html — like a tournament bracket, of 32 events from JFK's assassination in Dallas to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Readers can click on their “favorites” to advance them through the “tourney.”
Slate co-editor Mark Reiter explains his bracket, saying: “'Where Were You When' moments tend to involve death — via natural disasters, hostile acts, the unexpected passing of very famous people, or bad things happening at NASA. Seldom happy events … they tend to be memorable because you witnessed or heard about them on television. Our criterion is simple: How deeply has the event singed itself on your memory?”
There are two other events on the list of 32 where I remember where I was and what I was doing at the time. One was Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon in 1969. My future wife and I were in the car in front of her nursing dorm on July 21 when we heard the news on the radio.
The other was when JFK Jr. crashed his plane in the ocean off Martha's Vineyard on July 16, 1999. He, his wife and sister-in-law were all killed. My family and I were on vacation at Cape Cod at the time, and when we heard the news the next morning, we drove to Hyannis Port, Mass., and walked near the Kennedy Compound where white tents were set up in the lawn for a wedding that Kennedy and his wife were to attend.
For the record, Slate's Reiter writes that he was in Mr. Kleinfelter's health class in Hershey, Pa., when he heard JFK was shot. And on the morning of 9/11 he was standing on Manhattan's Sixth Avenue, looking south with thousands of New Yorkers, as the second tower came down.