Twelve years ago – the memories are still so powerful.
Yes, British troops once set fire to the White House, and the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, but this was entirely different. It was an attack of undetermined origin, at the time, on U.S. soil. It is something that will remain on the minds of all who lived through it.
I remember where I was when President Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in 1963. Five years later were the double tragedies: the fatal shooting of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. Those instances provoked mourning.
The 9/11 attacks were also accompanied by shock and disbelief. We could see the bodies flying out of the Twin Towers and the video of the second plane going into the World Trade Center was replayed so often, it took on the quality of a horror movie.
Personally, I was driving into the arena, as it all unfolded. It was training camp check-in day for the Predators, about to begin their fourth season.
Hopes were high heading into that year. The team had just completed its first 80-point season. The four-team NHL expansion was now complete, as Atlanta had played two seasons, while Columbus and Minnesota had just completed their first. Ray Bourque had won his Stanley Cup, playing for the Colorado Avalanche.
As I drove in, I was tuned into WNSR Radio in Nashville. Steve Selby and Ron Bargatze were on the air, as I was hoping to catch up on the baseball scores, updating the races. It didn’t take long before my attention to those matters would be totally distracted.
“There’s a report that an airplane has collided with the World Trade Center in New York,” Selby announced. I turned up the volume, and it seemed like moments later when Steve said: “and now an airliner has crashed into the other tower!”
That was when all of us realized that this was no accident. I quickly tried to reach some of my New York friends by cell phone, but communications were already difficult. Shortly thereafter, I pulled into the garage at the rink and went down to the player check-in area.
I will never forget looking slack-jawed at the television downstairs, when 20-year-old Martin Erat walked in, looked at me and said: “I guess this means war?” That was the first time that thought had entered my mind! A young native of the Czech Republic had a far better grasp on the situation than I did.
As the day went on, we learned of another airliner crashing into the Pentagon, and then United Flight 93, forced by passengers to crash near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The shock and horror of that day seemed to have no end, and it echoes to this day.
Three months later, the Predators got an up-close look at this example of “Man’s Inhumanity to Man.” The Predators had a mid-December game at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. The team chartered a special bus to take us to Ground Zero. Never have I been with a group of that size which instantly when silent.
Captain Tom Fitzgerald told the story of his father on 9/11, traveling from Boston into New York, and walking to the World Trade Center for a meeting as the towers came tumbling down. He lucked out by timing. There were many who did not.
As we were escorted on our walk around the site, embers were still burning. There was a stench to the atmosphere. Dust was all around. It turned out that more bodies were discovered that December day. The bus was just as quiet heading back to the hotel as it was entering Ground Zero.
That experience gave us the sense of what many have experienced around the world in other war-torn areas. The terrorists got the attention of the whole world on 9/11, and the thought of another such attack will likely be with us forevermore.