Char Bielema mug.jpg

Charlene Bielema

It is hard to believe.

Ten years ago tomorrow, two planes slammed into the World Trade Center's towers in New York City, another one hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a fourth crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

The terror of that day, now somewhat soft-pedaled by the passage of time, can easily be recalled by the footage that has been rolling over TV screens the past few weeks, as it does every year in the days leading up to the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001.

Seeing those images again reminds me of how that day played out at the Clinton Herald. Being an afternoon newspaper, newsroom staff was busy putting together that day's newspaper. Local stories were ready for placement on page 1A, which happened to be my responsibility to lay out and which, by the way, was just days after I had been promoted to news editor.

When the first plane hit the north tower of the WTC, we were contacted by other Herald employees who were starting their workday. At that point, it was still thought it was a small plane that hit the tower — an isolated event.

When the second plane hit the south tower, telephones in the newsroom were ringing since many people had seen it play out on live TV. Our Associated Press wire service was streaming updated stories and photos into the newsroom about the New York tragedies, damage and death at the Pentagon, another missing airplane, the evacuation of the White House, the grounding of airplanes and updates on the President's whereabouts.

A Herald reporter, who was out doing police and fire rounds that morning, came back into the newsroom and said he had talked to Clinton firefighters who were watching the New York plane crashes unfold on TV.

Page 1A reshaped itself throughout the next few hours.

And at the same time, while trying to put a paper out, I remember talking to another newsroom staffer, pulling him back into the photography room and asking him if he thought this was the end of the world. Because, if it wasn't, I said, it sure is acting like it.

It was surprising how many local people were tied into the tragedy. There were former Clintonians who were working in buildings near the Twin Towers and gave firsthand accounts about what happened in New York. Our former photographer Jerry Dahl learned that his cousin Jason Dahl had perished in the Shanksville crash.

He was the pilot of United 93, the flight known for the bravery of it passengers who fought back against their hijackers to make sure another target wasn't hit, possibly the White House in Washington, D.C.

The nation, in a state of emergency for days, was shuddering from the pain inflicted by the attacks.

We've now had 10 years to process what happened that day.

In the aftermath it’s easy to see there is no doubt the incidents shaped policy, defined a presidency and political careers and caused us all to ponder how we do and should act on the world stage. It also has caused us to stop and think about how each of us, and our individual beliefs, fit into this big world and among those around us.

We saw some respond with hate in kind. An eye for an eye, giving what you get. Some still live out that hate.

Others have reached out to create tolerance between groups whose religious beliefs differ from their own.

Throughout the years since 2001, hometown sessions have been conducted to help people understand the beliefs of other religions. That became especially important in Clinton, where we have an active Islamic community that no doubt feared for its worshippers in the weeks after Sept. 11

There have been changes in security at airports and around federal facilities and transportation hubs. There is more caution used and people are encouraged to report anything that seems suspicious around places that could be vulnerable to attack. We are to be on guard, watch out for ourselves and our neighbors.

It would be great to go back to a world that does not know this pain, a pre-9/11 world when while we knew of terrorism, we had never seen it, nor believed it could be carried out on such a grand scale.

But when thousands people are dead as a result of the actions of 19 hijackers, it is apparent we cannot go back.  And we'd be naïve to think there aren't others who wish the same fate on us.

So what have we learned in the post 9/11 world?

To respond in a like manner? No. It incites those who wished to do us harm in the first place.

To be fearful. Again no. If we do that, then the true definition of terrorism has come to pass and we are held captive by it.

Maybe in the end what we've learned is to live life unafraid and out loud, watch out for each other, take precautions and reach out in love to our neighbors.

And to not only hope, but pray, that the unbelieveable never happens again.

Charlene Bielema is the Clinton Herald’s editor.