Friday, September 11, 2009

The Worst Day Ever

The worst day in the history of the United States of America began as a bright, clear, calm Tuesday here at TigerBlog HQ.

Sept. 11, 2001, featured one of the most spectacularly beautiful mornings anyone would ever see. It's why TigerBlog immediately thought the worst as he dropped TigerBlog Jr. off at pre-school shortly before 9 a.m. and was told by a woman who worked in the office there that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center.

"How could a plane not see the World Trade Center on a morning like this? We can almost see the Twin Towers from here, it's so clear out."

The University League Nursery School sits across FitzRandolph from the Jadwin Gym parking lot. It's a two-minute drive; for that matter, it's about a five-minute walk. Between U-League and Jadwin, TigerBlog began to hear details and rumors while listening to "Imus In The Morning" on WFAN, a sports radio station - a Cessna had accidentally hit the Trade Center; no, it was a commercial plane.

TB was greeted by John Mack, who is now an associate athletic director at Northwestern, when he went into the building. John was at the top of the stairs by the balcony, and he flashed a big smile and gave his usual greeting. It was easy to tell those who heard something was wrong from those who hadn't.

It wasn't long after that that it all began to play out. The second plane hit the other tower. Reports came in of another plane that hit the Pentagon. Another plane had crashedin Shanksville, Pa., which sounded an awful lot like "Schwenksville, Pa.," where TB has family.

At the time, nobody had any way of knowing that those would be the only four affected planes. TB began to wonder how many other planes were going to be coming down, when it would end.

The only other day that can rival Sept. 11, 2001, in American history is obviously Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and drew the U.S. into World War II, where 415,000 American servicemen were killed. You can also make a case that U.S. involvement the war was inevitable, even without the Pearl Harbor attack. Plus, the actual attack was on military targets, not on innocent civilians who were either at work or flying cross country.

TigerBlog grew up hearing about how nobody would ever forget where they were when they found out President Kennedy was assassinated, but after awhile, that seemed to become something of a punchline, a skit on Saturday Night Live. TB understands it much better now, with every detail of that day still crystal clear even eight years later.

That athletic year at Princeton was just starting up, as it is now. That day was supposed to be a day to finalize the football game program in advance of the season-opener against Lafayette four days later, a game that like every other college or pro game scheduled for that weekend would not be played.

At the time, there was no way of knowing if the game would be played, so the program had to be done, though no one's heart was in it. Instead, most of the day was spent in the athletic training room in Caldwell Field House, where the only television at the time was.

Thoughts quickly turned to those whom TB knew who might be in the Trade Center. FatherBlog works in Midtown; was he okay? There were plenty of people from college who worked down there. There were any number of former Princeton athletes, especially in football and lacrosse.

As it turned out, Princeton lost two former athletes that day, a women's squash player and a men's lacrosse player. TigerBlog has seen the father of the lacrosse player (John Schroeder, who was on Princeton's first NCAA championship team in 1992) talk to the more recent Tiger teams and can't even begin to imagine what that day was like for him, for so many others who lost people close to them.

There were so many others who lived to tell harrowing stories of escaping from the disaster. TigerBlog caught up two days after 9/11 with Dan Swingos, who had been the captain of the first Princeton team in the new stadium in 1998, and wrote a story about how he had gotten out of the second tower and what he had seen.

Like every other American, TigerBlog assumed that this was just the start, that other attacks were sure to follow. Now, eight years later, the country has not seen another attack, and TB fears that it is blurring what happened on that day.

TB read today stories about how people are remembering 9/11 with a day of community service. It's not what today should be about. Today should be about remembering what happened, remembering those horrible images, remembering the ones who aren't here anymore, thinking about all the little kids within a short drive of here who never got to meet one of their parents.

TigerBlog went back to U-League in the afternoon to pick up TBJ and found him playing on the swings with the other kids. They were just kids, with no idea what had taken place that day. It was quite a scene, of innocence on a playground in a country that no longer had any.

As each 9/11 has passed, TigerBlog has dreaded the day, dreaded the sight of the pictures again, dreaded the memory of that day and the days that followed. Dreaded it, but determined never to forget.

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