Where were you when the world stopped turning?

Dallas Hyland, the author, in the fire academy. | Photo courtesy of Dallas Hyland for St. George News

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Dallas Hyland is a developing columnist for St. George News and blogs as The Amateur Broad Thinker. The opinions stated in this article are solely his own and not those of St. George News.

“Where were you when the world stopped turning that September day?”- Alan Jackson

Today, this day, commemorates a decade passed since the single most catastrophic attack on our country from a foreign enemy since Pearl Harbor literally stopped the world from turning.

In the past week, many ceremonies have taken place and many commentaries on the events past, present, and future have flowed steadily through our country. What has happened? Why? How did it change us as a people and a nation? What have we learned? What does the future hold?

It would be appropriate for me to take the opportunity to opine on these and many other issues with regard to that day 10 years ago, but something is compelling me to do otherwise.

I think today I want to invite those of you who read my column to participate in a conversation. I will start the conversation and, in both humility and with gratitude to this great land and its courageous people, ask you to share a paragraph or two answering this simple yet most profound question:

Where were you the day the world stopped turning?

I was working for the fire department in 2001 and was engaged to be married. My crew was sitting around the table after our shift change waiting for a meeting that was to take place between our shifts. I seem to recall the television being on but I don’t think we were watching. Maybe the sound was off. We were likely eating. Firefighters are always eating.

Dallas Hyland, the author, with fiancé in 2001 | Photo courtesy of Dallas Hyland for St. George News

The phone rang and it was someone’s wife telling us to turn on the television. Something had happened in New York and it was big.

We all looked up at the television and there it was, the first tower with a plume of smoke pouring from it. I had never been to New York and had no real sense of the scale of the World Trade Center Buildings. I, like my crew, was assuming it had been a small aircraft crash.

Right before our eyes on live television we watched the second tower get struck by an aircraft.

A collectively thunderous “WHOA!” filled the stations kitchen and dining area and those not watching or in other areas flocked to the room to see what was happening.

My captain spoke first and said, “What are these people, idiots?”

He was doing what all of us were likely doing in trying to assimilate what was happening but not even coming yet to a sinister conclusion.

I said, “Cap, we’re being attacked.”

He stared at me blankly, in disbelief, the reality sinking in.

The phone calls began immediately to family and friends. Our dispatch was making contact and measures not yet in place for something of this magnitude were being improvised and put to work.

Was there more to come? Would our city be attacked? Was anyone we know hurt?

Those crew members who were not on duty made for home. My then-fiancé called me crying and said she was scared. As I drove my truck down the freeway I kept looking up and out over the airport.

I would eventually make it home to watch more of the horror of the day unfold as two more planes came down and the WTC collapsed before our eyes.

I have not the words to express to you, even 10 years later, as tears fill my eyes while I write this, how it felt as I watched so many of my brother firefighters being taken from us in moments that felt like years, each dying a hero’s death as I watched helplessly, unable to even warn them.

In the years that have passed, I have often heard it said that firefighters are heroes because they willingly give their lives for others. My experience says otherwise. In all my years on the job, I never once saw a firefighter give his life in the line of duty. It was something quite a bit more than that. Every smoke eater I have ever worked with would never give up and would die fighting every step of the way.

That is how I saw those of the FDNY die on 9/11. Fighting all the way. I am humbled to have walked among the ranks and worked with the likes of these unwaveringly patriotic men and women.

In the days, weeks, and months to follow 9/11, it was so poignantly sweet to see our nation put down all our differences, the very ones we are so privileged to have, and come together as one to comfort, to heal, and ultimately to rise to defend our great nation. Were that we could only see more such unity in our country in a time when it is so desperately needed.

That day changed us – all of us – forever. As Americans, collectively we share a common bond with one another the likes of which have not been seen but for a few times in the history of humankind. We cherish liberty above all and when we are most pressed, we are most unified.

Please share your story and join me today in that unity.

See you out there.

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Copyright 2011 St. George News. This material may not be published or rewritten without written consent.

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1 Comment

  • Greta Hyland September 11, 2011 at 11:17 am

    I worked for IBM in Boulder, CO, as a customer service representative on some large accounts. The phones were relentlessly abuzz and the clicking of keyboards blended into background noise mixed with the voices of employees trying to fix computer problems for people all over the country. If I recall correctly, most of our customers were in New Jersey. I don’t remember how I first heard something was happening in New York; whether it was a customer on the phone or a co-worker but suddenly, as if orchestrated, everything went silent. All the phones stopped ringing, no voices could be heard, and a hush fell over the room. Slowly people started leaning back in their chairs and asking what happened. As the news trickled around everyone started trying to find information online. The servers were so overloaded with requests that they froze and no one could find out anything. People started heading for the nearest T.V. to see what was going on. Staying at work in the silent fear that permeated the building was torture; I couldn’t wait to get home. I finally finished my shift and made my way home. I turned on the television and watched in horror at what was happening in New York. My mind is a blank after that. I think those images filled my mind for days and I was more a like a sleepwalker than a living human being. It is an event that seems to never have found rest in the past, but instead lingers in the present whenever remembered or talked about.

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