Charlene Bielema

Charlene Bielema

Herald Editor

Sept. 11, 2001.

It was a beautiful Tuesday morning that started out like any other in the Clinton Herald newsroom.

As an afternoon newspaper, we would begin our day early. Our sports department was here first, putting together stories for that day’s pages, like the one about the Fulton Steamers football team remaining fourth in the Illinois Class 3A state football rankings, and sorting through the wire and picking one about Michael Jordan leaning toward a second return to the basketball court after retiring earlier.

By 7 a.m., the news staff was planning a front page that included stories about how the Clinton School District’s building trades home would be sold through the use of a Realtor and that Whiteside County sheriff’s deputies were warning drivers to be careful because 30 head of cattle were still unaccounted for after escaping from a farm near Morrison.

Then our morning changed.

At 7:46 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the World Trade Center’s North Tower in New York City.

News started filtering in across the wire about how the plane, possibly a small one, had crashed into the side of the tower.

Then another report, this time of a plane hitting the South Tower at 8:03 a.m. It was United Airlines Flight 175.

Updates started rolling in: The president is in Sarasota, Fla., reading to school children and is alerted by Chief of Staff Andrew Card, American Airlines Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon at 8:37 a.m., the White House is being evacuated and the vice president is moved into a secure location, the FAA is grounding all flights coming into or crossing over the continental United States, the White House and Capitol are evacuated, the WTC’s South Tower collapses at 8:59 a.m., United Flight 93 crashes in Somerset County, Pa., at 9:03 a.m., the WTC’s North Tower collapses at 9:28 a.m.

And all the while photographic images are screaming across the wire, snapshots of moments in time that end to end depict the events of this saddest of days.

Bursts of fire.

Plumes of smoke.

People jumping from the Towers, choosing death by fall over death by fire.

Soot-covered workers, firefighters, police officers and bystanders first running from a debris field pushing through the streets of New York followed by images of people walking in a daze, often leaning on each other for support as they make their way through the cloudy haze that follows the buildings’ collapses.

As we watched it play out in the newsroom, the page 1A that I was in charge of that day shifted. Instead of the local stories we had chosen during our morning budget meeting, the page was rebuilt with stories and photos coming from the scenes of tragedy, and comments from Clinton firefighters who were watching the collapse of the Towers on TV at Central Fire Station.

Community reaction in the days that followed included church services to remember the victims and pray for the nation, people crowding gas stations out of fear that prices would go up, and stories about local residents, some of whom were in New York or D.C. at the time of the attacks, as well as a pair of Morrison sisters who were serving as flight attendants that day.

Today’s newsroom staff is made up of different people than the ones who were here 10 years ago; in fact I am the only one left who was working here on that day. So I asked some of the newsroom staffers this week if they remembered where they were Sept. 11, 2001. One learned about the attacks in her college classroom. Two others were in high school history class at the time.

It also is among the questions we want to ask our readers as the anniversary approaches.

Where were you when it happened?

How do you think our nation has changed?

Have those changes been for the better?

Do you feel safer now since the attacks, less safe or the same?

How about changes in air travel security and other safety measures? Do they help or hinder?

Do you talk about Sept. 11 and its ramifications with your children?  

We know our world has changed as a result of the attacks. I would love to hear from you as we work on stories about how Sept. 11 changed our community and the nation.

Just give me a call at 242-7142, ext. 155, or send an email with your thoughts to news@clintonherald.com.

This is Charlene Bielema’s weekly take on issues in the Clinton area. She is a Fulton, Ill., native and has been employed with the Clinton Herald since June 1995. She has been the Herald’s editor since 2002.

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