My Post-9/11 Nationwide Tour and Where You Can See Steel From the WTC
Where were you 20 years ago when you heard the news?
Anyone old enough to remember back that far knows exactly where they were when those first reports of a plane crashing into the Twin Towers came across our television sets and radios.
I had an early morning meeting outside the office and was driving to work when the radio announcer said there had been an accident and a small plane had struck the building in New York City. By the time I reached the parking lot we all knew it was much more tragic.
But, my 9-11 story isn’t about that day, it’s about the weeks that followed. It’s a much more positive story of how Americans everywhere, regardless of political persuasion, pulled together for one brief moment of unity.
As fate would have it, I became president of a national organization in March of 2001. Among my duties in that role was attending each of the seven district conferences spread across the United States.
The first of those was just 10 days later in Kansas City, Kansas. That was followed soon after by a trip to East Lansing, Michigan. From there it was off to Virginia, Oregon, Utah, Rhode Island and Texas.
Along the way there were stops in Seattle, Las Vegas, San Diego and a couple of others I’ve now forgotten before, finally, Washington DC.
Over a seven-week period I was home only 10 days. Big thanks to my family for putting up with me and the staff at work who helped make it all possible.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. One that I will never forget and will forever cherish. I would never want something as horrific as 9/11 to ever occur again but what I encountered in the days ahead was truly memorable.
My travels ended in Washington DC the first week in November. In addition to my president’s duties, I served on a national committee that met in DC annually so I’d been there the prior two years. As we flew in this time, sitting at a window seat, I could see the destruction done to the Pentagon during the attacks.
Buildings throughout the Capitol city, previously opened to the public, were now closed. Metal detectors had hastily been installed at entrances of those that were open, including the Smithsonian Museums.
I would have loved to had the concrete business. Overnight, concrete barricades popped up like mushrooms throughout the city. I can’t imagine how many tons were poured just for that purpose.
Throughout the trip, airport security we now, sometimes grudgingly, take for granted was being made up on the fly. No two airports were the same. Each was learning as it was going and making the best of what was a terrible situation.
Not much had changed at my local airport beyond more security personnel and metal detectors. That was not the case elsewhere.
Lines were long, every suitcase was opened at check-in and personnel poked through your belongings at check-in while you waited. Needless to say, lines were long.
In Philadelphia, law enforcement with bomb sniffing dogs roamed up and down those lines, performing a quick check of each of our bags.
Quite possibly the worst was San Diego which, at least then, had a surprisingly small airport considering the size of the community and the large Navy presence in the area.
I, literally, had to step over people to walk through the terminal. Flights were so delayed that people were simply sitting and laying wherever they could find a spot on the floor to drop.
Despite all that I never heard a single angry word. Honestly. There was a true sense of “we’re all in this together.” Everyone, everywhere, was patient, polite and looking out for each other.
I was interviewed by a reporter in East Lansing, one of those “person on the street” sort of things. This was only my second stop during my tour of the country, but I already had that feeling of camaraderie. She said others she interviewed had all said the same thing.
On each of my stops, people knowing I was flying all over the country, wanted nothing more than to know what other people were saying, what they were feeling. Was it possible that what they were feeling in their community was being felt by others around the nation?
The answer to that question was yes. North, south, east, west, it didn’t matter where you lived. Everywhere there was a tremendous sense of compassion and sorrow for those who had died and their families, and great feelings of support for one another.
We had been united by a common enemy. There was no us and them, no red state-blue state, just the United States.
If only we could somehow reach our arms back into the past, grab just a little bit of that spirt in our hands and bring it back to today.
See steel from the World Trade Center near you
Since 9/11, communities all across the country have received 2,600 pieces of steel from the World Trade Center, as well as other artifacts.
Near me in Iowa, steel can be viewed in Coralville, Dubuque and a display is just being completed at the LeClaire Fire Department. A database of locations where you can find displays near you is available online. There are so many displays available there’s certain to be one near you.
**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask that you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.