“That morning I was …” the tales almost always started. I interviewed several dozen people at various levels of government, law enforcement, media and even a few military connections in the hours that followed the Attacks of 9/11.
Like millions, I watched in horror as the second plane struck, in real-time. Then the speculation began to grow, from stringy bits of brief eyewitness accounts from the AP, NYT, Reuters and other news bureaus. Hazy takes on the Pennsylvania crash, the Pentagon and fighter jets being scrambled to knock down other possible attacks fueled a day of chaos.
The rumors were rampant, but the reality struck me the moment I saw The Second Plane. Suddenly, my brief research as a teen into what parts of the US were most likely to get struck with a nuclear bomb began to jibe with the deranged, mad genius of the attacks: Fueled-up, hijacked commercial airliners, jockeyed by suicide bombers with nothing to lose, coordinated an attack on America, using those planes as veritable BTU missiles aimed at any variety of public works, government buildings, malls, skyscrapers, stadiums, schools or churches … it added a whole new dimension to possible evil.
Except for the Capitol attacks last January 6th, I like to think we’re a civilized nation - but like that terror, we all became a bit more ‘woke’ to new realities of evil on 9/11, as the FAA shut down the skies, the world became a lot smaller, as suddenly nobody was safe, regardless of your flag, patriotic song or heritage. We lost a big remaining chunk of American Innocence - It didn’t matter which army or dictator hated us now, because a new kamikaze was born.
The physics of the plane crashes, the insane temperatures, forces of the impact and how it affected the strike spots were hard to ignore when I interviewed the family of a local man who was among the first to perish at the Pentagon.
Lt. Col. Dean Mattson grew up just south of the Burnett County border and was only 57-years-old when American Airlines Flight 77 barreled into the west side of the Pentagon, straight into his Outer Ring office. He had only moved into that office a few weeks prior, after an extensive security and fire break revamp. Several military people I talked with said those improvements likely saved hundreds of lives at the Pentagon, keeping the inferno contained. Lt. Col. Mattson was less than 100 days from retirement at the time, devoting his entire adult life to the cause of defending our nation. Dozens of people over the years bragged of what a great man he was, and I even heard of a job he had lined up, after his retirement. Dean was just one of several thousand who died that day, but his story is worth telling still, twenty years out.
The heroes need to be remembered, to temper that furious chaos that still threatens us today.