“Where were you on 9/11 when the Towers fell?” for our generation of folks stands right up there with other moments forever etched in history: ”Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” ”Where were you when the Challenger exploded?”
Being in Hawaiʻi given the time difference I was at home soundly asleep but I will never forget that morning. My future father-in-law called our house phone (yes, HOUSE PHONE, lol) at the crack of dawn to tell us to turn on the news as he recounted the story of the planes crashing into the Towers, the Towers falling and the planes crashing into the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania respectively. We watched in horror as the videos played over and over on CNN and Fox News. Planes flying into towers. Towers collapsing. People running, screaming and crying amidst dust and rubble. It was pure horror.
I turned off the news and made my way into work shaken. At the time I worked split hours between the International Affairs office and the College Skills Center. I got into work and went about my day. I checked my messages and remember receiving dozens of e-mails from our former International students and clients from abroad whoʻd since finished school with us and returned home who wrote into us wishing us the best, sending their prayers and wishing the perpetrators be brought to justice. I remember attending my meeting that day with the Ka La editor trying to focus on the tasks at hand and not the disturbing scenes playing out on the airwaves. I remember working my shift at the CSC tutoring desk. By that point in the day we’d hauled out the TVs into the main floor of the CSC and had the news going given the major news event unfolding. I remember the mixed looks of daze, shock, confusion or indifference on studentʻs faces in the CSC. Most of all I remember going home that day after work and plopping back on my couch and watching the news the rest of the evening in a daze trying to fathom the why and what this would mean going forward. I spent the rest of the night trolling the Internet boards and the blogosphere reading other folks recount of the day and what it meant.
In the days that followed as names of the victims were identified and shared I remember across campus on the HonoluluCC faculty/staff list-serv a discussion was going as one of the victims of the flight hijackings, Flight 93 passenger Christine Snyder, was a former HonoluluCC student and many of the senior faculty at the time felt compelled to take action to honor our fallen alum.
As time would pass it was decided that a 9/11 Memorial would be built next to the Berlin Wall monument on campus. It would take a few years for things to come together but come together they did. The memorial was built. A dedication ceremony attended by the Snyder family was held and life went on.
In the meantime how did life change for us post 9/11? Wars were fought. Brave men and women put their lives on the line and died. At home Homeland Security and Terrorist Threat Levels became the norm. It is crazy for me to think that almost a generation of folks now, many of whom are now the Freshmen sitting in our classes, probably don’t remember a time when there weren’t TSA agents screening you at the airport. They don’t remember a time when you could meet or see off your loved ones at an airport gate.
Here we are now 12 years later. A grand memorial was built on Ground Zero at the site of the former World Trade Center. The Freedom Tower went up. Life has gone on for those of us who lived through the time. The victims of that tragic day we always remember.
In the years since 9/11 I’ve been fortunate to visit Ground Zero twice. I went in 2009 and paid my respects at the site and saw the construction ongoing at the Memorial. I had a chance to visit the completed Memorial earlier this summer and tracked down Christine Snyder’s name as well as a some of the other victims with Hawai’i ties at the Memorial. During my 2009 visit I felt a personal sense of melancholy as I walked my way around the still devastated site. Earlier this summer while at the memorial the feeling was one of peace as the surrounding cascading waterfalls, pools and greenery bring an odd sense of tranquility even amidst the tremendous sense of loss.
It is now 12 years later. We loss. We mourned. We rebuilt and we honor those we lost. Here at HonoluluCC we in our own way remember Christine Snyder and all those lives we lost that day just as the people of New York, Washington D.C. and Shanksville, PA and the rest of America remembers all those souls lost 12 years ago in the terrorist attacks.
About the author: Jonathan K. Wong a Honolulu Community College Alum, Class of 1998, and former Staff Member 2000-2010. Wong is currently working at Kapi’olani Community College.