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Where I was... Memories of 9-11

On September 11, 2001 I was sleeping when my telephone rang. It was my mother, telling me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City. I was up late the night before, covering the police and fire beat as a reporter for a daily newspaper, and was slated to work late that evening, too. I was one year out of college, living in a studio apartment in a little village called Occoquan in Northern Virginia.

The newspaper, a recently-merged Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger, covered Prince William County, a Washington, D.C. bedroom community of townhouses and tract housing where everybody, it seemed, worked in and around the Beltway. Some time after hanging up the phone and turning on the news to watch a second plane hit the second tower, a terrorist-hijacked plane dived into the Pentagon.

The next call was my editor: get here now.

My job that morning was to call all the police departments. The newspaper was putting out an extra edition and people wanted to know what was going on. Prince William County is a stone’s throw from Dulles International and a 20-minute drive to Arlington, Virginia. There were rumors about planes circling the airport. People were trying to leave the Beltway, clogging up the freeway. Phone lines were busy. Parents were picking their children up at school. People were rushing to the commuter train stations to wait for loved ones. It was hysteria. As many of you know, I am a sensitive person. But I managed to keep it together until I got home. That night I cried on the phone with my family. Like everyone else in the country, I was scared and emotionally spent.

The next day we had the numbers. Nineteen Prince William County residents were declared missing at the Pentagon; one at the World Trade Center. In the days that followed, when the missing were presumed dead, each reporter was given two names. Our assignments were to write about these people. To put a face on the tragedy. I was assigned Sandra White and Amelia Fields. Both civilian workers. Both mothers.

I cried in my car outside of their homes, like I am crying now. I cried in their living rooms. I cried with their husbands and their children. Today I am sharing those two stories with you. (Please ignore all grammatical errors, as I had to dig into the Old Embarrassing Archives in my file cabinet.) Click on their names to read about these women: Sandra White, Amelia Fields.

For me, today is about remembering them and how the world changed after that terrible day. A year after the attacks I had already moved to California to work for a larger, better daily newspaper called the North County Times, which is now the San Diego Union Tribune. My office was just beyond the gates of Camp Pendleton.

In 2003 there were more stories to write; more lives lost in the wars that followed. This time it was Marines with the First Marine Division. Every month, it seemed, we reporters called parents and asked for photographs of their sons. And we sat in living rooms, again and again. I was going numb for a while. And then, years later: motherhood.

The anniversary of 9-11 always brings about a sadness that keeps changing as my life changes. As a mother I’m holding my children extra tight today and worrying what will become of our world. As a human being I pray and hope we can be better.

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