SURRATT: Thoughts of 9/11, 20 years later

Published 4:00 am Friday, September 10, 2021

Tonight and Saturday, we will go back in time to a September day in 2001 in New York City, when, to borrow from singer Alan Jackson, the world stopped turning.

The numbers 9/11 bring back painful memories for many of us, even if you weren’t a survivor of the Twin Tower collapse or lost a loved one in the rubble.

Like Pearl Harbor, V-E and V-J Day and the day John F. Kennedy was shot, we all remember where we were. We all remember stopping whatever we were doing, gathering around a television set somewhere and staring in disbelief as the buildings collapsed and the replays of the planes striking the buildings.

I first heard about the disaster on my car radio. I had just dropped my daughter off for her classes at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and was looking forward to spending a calm day until I went to cover a budget hearing that night.

The radio broadcast said a plane struck one of the World Trade Center towers, but no one knew what type of plane. I arrived home and turned on the TV just in time to watch the second tower get hit. What I said is not printable.

It wasn’t long after that my phone began ringing and Regina Hines, my news editor at The Mississippi Press, wanted to know who to call at Naval Station Pascagoula. A few minutes later, she called again, asking for the contact at the Chevron refinery. I asked one simple question, “Do you want me to come in?” The answer was “no.” Several more calls later, Regina said, “You’d better come in.”

At the time, I covered the military and the county’s veterans’ organizations for The Press. One of Regina’s first assignments for me was to “call your veterans (‘my’ veterans) and see what they think.” I tried getting the VFW Post commander to no avail. When I called his daughter to help me find him, she told me, “He’s in Washington.” My next question was obvious: “What’s his cell number?”

I also managed to get the number of the former Navy base commander who was stationed in the Pentagon. I called both. They gave me a first-hand narrative of conditions and the confusion in the nation’s capital.

The years have gone by since that day, and like Hurricane Katrina, I think about it each year and recall the events and the work we did at the paper to get as much local reaction as we could to prepare what was then our morning edition. And each year, one of the satellite channels, be it the History Channel A&E, CNN or Fox will play a documentary about 9/11 and I find myself glued to the image on the screen.

Today and Saturday there will be, just like Vicksburg’s walk and parade Saturday, memorial events across the country recalling the one day in history when my generation and subsequent generations had their “Pearl Harbor.”

And at one of those events, I hope two things happen. One, that someone plays “Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning,” and two, we realize it’s time to stop our petty bickering, grow up and become a nation again.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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