Personal Remembrances of September 11th — From the Year 2001

by Hank Boerner

My Internal Memo of Monday September 17, 2001

I offer my thoughts on the past week — recapping and thinking things through while events are still fresh in my mind

By Hank Boerner

Introduction: Fifteen years ago, as our nation slowly began the recovery after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I wrote down my thoughts of the past days…”some thoughts on the past week,” for my family, friends and business colleagues. I share them here today on the 15th anniversary of the deadly attacks on the United States of America, a day when we lost so many innocent men, women and children because of the actions of fanatics bent on harming us.

And so I observed…

This is a sad time for humanity…thousands of innocent people are dead or missing in New York City and in the rest of America tonight because fanatics and madmen have declared war on civilization. Families are without fathers or mothers, sisters and brothers; our children just starting their careers were cut down where they sat in the offices where they were so pleased to be invited in; other loved ones are missing and we all presume the worst now.

Hundreds of brave firefighters and police officers are missing, or dead, or injured. Life seems so unfair at times like these. Why? What did these innocent people do to invite such tragedy into their lives? Why must family members be missing from our homes?

And yet, even as we grieve, we must go on. For them, for our children. Our striving for a return “to life,” to whatever circumstances and conditions will pass for normalcy in the months ahead, is a basic human instinct.

We are becoming focused now on getting on with our lives – but pledging to do things better, and living a more exemplary life with care and concern for others. This attitude will be a memorial for those who lost their lives. We grieve; but we must also go on for the sake of our children and those who must put things back in order after the terrible events in downtown New York. We will be OK…right?

Our instinct is to feel rage and to call for retaliation; our heart and religious upbringing tells us that we must temper our response so that more innocent people do not die. The fanatics and madmen must not succeed in making us less civilized, and more like them. Blessed be the peacemakers; let our nation’s response be appropriate and limited to the wrongdoers who committed this evil.

We are all OK in our family, thanks to all who inquired, but all around us we have people we know who are suffering. Our daughter, Heather, began her grad studies at NYU but was not scheduled to be in class on Tuesday. Still, like many her age, including her close friends who live in Manhattan, she is anxious about the future…will this mean a world war….what is a world war…what will happen to us?

She works with small children as a speech teacher and therapist; above all, she needs confidence in herself and the world around her to help her young charges cope. Have we failed our children in some way?

In our Long Island, New York communities, were hear of the missing – 40 in this town, 75 in that. The churches are filled this week. As we reconnect with friends and family, the stories increase dramatically: those who are still missing; those who had narrow escapes; still more who turned left instead of right and survived that day; who was on the road and away from the towers, and so on.

Throughout September 11th, from within the hour of the first airplane crashes, our team was in place assisting our client, American Airlines, in responding to rapidly changing events. For five straight days we assisted in every way we could, especially at the New York area airports. We have been standing down since late Saturday, after midnight.

Sunday was a day of letting ourselves “feel” again, and of examining what happened and examining the awful impact of it all. Tears came during a church service; oh, the enormity of it all. What can we do? That, too, is a basic human instinct – to do the right thing, to help, to feel what we should without shame.

My Diary: Where was I when the events occurred? On the way from Long Island to New York City for three meetings during the day, last Tuesday (the 11th). As our train reached the first location where we could see the downtown Manhattan skyline, on this clear and sunlit morning we saw thick black smoke coming out of one of the towers – that was the North Tower, struck by American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston at 8:46 a.m.

Of course, many people on the train remember the terrorist attack on the towers in 1993, so they grabbed their cell phones and called home and office. The word was passed around the car – a small plane apparently hit the tower. Was this a plane off course? A demented pilot at the controls?

We slowly moved on and then came to the high point in Central Queens where the downtown towers were again just becoming visible (before we entered the tunnels under the East River to Penn Station). Now, a huge cloud of smoke arose from the South Tower, struck by United Flight 175 at 9:30 a.m. As the train moved on, we very briefly saw the area engulfed in flames and with black smoke pouring out – never will I forget that sight. Words fail to describe the horror of knowing what was happening to the people in those two buildings, on the aircraft, and in the surrounding areas of the downtown neighborhood.

As a longtime crisis manager, I am trained to make fast decisions, right or wrong. My decision was to return at once to my Mineola, Long Island command center and be ready to respond as needed. I dashed upstairs to look at the monitor in Penn Station — the two towers had smoke streaming out, and then I raced down to a train just departing for my Mineola station (the office was a block away). The car was jammed with people, many crying, others anxiously dialing the outside world. Ours was one of the last trains out of Manhattan that day. And it was one of the longest rides I have ever experienced …minutes stretched on the short ride to Nassau County (18 miles distant)..

When I reached the office, there were numerous emails calling for assistance for our airline client, mostly from Dallas, the HQs office of American Airlines (my client).

This was surreal; I was an American Airlines communications manager early in my career, and here my crisis training and experience of those years past would come into play. (I had worked with other airline clients over the years since, including in many crisis situations around the world.)

All phone lines and cellulars to Manhattan and Queens were not working; our link to the world at ground zero and environs and the airports was the Internet. Our crisis teams in New York and Northern Virginia dispersed at once to airports, where we supported our client for the next five or six days.

On September 11 and over the next days, I moved by auto from LaGuardia to Kennedy International to Newark International and back again, over and over, for early mornings, late night conferences, always moving to support operating staffs. My concentration was on the duties at hand.

As I drove over the Verrazano Bridge spanning the New York harbor en route to Newark, I could see the horrible black smoke pouring out of the heart of the financial district. I drove through the low-hanging cloud, which choked the throat and smelled awful – the smell of death and destruction. No one who ever experienced that smell will ever forget it.

Oh, how helpless I felt…who would do this awful thing? Why is there such evil in the world? In the New York region, emergency vehicles were everywhere…rescue teams with search dogs; volunteer firefighters from the suburbs; ambulances; fire trucks; portable power units on trucks; police, police and more police. Ambulances. Caregivers in white coats stood by near the towers. Where the people inside the towers alive? On their way to a hospital? I hoped so.

The airport security forces were anxious; the airline staff at each airport knew those who perished, or felt deep concern for the souls on board the four flights. This was not supposed to happen to travelers departing with hope in their hearts.

The mood saw somber inside the American Airlines operations tower and offices; folks here struggling to keep things going knew the men and women who were pilots and flight attendants on those crashed airliners.

Only on that Saturday night (well after midnight) could I stand down as airports and flights became more stabilized. Duty set aside, I became more the observer.

This morning, at 9:30, the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange was sounded. this became surreal again. This was my old environs (I worked at NYSE early in my career). I teared up again, with sadness and with pride. America is getting it together to move on. People are functioning near ground zero. Though almost everyone on The Street has lost someone they know or love, many came to work through the obstacles to get our machinery functioning again.

My old friend and colleague Dick Grasso (NYSE chairman), a man from a working class family from Queens, spoke eloquently and fervently when he declared the Exchange open with the governor, the mayor, a firefighter and police officer at his side.

One TV channel calls this time “America Rising.” I hope so. Today I continued to reach out to family, friends and colleagues to find out how they were, and most of the stories were encouraging. The losses were sad stories…our friend next door in the law office lost her 21 year old stepson, who watched the first plane hit and called home from the adjacent tower. They evacuated his office; for him, probably not fast enough; he is among the missing.

We are becoming overwhelmed by all the media coverage, but it is also comforting. We are not alone in our fears, tears, concerns, love, caring, response. The picture of President George W. Bush and the retired firefighter atop the barricades sent cheers throughout our town. “We hear you,” the president proclaimed to America. “And the people who did this will hear from us.”

Today we regroup and go on, those of us who can. Tonight is a special time for Jews around the world, who gather in their homes for the high holy days and start of the new year while troubles intrude. We wish all those who begin their observation of Rosh HoShanna tonight peace and love and comfort in the faith and traditions of the millennia.

Before long, we will all be celebrating our American Thanksgiving, which will be a day of both hope and great sadness, depending on the circumstances of each family. Christians will celebrate Christmas and we pray that at year-end all of our families are intact, none missing family members because of more such tragic events.

We owe a special thanksgiving – tonight as well as in November – for the fire fighters, police, volunteer workers, and those public servants on duty in lower Manhattan as they pry the wreckage away. They are redefining the American Spirit…one life, God, we pray, at least one life should be saved tonight as a result of their heroic efforts. We need that victory over evil to inspire us to go on.

Life does go on. Civilization must survive. Evil must not prevail. Our examples of doing the right thing will be memorials to those who have gone on “across the river,” as the Good Book says. God Bless Us all in the days ahead.

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We would love to hear from you, and to know that all is well with you and your family, and friends and colleagues. Good news is so much needed today!

Hank Boerner – Mineola, New York

Days We Will Never Forget. Nor Should We. They Are Burned Deep in Memory…

by Hank Boerner

There are days that we should hever forget. The President of the United States said that after the awful tragedies of September 11, 2001, when thousands of Americans and visitors died and thousands more were injured in the direct attacks against American targets by foreign interests far, far away. And yet, so close.  The attackers were living amongst us, for a time, preparing for the day they would inflict great damage on our nation.

There are four or maybe even five generations of Americans alive at this moment, going back to some who are of the Greatest Generation, the men and women who survived the Great Depression of the 1930s and fought the good fight for democracy from 1941 to 1945 —WW II.  Many are still with us.  They remember “Pearl Harbor Day,” each December 7th.

December 7, 1941, a “date that will live in infamy,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the U.S. Congress and by radio to the nation. That day — December 7, 1941, the naval forces of the Empire of Japan attacked the U.S. military forces at Pearl Harbor in the U.S. territory of Hawaii. Almost 3,000 young men and women died in that attack.  All of my young days I was reminded that it was “Pearl Harbor Day” today.

Another day that many of younger ages — the Baby Boomers — will recall was the funeral train that carried the body of U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, slain by an assassin in California in 1968. I remember this because I stood in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City as his coffin was carried out…and put on a train that slowly wound its way from New York through Philadelphia, Wilmington, Baltimore, and on to Washington, D.C. I had done work with the good senator, borther of the slain president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

This was reminiscent, broadcaster noted, of the final train ride for President Abraham Lincoln, assassinated in 1865, carrying his body to burial in Illinois — many miles, along parts of the same route.  Tens of thousands of people lined the route on both occasions.

There is another tragic day to remember for those alive in 1963. Who can forget where they were when the news came on November 22, 1963 that the dynamic young president was shot to death in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.  John F. Kennedy was in office just about 1,000 days — not even completing his first term.

As with other events, everyone would remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard the leader of the “New Frontier” for America was assassinated in Dealey Plaza, Dallas. I remember watching the most well-known newsman in America, Walter Cronkite on CBS Network announcing the president’s death.

Today, September 11 — Let Us Remember

And so it is today, for many Americans, as we stop what we are doing to remember the frightful, awful, tragic events of September 11th. Four giant airliners were hijacked, from their take off points in the New York region, Boston and Virginia, and flown by fanatic, deranged men into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, into the Pentagon in Northern Virginia, and what would have been either the White House or the Capitol Building on the highest point in Washington, DC — except for the brave actions of passengers  on United Flight 93 over rural Pennsylvania.

How unbelievable, how frightening to consider even today, 15 years — some 5,500 days — later.

For those not born yet, or too young to remember the events of the day:  American Airlines Flight 11 — Boston to Los Angeles — departing Boston at 7:59 a.m. and then crashing into the WTC (#1) North Tower at 8:46 a.m.

Then United Air Lines Flight #175, departing from Boston at 8:14 a.m. — flying from Boston to LAX — hitting the WTC South Tower (#2) at 9:03 a.m. .  Then American Airlines Flight #77, leaving Dulles International (Virginia) at 8:30 a.m. — heading for Los Angeles,, flying into the Pentagon at 9:30 a.m.

And then the report of the “missing” United Air Lines Flight #93, flying out of Newark at 8:42 a.m. en route from New Jersey to San Francisco — reported down on the ground in Shanksville, PA at 10:03 a.m.  Even today, all of this is very difficult to comprehend.

These were massive passenger jets, with a combined almost 300 passengers and crew members on board, loaded with many tons of volatile jet fuel, carrying innocent passengers (including children) en route to a  happy destination.

It was a bright, sunny morning, you may recall, all along the Atlantic coastline of our continent.  Summer weather was still with us.  New York region schools, schools in Boston, Washington area schools, Pennsylvania schools were open as the new school year was beginning.  The summer break was over (Labor Day was the prior week); and literally thousands upon thousands of men and women streamed into the giant twin towers of the World Trade Center, which dominated the New York City skyline in Lower Manhattan, and other nearby complexes in the financial district.  These towers of the WTC stretched 100 stories into the blue skies.  Giant elevators whished tenants and visitors to the highest levels.

And then, in a few terrible minutes, two giant passenger jets flew directly into the buildings. It is hard even today to divine what was on the minds of the histrackers as those in the cockpit aimed the acricraft into the building.  And even harder to think about the fear on the part of passengers —  “souls” in airline parlance — in the last moments of their lives.

And what of the thousands of people at work as the rush hour was ending, high atop the bedrock of Manhattan Island — what were their thoughts as they heard the crash into their building?  Smelled the smoke?  Understood the threat to their lives?

At 9:59 a.m. unbelievably, the South Tower would fall to the ground, killing those inside and many on the ground, and spread deadly dust (asbestos) throughout the downtown. Throughout the heart of this nation’s vital financial center. At 10:28 a.m. the other tower would collapse. Chaos reigned.

And I think today with tears in my eyes of the brave responders.  Firemanic forces — proud members of NYFD — running to the danger.  343 New York City firefighters would give their lives to save others.  Police officers would die that morning, more than 70, members of NYPD (“New York’s Finest”), the Port Authority of NY & NJ Police Department; and some of the Federal agency officers on duty that day.

Thousands more responders — uniformed and volunteers — would be sickened, and many would die, as they were first responders working on the “pile” to find survivors and pull them to safety. And then, when there were no more, they would work on the pile to clear debris and look for human remains.

And so, today, I stop to pray for the souls of those who lost their lives on Setpember 11, 2001, and for those who we lost in the days and weeks and months after.  I will think about the brave actions of the passengers on Flight 93 who fought the thugs who stole their plane and prevented a huge tragedy in our nation’s capital city.  I will pray for those who lost their lives in the bastion of the nation’s military, the Pentagon complex just across the Potomac River from Washington.

This is personal.  In my hometown here just outside the city, we lost three dozen people.  This morning in Patriot’s Park, they are being remembered.  Across our region we lost hundreds of men and women.  And the bells still ring in churches as brave responders succumb to their illnesses.  My long-time friend, Rep Peter King ascended to the chair of the Homeland Security Committee of the House, and I take pride in the good work that he and many others in government have been doing since 2001 to keep us safe. He is there with head bowed this morning at “Ground Zero.”  His is a police family.

But this is a New Normal for America and especially for the young men and women who grew up after September 11, 2001. It is a different world for them — will any of them — or us — ever feel safe again?

Today, please say your prayers for those who lost their lives on that awful day and in the days thereafter. Including our men and women in uniform taking the September 11 fight to our enemies around the world who did these awful things to us.

May God bless America. And long may the Stars & Stripes wave overhead, a proud beacon to us all. The flags at Ground Zero in NYC, at the Pentagon, in the Pennsylvania field — all have very special meaning to Americans.

Separately today in this space I will share my notes of September 11, 2001, when I was the American Airlines responder in New York City.

Did You Celebrate American Labor — on Labor Day 2016?

by Hank Boerner

Monday, September 5th is Labor Day, 2016. Did you celebrate American labor today? The American worker built this great nation and the day is set aside to remember the men and women of past and present and their contributions to the Making of America.

The origins of the national holiday go back to the 1800s and the beginning of industrialization of the United States economy. The first celebration was in September 1882, organized by labor unions — in New York City.

Cities, then states began to adopt Labor Day legislation. New York State was apparently the first state to consider such a rule; Oregon has the honor of being the first state to adopt the official holiday. After 23 states adopted the holiday, the Federal government declared the first Monday of September to be Labor Day in 1894.

As a young person, I can recall parades of workers — and especially union members, men and women — marching with banners proclaiming their organizations (locals, etc.). No more. We are apparently too jaded for that kind of celebration. And unions are under fire these days; membership is way down from historic levels.

But did you stop today at all to remember — to celebrate – the American working men and women? (That’s pretty much all of us, isn’t it!).

We’ve lost many jobs to outsourcing, downsizing, movement of plants to foreign shores, and more. But we are a resilient people — and American labor is still the most productive in the world, according to some expert sources.

Hope you did.  And now it’s back to work!

Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner – Symbol of Civil Rights Protest or Devotion to Country?

By Hank Boerner

Our Flag – the Pledge – Our Beloved Star Spangled Banner…
Symbol of Civil Rights Protest — or Devotion to Country?

The dust up over the stand/don’t stand situation in the National Football League — when the U.S. National Anthem is played — is disturbing to a lot of people.

Is this about “protesting” the life & death friction between a handful of police officers and African-Americas? About First Amendment-guaranteed free speech rights being exercised? About using a very visible public arena — football is “America’s game” after all — to bring attention to serious social / societal issues? All of these? And more — what about this being a case of disrespecting the treasured American flag (the stars and stripes, which the national anthem honors)?

Oh, say can you see, by the dawn’s early light…is our flag still there….

And for you, dear reader — how many times have you said these words – probably thousands and thousands, depending on your age: I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.

This Pledge – of Allegiance – is to the Flag, symbol of our nation, beloved by our American People.

The flag’s symbolism is powerful.

When I think of the American flag, I try to imagine the conditions under which Francis Scott Key penned his poem (in 1814). He was holed up in Baltimore harbor as British war ships pounded Fort McHenry (his poem was “Defense of Ft McHenry”). In 1931 this poem was  set to music by Stafford Smith and was adopted as our National Anthem. Most of us have probably never read the full four paragraphs (the three beyond the first, which we regularly sing along with).

The British cannons raked the fort. In the morning dawn, the tattered flag is visible. (The original was restored and is on display in the nation’s capital.) Writes Key:

“Tis the Start-spangled Banner: O, long may it wave,
O’er the land of the free, and the home of the brave…”

For me, another battle, another flag, is closer in time (at least for me) in understanding the conditions under which this symbol of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave was seared into memory. For people who were there, fighting and dying, and for those of us who have since looked on at their sacrifice.

Consider: February, 1945 – on the tiny Pacific island of Iwo Jima: members of the United States Marine Corps are locked in a life & death battle with the entrenched forces of the military of the Empire of Japan. On the tallest peak, on this small, extinct volcano, a group of Marines raise a small flag on top of Mount Suribachi. Cheers go up. The American fighting men are encouraged by the sight.

Later, another group of Leathernecks goes up and photograph Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press takes the photo that has been reproduced millions of times ever since. You can see that act memorialized in a notable structure – erected by private donations – overlooking the City of Washington, D.C.

The Marine Corps War Memorial, also called the Iwo Jima Memorial, is a military memorial statue outside the walls of the Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Va. The memorial is dedicated to all personnel of the United States Marine Corps who have died in the defense of their country since 1775.

Photo:  United States Marine Corps, Quantico, VA

This brave act, carrying up and raising a larger more visible 48-star American flag taken from an amphibious LST landing craft back on the beach, was in reality the act of “…six ordinary Americans, half of the them doomed to become casualties on Iwo…”

Consider the sacrifice under the banner raised atop the hill on Iwo Jima: “Thousands of foxholes, draped with ponchos and shelter halves, pocked the island…chilled by sudden rain, harassed by heavy surf, the support and service units doggedly performed their tasks under the constant threat of artillery. On Iwo, every place seemed like the front…”

“…the exhausted Marine divisions slowly eliminated resistance…on March 16 the island was declared secure…” “ Japanese Lt. General Tadamichi Kuribayashi’s 21,000 man garrison died in place as ordered, many in caves providing protection against American forces. In the process, the Japanese inflicted 26,000 Marine casualties, 2,798 [U.S. Navy personnel] and 37 [U.S. Army].

Marines stand at attention when composer and bandmaster John Philip Sousa’s Marine Corps Hymn is played, and of course when the ode to the Star Spangled Banner is sung – our National Anthem. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardie’s – all are at attention and saluting when the grand song of our Republic is played.

My Iwo Jima source: Semper Fidelis, The History of the United States Marine Corps,” by Allan R. Millett, published 1991 by The Free Press/McMillan, Inc.

The National Anthem and American Sports

In civilian life, especially in professional sports, the singing of the national anthem and display of the flag are very much integrated in the many symbolisms and activities of the National Football League, The American and National Leagues of baseball, and most other sports activities – professional and amateur.

Who will ever forget the powerful performance of the late Whitney Houston signing the national anthem in January 1991 in Tampa at the start of the Super Bowl XXV? Link here to watch if you have not seen it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_lCmBvYMRs

And so these days there are powerful emotions attached to the actions of San Francisco 49ers (NFL) Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit down when the national anthem is sung. His first act of protest was at the start of the August 26 pre-season match with the Green Bay Packers; he repeated the gesture shortly after in the pre-season game with the 49ers and San Diego Chargers. Note that was the Chargers’ annual “Salute to the Military” celebration in San Diego, a big US Navy and US Marine Corps base.

Explaining why he “sat” during the song, he explained: “I am not going to stand up [to show pride in a flag] for a country that suppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. there are bodies in the streets and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder. ” (Source: NFL Media.)

The NFL also said: “Players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem.” Just to be clear about that.

In response the Santa Clara Police Union said it would boycott 49ers games. It might not provide protection at the team’s games.

Reflecting the division on the issue, a #VetsForKaepernick Twitter dialogue.

The team was circumspect in its response (remember, this is San Francisco, by political standards a liberal, even immigrant-protective “sanctuary” city): “The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pre-game ceremony. It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on our great liberties we are afforded as citizens/ Om respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose and participate or not, in our celebration of the national anthem.”

Speaking from China and the meeting of the G20 nations, President Barack Obama weighed in with the comments: “I think he cares about some real, legitimate issues that need to be talked about.” President Obama said when it comes to the flag, and the national anthem, and the meaning that that holds for our men and women in uniform and for those who fought for us, that is a tough thing for them to get past [and to hear] what his deeper concerns are…”  (Source: Politico web site.)

I call this column “Stay Tuned” — and so we will, to his controversy, which has inflamed so many people’s views about our flag, our anthem, our display of love of country. There is certainly more to come in all of this during the now=accelerating presidential campaigning.  What are your thoughts on all of this?