Race Weekend Central

Vito’s 9.11 Article.

It’s amazing the stark clarity and visualization that ten years later still sticks with me on what was a sunny September summer morning. I had started my first “real” job out of college, and was living at home with my parents. My schedule at the time had me rolling in at 10:30am, and Tuesday was our team meeting day. I was running a little late and clambered downstairs, still half asleep. My Dad was watching the news on TV and said that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Hmm, that sucks. I just assumed like many that day it was a tour plane that veered off course or something. After I got out of the shower, the second plane had hit. By the time I had got dressed and went back downstairs, reports were coming across that a bomb had went off at the State Department, which later turned out to be Flight 77 which struck the Pentagon. “We’re under –ing attack!!!” my father exclaimed; having stood guard the better part of his twenties as a B-52 Stratofortress and B-58 Hustler crewman with the 379th Bomb Wing of Strategic Air Command ready to blow up the other side of the world several times over, this did not sit well.

Then our house shook violently as a 747 cleared it by about 200 feet, being forced to land at Gerald R. Ford International Airport. All planes were ordered down – those that did not respond would be shot down.

Was this really happening?

I got a phone call from a friend who was interning in Los Angles at the time, who had just flipped on the television. Another friend of mine who was in his morning class called me shouting the same things I could hear from my dad in the other room.

In a state of disbelief and shock – not even anger at this point – I hopped in my car and drove to work, listening to the late Peter Jennings on the ABC News feed on WOOD AM 1300 as the first tower collapsed. I remember my eyes puddling with tears as you could hear the reporter on the street detailing the implosion, with people running and screaming in fear around him as thousands – maybe even tens of thousands – people – mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children, somebody’s girlfriend or boyfriend, perishing in a cloud of concrete, aviation fuel, and fire.

Then word started funneling in about an unresponsive plane headed for Washington D.C., that eventually crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. My God. When will this end?

As I got to my desk, which was situated next to a customer call center, it was eerily quiet. The “Big Board” which listed the number of calls in cue was blank. Nobody was calling; nobody cared. There were more pressing issues at hand. I had the distinct displeasure of working for the most insensitive individual on planet, who chastised me for being late to our meeting, despite my breathless detailing of what was happening eight hundred miles away. Later that afternoon in the lunchroom, the entire company was gathered around the television watching the horrific events and aftermath unfold. Her reply? “I don’t know what the big deal is, you can’t do anything about it anyway, so just go back to work.”

Comments such as those, by TV commentator/”comedian” Bill Maher heralding the heroism of those who helmed planes full of people whose only crime that day was being an American and showing up for work, or those who prattle on about conspiracy theories and inside jobs, make it really difficult as a Catholic to not wish they would accidentally fall face-first into a wood chipper.

In the coming days the around the clock news cycle was relentless. Reporters crying with family members searching desperately for loved ones, holding up photos, signs, sandwich boards, anything to help reunite them with one they so cherished. Triage units remained helping those who had suffered injuries that day, while sadness and sorrow began to shift twoards anger and rage, and the want to destroy anybody or anything who had a part of this.

Other more positive images indelibly remain as well. The lifted Dodge Ram I saw with a 4’x 6’ U.S. Flag fastened to an iron pipe and stuck in the bed rail going down the road by Grand Valley State University. The landscaping truck in front of me stopping in the middle of the road by Taco Bell on Lake Michigan Drive, one of the guys jumping out to pick up a flag that had just fallen off somebody’s car onto the pavement, picking it up, waiving it like Hacksaw Jim Duggan, and getting back in and driving away while everybody honked, cheered, and give him a thumbs up.

As ugly of a time it was, it was also a beautiful time as well. The fact that we as American’s don’t act like that everyday is sad and almost shameful. One thing I love about our sport, is that those involved seem to not have lost sight of that. The strong military presence at every race is evidence of that; it’s just not a fad. It’s for real.

That first “real job” out of school was the result of a last ditch effort on my part to find employment locally. I had made up my mind in May of 2001 that if I did not find something soon, I was going to go in the Air Force. Luckily for me at the time the entry requirements had been loosened to gain entry into the flight program, after many pilots left during the dark years for the U.S. Military of the mid-late 1990s. My dream was to be able to fly one of the H-model B-52s that my Dad had wrenched on, standing guard against communist aggression, which in part helped make yet another failed ideology tap out ten years prior.

Sadly, I got hired. I would not be flying one of Boeing’s finest, but rather one from Steelcase.

That is not to say I wasn’t able to be part of America’s healing. While I was denied the pleasure of planting 2,000lbs JDAMs from 40,000 feet, I was the point of contact for the company I worked for that also sold and distributed American flags. If you happened to purchase a United States Flag from a Home Depot, Ace or True Value Hardware, or a Do-It Best store from 2002-2006, you bought one of mine.

Ten years later, the fight goes on, and will likely forever. You can’t fight hate with hate, but with a few Marines, SEALs, Apaches, and Cold War bombers that are twice as old as those flying them, you can put a dent in it. Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to those who were taken from us ten years ago today, and with those whose pledge is to prevent that from happening ever again.

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