Friday, September 23, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Never Forget

Yesterday, I blogged about The Falling Man and my recollections of 9/11. Today, I stumbled across a blog written about the massive outpouring of support after the attack. As Senator Rob Portman was recalling his wife's trip back to Ohio and the Search and Rescue Team she passed on their way to Ground Zero, I remembered the many volunteers who went to New York from Florida in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attack.

Yesterday, I told my story of watching the horror unfold on television and how I was working for the government in Tallahassee. Well, fast forward just a couple of months and I had been rehired by the Florida Division of Emergency Management to serve as their spokesperson. I had the privilege of speaking with many a volunteer who had just returned from the devastation at Ground Zero. Some of them had served in the Salvation Army tent kitchens, ensuring that volunteers and first responders had a hot meal after long, laborious hours of combing the wreckage.

While I don't recall offhand the total number of volunteers we sent from Florida, I do know that Search and Rescue was another group of willing volunteers. The urban S&R teams would painstakingly navigate twisted steel and dig through feet of ash and rubble just to search for survivors and recover barely recognizable remains with the help of specially-trained canines. Those volunteers were just as much heroes as the first responders who gave all to save their neighbor.

I remember wishing I could go with one of the Florida teams, if just to serve a few meals or hand out bottled water. I had so much respect for my colleagues in Tallahassee who dropped everything and went for weeks on end to serve in New York City. Alas, I had a four-month-old baby at home and a wife who couldn't sleep. There was no way I was leaving them for 6-8 weeks.

Still, the memories of the days, weeks and months after 9/11 are vivid for me. I'll admit that I had grown complacent, choosing not to reflect on the horrible images that had bombarded me through television and online news outlets in 2001. But since yesterday, I cannot get them out of my head, so I designed the collage at the top of this blog post. It reminds of the phrase that was our nation's mantra in the waning months of that year. Let us never forget.

Friday, September 09, 2011


Ten years ago, you could have typed three numbers and immediately everyone would've known what that represented. Nine, one-one. The three-digit emergency telephone number that links U.S. residents with first responders in times of crisis or imminent danger. Sadly, today that is no longer the case. For when you type nine, one-one, it evokes sadness and tragic memories of a fateful day in history.

I've been reluctanct to recall those memories. And in the days leading up to the tenth anniversary/memorial of "nine-eleven," bombarded with reminders on television and the web, I've been reticent to share any feelings associated with those memories. Today, I finally broke.

As I watched the end of Live with Regis and Kelly, they had a prolonged moment of silence. Then, I stumbled upon a documentary titled "9/11 The Falling Man" on The Western Confucian blog. I knew that I needed to speak and let those feelings flow freely.

The Nine-eleven disaster did not effect me directly. I knew no one in the tower. I'd never even been to Manhattan and seen the World Trade Center in person, only on TV. I was 1,100 miles removed from Ground Zero. Yet, I have vivid memories of that day.

Working in the Pepper Building, part of a sprawling network of government buildings in downtown Tallahassee, I overheard my coworkers watching live coverage of the terrorist attack on MSNBC. The first tower had been struck. People were gathering around the computer monitor on the other side of the cubicle I was in. I needed to get to a television, so I took a coffee break and drove to the nearby Governor's Square Mall. I found TVs blaring live coverage in the food court of the mall. I was stunned; flabbergasted, even.

Watching the news with horror, I called my wife who was on maternity leave with our two-month old (to the day) daughter. They were watching something other than the news, oblivious to the terrorism that had just been perpetrated on American soil. Until that day, the most shocking attack of this kind we had seen on television, was the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta or the Murrow Federal Building bombing in Tulsa. My wife was bewildered as she turned to CNN.

I received a call on my cellphone that our office had been evacuated as a safety precaution. In fact, the entire state government came grinding to a halt. The Capitol Building and adjacent offices in Tallahassee were cleared because of the fear that the President's brother, Governor Jeb Bush, would be a likely target. I was relieved that I didn't have to go back to work. I could hardly remove my glare from the televisions at the mall. Truth be told, I could hardly believe my eyes!

It was around 9:30 that morning and the news cameras had already shown the second tower being hit by a hijacked airliner and now the tower was falling. The iconic World Trade Center in New York was crumbling before my eyes. There were people leaping from busted out windows in the other tower. The scene was absolutely surreal.

I don't remember how long I stayed at the mall that morning or what time I returned home, but I must have been glued to the cable news networks for hours that day. It seemed as if pandemonium had struck the heart of Manhattan's financial district. It had, indeed.

The interviews with victims' spouses in the first 24-minutes of The Falling Man film will bring you to tears. But the positive spin one husband gives was inconceivably imaginative considering his great tragedy. His wife, stuck high in the south tower before it fell, was found on the sidewalk in front of the building across from the tower. She obviously had jumped. He tried to imagine the split-second thought going through her head as she made that fateful leap from high above lower Manhattan. He describes the liberating, breathtaking sense of flight and how she was finally able to breathe, free of the smoke, ash and burning embers of the unstable trade tower. I was amazed that he could even find an image so positive from such a horrific act.

USA Today reports the gruesome story about those who jumped, but whose deaths are still labeled "homicides" by the New York Coroner's Office. Not all who "were forced out by smoke and flames" made it to the streets below. "On the south side, firefighters reported 30 to 40 bodies on the roof of the 22-floor Marriott Hotel, adjacent to the north tower." One eyewitness from the south tower saw a lady fall just outside his window. He recalls, "She wasn't screaming. It was slow motion." He saw her hit the ground. How horrified he must have been.

Gruesome though it may be, that sight saved hundreds of lives. "Many south tower survivors say the sight of people jumping created an urgency that caused them to leave immediately and ignore announcements that it was safe to return to their desks."

USA Today estimates that upwards of 200 people jumped, mainly from the north tower which was hit first but stood 46 minutes longer than the south tower. "The Falling Man" has been identified by family and co-workers as Jonathan Briley, a worker at the Windows on the World restaurant. No positive i.d. was ever made, however. Information and pictures about the late Mr. Briley can be found on Michelle Malkin's blog in a post titled, "The Falling Man Revisited".

The film asserts that we, as Americans, have attempted to erase those gruesome images by refusing to look at them. But I, for one, can never erase them from my memory. They were the visible casualties from a man-made disaster that claimed nearly 3,000 lives. And while I did not know any of them personally, the images of those who jumped from certain death TO certain death certainly touched me deeply.

Because of that fateful day ten years ago, no one can ever say, type or think 9-1-1 without having to pause that split second and think, is that "nine-eleven" or "nine, one-one?" That three-digit code will forever link our country with the heroic first responders who come to our rescue in times of personal crisis and who came to Ground Zero at that time of national crisis. May all who died rest in peace. May all who live, "Never forget."

Saturday, September 03, 2011

First Game Rust?

Let me say right from the start that I'm VERY happy with a shut-out win to start the 2011 season. BUT, the Seminoles didn't quite play up to all the hype or the Top 5 ranking. Shannon J. Owens nails it in the Orlando Sentinel column, "The Seminoles played footsie with the Warhawks when they should have been cutting off their toes."


The team with national championship aspirations wasn't playing like a contender today. Their first quarter performance was lackluster and uninspired. You'd never know they had a Heisman-caliber quarterback or lightning-fast receivers. As Owens points out quite graphically, they lacked the killer instinct of the Seminole teams of old.

While other top teams were steamrolling their first opponents of twenty-eleven, the Seminoles were settling for punts and field goals. And say what you will about ULM, but they were scheduled to be a cupcake of a home opener. The shutout was nice, but it should have been by 50 points with all the firepower in Jimbo's arsenal.

I don't know if it was the playcalling or the execution, but I was having flashbacks during the the first quarter of the "good ol'" Bowden days...and I'm talking about the infamous Bowden playcaller, Jeff, not Bobby. Some of the vanilla plays early in the game definitely had a hint of Jeffy. Very conservative (as if the Warhawks were just supposed to play dead and grant the Noles 10 yards on every play).

Granted, the Warhawks did put up a fight, but their offense couldn't muster 200 total yards. They laid a golden goose egg on the final scoreboard.

What do we take away from this so-so home opener? Well, a win for one. I am very happy the Seminoles go into Week 2 with a 1-0 record. I was glad to see some flashes of brilliance from EJ Manuel at quarterback. His long, touchdown pass before the half was beautifully thrown and right on the mark! But we're used to seeing those kinds of plays on the first first-and-ten of the game, especially against cupcakes like ULM. So, there's room for improvement. Better playcalling and better execution are a MUST if FSU wants to be taken seriously this season.

Let's go Seminoles!!!

Friday, September 02, 2011

First Feature Article Published!

Well, I am officially a freelance writer in Fort Myers Beach!