One of the more poignant stories I’ve heard this week, as the media does its annual retrospective of terror, is an NPR StoryCorps interview withVaughn Allex, the poor fellow working the American Airlines front desk who checked in everyone on Flight 77. He remembered all of the other people he’d checked in—an older couple, a student tour group—and two men running late, who turned out to be the terrorists responsible for crashing the plane into the Pentagon. His guilt was like a millstone about his neck.
Then there was another profile, this time in Esquire, this time about the iconic photograph Richard Drew captured of a man hurtling through space after jumping from the molten crown of the Twin Towers. Its subject, dubbed “the Falling Man,” inspired a search among that Tuesday morning’s victims to uncover an identity—a name, a story, anything that would fill in the heart-stopping vacuum of space in which he dives death-ward.
Politico ran a timeline narrative that told the story of the corps traveling with President Bush in Florida, a step-by-step account built by interviews of Andrew Card, Ari Fleischer, Mike Morell, Karl Rove, presidential pilot Col. Mark Tillman, and many others. The most compelling testament of how much things can change in fifteen years was the relative lack of information available to the aloft Air Force One, where over-the-air television was the only source of images from the attacks. While the plane crisscrossed the country, the signal faded in and out.
As our country has moved onward from the smoky ruins of the collapsed buildings, leaving behind the hole in the side of the Pentagon and the charred pit in Pennsylvania, our pause in mourning this day has shifted, too. We no longer see stories focused tightly in on victims’ faces. Now we tell them through the lens of 9/11’s observers and participants.
Beyond remembering where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001, do you remember any of the decisions you made that day?