A Day To Remember: Red Raiders Reflect on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11
By Natalie Underwood
Photos by Natalie Underwood
For years, a certain billboard on Interstate 20 remained a fixture in the Midland, Texas, skyline. The sign showed a little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders and holding an American flag, along with a single word: “Unity.” Every time Whitney Taylor drove past that billboard, she was reminded of “that day.” The fear, the confusion, and the American pride. But now, 10 years after the chaos of Sept. 11, 2001, the billboard cycles through a different advertisement every year: a jewelry store, a car dealership, a letter from God. For Taylor, this signifies that America is forgetting that day. But the 10th anniversary is approaching, and 9/11 will once again be on the mind of every American.
Sept. 11, 2001, was one of the defining moments of the Millennial Generation. In addition to the loss of 2,977 innocent lives, the subsequent Global War on Terror and the Iraq War have claimed an additional 5,000 American lives and counting.
The fateful date was the tipping point that ultimately prompted Fabian Sanchez to join the United States Army. Now a graduate student at Texas Tech University, Sanchez was a senior at Monterey High School in 2001. He remembers hearing a lot of chatter in the hallway that day, but he thought the noise was just school gossip. When he entered his sociology classroom, he knew something was wrong. “My teacher was visibly shaken,” Sanchez said. “She was usually very composed, so that was very uncharacteristic for her.”
Students were sent to the library to watch the news on television, and they saw the second plane hit the south tower of the World Trade Center. “I didn’t know how to react,” Sanchez remembered. “It was surreal to see something like that happen, to see somebody crash a plane into a building with thousands of people in it.” The principal made a 10-minute announcement asking students to keep New York, as well as the military forces, in their prayers. Sanchez started to realize the implications of what had just happened. “There was a very pro-America feeling behind it all, and I remember feeling like, ‘Who’s messing with my country,’” he said.
Sanchez acknowledged that the military affected his views on Islam and people of Middle Eastern descent. “In boot camp, they try to break you down mentally and physically and reset you to be a killer if need be,” he said. “In basic it was all ‘Hajji this, Hajji that,’ and they instill a prejudice against those people in you.” But by the time he went to Iraq in 2009, he realized prejudices were not right and went overseas with an open heart and an open mind.
Sanchez wants to do his part to fight terrorism and protect his country, but he does not believe this is a war America can win, because no definite enemy can be seen. “The war has broken us,” he said. “We were the superpower, and we still are, but now we’re so far in debt, and a lot of people are still very short-sighted about accepting people from other cultures. Somebody’s got to fight the good fight, but we’re too broke, too hurt, and have too much going on to be fighting as hard and as much as we are.”
The attacks also affected Sanchez financially. He had some investment funds that were set up for him in his childhood that bottomed out because of the market drop. “I was told as a kid that I’d have this money one day, and here I was at 17 with ‘one day’ just around the corner, and it was all gone,” Sanchez said.
With the opening of the 9/11 memorial, New York City will be covered extensively in the news this year; but 9/11 affected every American, even West Texans.
Whitney Taylor, a senior history major from Midland, Texas, was in sixth grade at the time and found out about the attacks during homeroom. She said her teacher turned the television on, and they saw the second tower being hit. Ten minutes later, an announcement came over the intercom for one of her friends to go to the office. Her friend’s aunt worked in the World Trade Center, and her parents were there to take her home. Taylor remembers that her teacher did a good job of explaining what was happening in simplistic terms, but the situation still was hard for an 11-year-old to grasp.
"The thing I remember the most is just not really knowing what was going on,” Taylor said. “It also really bothered me that they kept replaying the video over and over. People need to know about it, but it was traumatic to relive that. There was a boy named Cody with bright red hair and freckles that was the class clown. He was never serious, but he saw people jumping off the building and got really upset, so the teacher turned the TV off.”
Taylor’s parents picked her up shortly after that, and the entire town was chaotic. “Midland/Odessa went into panic mode,” Taylor said. “I remember after my dad picked me up, we went and got gas for the car because everybody was worried about gas prices shooting up. We sat in line to get gas for two hours. Now that I think about it, it was kind of ridiculous, but we didn’t know what would happen.” The fact that President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, were from the area added to the panic. Rumors were going around that bombs would be dropped on Midland and the nearby oil refineries. Taylor did not attend school the next day.
Sanchez also remembers the horrors of that day. Watching the news at home that night made him even more emotional. “I remember at the end of the day, there was a female reporter, and she was tearing up because she did the report on the kids who had been dropped off by their parents that day, and that really shook me up. These kids were dropped off at their daycare like normal but were not picked up by their parents that day, or ever, and that hit me hard. I looked at my little sister, and that made it even more real.”
Two years later, Taylor visited the site of Ground Zero in New York City. “That’s when it really hit me,” she said softly. “I understood before, but when we got there, I saw the temporary monument with all the victims’ names on the fence, and everything was so somber and quiet. We were in the middle of downtown, but you could hear the wind whistling through the construction area. And there was this guy playing ‘Amazing Grace’ on his flute. He wasn’t taking donations; he just played because it made him feel better. He was still there when I went back four years later.”
During her return trip to New York City, steps were being taken toward erecting a memorial. Ground Zero was being cleaned up, and a firefighters’ memorial was in place across the street. “The thing I really liked the most was going there, to really pay respects to all those people, because those people didn’t even know… they had no idea,” Taylor said with tears in her eyes. “I’m grateful that things have been put in place now to pay homage to them, but also that things have been put in place to make everybody safer.”
Like Taylor, Michael Shonrock, Ph.D., has visited New York City since 9/11. Shonrock, senior vice president for enrollment management and student affairs at Texas Tech, said a small, very old church near Ground Zero made a strong impact on him. “There were gravestones from the 1600s and 1700s, so it’s been there a while. It reminds me that in the most difficult times, there’s always an opportunity for us to leave our footprint in life,” Shonrock said. “To see the devastation and then see what we’re doing, there’s a sense of pride. I’m proud of our nation for taking a moment to recognize an important time in our lives.”
Shonrock vividly remembers being on the phone in his office on the morning of 9/11 when a message popped up on his computer screen informing him that something was happening and that he should turn on his television. “It was like a surreal disaster movie on the sci-fi channel,” Shonrock said, “and I had to pause for a moment to realize this was real time and real life. The day stopped. Once reality hit, everything planned changed.”
His first reaction was the tremendous loss of American lives, and he began to pray for the families, the men and women putting their lives in harm’s way, and America as a whole. He remembers events unfolding quickly after that point, and the senior staff convened immediately to discuss how to proceed. The university closed for a one-hour memorial on Friday, Sept. 14, 2001.
Significant legal changes have been implemented in the past 10 years, but some say that safety has cost us freedoms. Walter Huffman, dean emeritus and professor in the Texas Tech School of Law, said the change most people are familiar with is the USA Patriot Act. He explained that the Patriot Act authorized “roving wiretaps” for mobile phones and gave the FBI and other intelligence agencies access to individuals’ bank and library records, along with many other private information sources. Many people believe the Patriot Act is an infringement upon the freedoms and liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
However, Huffman said, legislation cannot make everyone happy all of the time. “The whole issue is, how does a democracy respond to danger, and how do you find the balance between protecting our security, which everybody wants, and protecting our freedoms,” Huffman said. “Whether that balance has been correctly struck or not is the whole issue with the Patriot Act. Is it the necessary device to ensure our security, or is it simply the slippery slope to the end of our personal freedoms?”
Another issue is that the Patriot Act and other post-9/11 laws challenge the Fourth Amendment, which protects against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and states that no warrant shall be issued without probable cause. Now law enforcement only needs a National Security Letter, which is similar to a warrant but can be obtained with only reasonable suspicion. Although Huffman understands why people are angry, he explains that terrorism is a different issue, and, therefore, needs to be handled differently in some cases.
“In a pure criminal case, you’re dealing with an act that’s occurred; somebody stole, somebody killed, etc. You’re focused on that event, it’s already happened, and you’re trying to find the person that did it. But in terrorism, you’re trying to prevent something about which you don’t have as much knowledge, because it hasn’t happened. You don’t know where it’s going to happen, or even what it is, so you have to have a more obtrusive and flexible ability to search for information.”
Huffman acknowledges that personal rights are trampled on and mistakes are made, as in the case of Brandon Mayfield, a Washington man wrongly accused of a train bombing in Madrid, Spain. Mayfield was arrested and detained on terrorism charges with only a single fingerprint, which was claimed to be a “100 percent match,” as evidence. The fingerprint was misread and was not a match for Mayfield at all. By then, his life, career, and family were completely destroyed.
The Patriot Act has been challenged in court but never overturned. “Congress made a determination this was necessary for our security,” Huffman said, “and no court so far has been willing to say Congress was wrong or that they didn’t have the authority to make that decision for us.”
Huffman addresses these issues in his National Security Law course. He said 9/11 drastically has impacted the law curriculum, and Professor of Law Richard Rosen agrees. Rosen said not only have courses, such as Intelligence Law, Humanitarian Law, and Bio-defense, had an increase in enrollments, but also the law school itself has seen an increase in veteran enrollment and students continuing toward a career in military law.
Senior Vice President Shonrock believes he is safer because of the security changes implemented as a result of 9/11. “I believe it’s what we don’t know that’s being taken care of that makes me feel better, because you know there’s lots of intelligence and technology out there working for us every day,” he explained. Even though the security can be a pain sometimes, Shonrock sees the inconveniences as the cost of being a free nation and having ourselves opened to the world.
Whitney Taylor agrees the added security is needed. She said the new airport body scanners make her nervous, but if they are necessary to protect people, she would rather be safe than sorry. “I think anybody can find a way,” she stated. “But there has to be the opportunity; that person that doesn’t check, that person that doesn’t care, or doesn’t see something on the X-ray scanner. But now that more people are aware and everybody knows people’s lives are at stake, I do feel pretty safe.”
Ten years later, 9/11 still evokes strong emotions and reactions in people. “Whenever I hear ‘9/11,’ I don’t think of it as being just a day,” said Taylor. “I think of it as being that day. I go back to remembering where I was and how scared and confused I was. Anytime I see an American flag, I think of all the things that make up our history. 9/11 is just one more thing our flag can represent and hold as a memory for our people.” She believes the nation as a whole is forgetting, though, and hopes the 10th anniversary will remind everyone of the sacrifices made that day.
Shonrock never will forget that day and hopes others will not forget either. “It was one of the most devastating times, but it was also one of the most prideful,” he said. “People were more together than ever before, and people helped people. These are difficult times financially and in our nation, but investing in people is always a good thing. Let’s not forget the lesson that we all pitched in to get through it, and we all need to pitch in to get through this too. If you remember nothing else about that day, remember that.”
America certainly saw its share of important moments in the past 10 years. The iPod was released in 2001, Facebook was launched in 2004, the Boston Red Sox overcame their 86-year curse to win the World Series in 2004, Hurricane Katrina devastated the South in 2005, and America elected its first African-American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Still, many people view 9/11 as the most defining moment of all.
Not necessarily agreeing, Gregory Elkins, Ph.D., dean of students and associate vice president for student affairs, said, “I think it’s significant, but I don’t know if it is the defining event of your generation. I think that’s yet to be determined. Much like history, sometimes it takes years to really determine the lasting impact on any generation.”
“9/11 did a lot of things to us, and we’re still broken, but I think our defining moment is going to be how we pull ourselves out of the after-effects, how we deal with it, how we build, and how we grow.”
— Fabian Sanchez
Fabian Sanchez agrees. “I think our defining moment is coming,” he said. “9/11 did a lot of things to us, and we’re still broken, but I think our defining moment is going to be how we pull ourselves out of the after-effects, how we deal with it, how we build, and how we grow.”
No matter how one classifies Sept. 11, 2001, the date certainly will have a lasting impact on America. The heartbreaking loss of lives, the two wars in which we are still fighting, the legal and security changes, and the memories of that day are constant reminders of the tragedy. America may be moving on, but everyone will still “remember when.”