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September 11--Nine Years On

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I just looked at the calendar and realized that tomorrow is September 11.  Nine years ago, that would have only meant that I was seven days closer to my birthday.  All of that changed on a beautiful late summer morning, and now, I dread looking at the September calendar.  I keep wanting September 11 to be just another day, but it is too soon for that.

However, over the last nine years, we have learned that life does go on.  Some days dawn as brilliantly beautiful as that September morning in 2001, and some days are gray all day.  One of the benefits of being an old fogey who has unfortunately lived through his share of traumatic days is the knowledge that life will go on.  After John Kennedy’s assassination, the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, and the Challenger explosion, life went on.  We move ahead.  We smile again.  We laugh again.  And yes, we even cry again. But, we don't forget.

We can never forget, as much as we would want.  And the most fleeting stimulus will take us back to one of those days.  Seeing footage of President Kennedy waving from his limousine moments before we lost our innocence or hearing a recording of those words, “Challenger, you are clear for throttle up” is all it takes to bring a tear to my eye.  It’s been harder to avoid those stimuli with the aftermath of 9/11, especially for those of us in the industry because not only are there emotional issues, 9/11 changed the way we do our jobs.  On our Employee blog today, we have a post from one of our Flight Attendants, who at the time worked for one of the airlines who lost an airplane on 9/11.  She had been scheduled to take one of those flights, but was switched to another at the last moment. Her account took me back to the uncertainty and horror of that beautiful summer morning.  One of the Employees who commented on the post also worked for her airline, and he had two friends that were cleared on the flight as standbys at the last minute.

Like the Kennedy assassination which stole the innocence of a society that knew it could accomplish great things, 9/11 destroyed the innocence of the way that air travel unites people across space and cultures.  While the innocence has been destroyed, the ability to unite time, distance, and especially cultures is more important than ever. 

We were able to move ahead, smile and laugh again thanks to those of you who stepped back on an airplane on September 14 and the millions and millions of air travelers over the nine years since who have demonstrated their resolve to overcome not only time and distance, but the closed minds of a handful of individuals for whom tolerance and understanding are meaningless.

Next year will be the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and it will be a big event.  But we don’t need to wait a year to remember those folks who were just going about their daily activities whether it was going to their office or catching/working a flight to the coast.   We honor the many, many heroes who gave their all so that others would see other September 11ths.   And, we contemplate our own mortality and the fickleness of fate that might move one of us from danger while moving others into harm's way. 

Remember the day.

23 Comments
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Well written.. very touching.. my best friends birthday is 9/11. That day she refused to celebrate it. she was supposed to go to a big family party that night, but nobody felt like celebrating. Since then she celebrates it, but more meaningful. she and her parents go up to church, light Candles and say prayers for all the ones who lost their lives that day. its very solemn occaison..
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Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
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Very beautiful wrote, may god bless all that lost family and loved ones on 9/11 . Life does go on no matter what is happening . And so glad that our airlines are secure and we can trust in each of them . I love flying southwest .
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Your blog is incredibly written. Thank you for sharing and putting into words my thoughts and feelings.
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Beautiful Brian, absolutely beautiful.
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Thanks, Brian Lusk. I worked in a different part of the air industry then (FedEx), and we had employees in both the WTC towers and the Pentagon delivering packages that morning. Needless to say, we were overjoyed when the last of them was accounted for, alive and safe. We were proud to be one of the first (if not the first) commercial airlines to resume flight in the US - we flew relief supplies into NYC. On Sept 11th, I take more than a moment to reflect - on those lost and their families, on the heroism displayed by so many that day and in the days after, on the memories, shared stories, and experiences of the day, and on my gratitude.
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Brian's article is insightful and emotional as we approach the anniversary of 9/11. It was pertinent how he revisited some of the other historical tragedies that have molded our vision and perception of everyday life. Yes life does go on as Brian says, but we are forever changed. Hopefully we become more intune to ways we can get and keep our priorities in line....remembering what is important in this life....trying to make a difference in the lives of others... and finding joy and beauty each day amid the sometimes dark and evil of this world. Love and goodness will prevail. Peace.
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My step daughters birthday is 9/11/00. We held her birthday party 3 weeks early this year because the last few years she hasn't had much of a birthday because many of her friends families want to keep the family together or ''remember'' the day. I am all for remembering, but why force kids that is many cases weren't born are barely old enough to remember. It was without a doubt a day no one will ever forget and a day that rewrote our history as a country from here on out, but now it's time to go forward!
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On 9/11 the buildings came down and on 9/12 the American flags went up! Yet, the airline industry was decimated just a couple days later when we were allowed to fly again. Patriotism; it's one thing to wave the flag but it's another thing to get back on the plane. I was too old to throw on a uniform but I was proud to be with those of you that got back on the planes. Courage is setting your fears aside and doing your job. Thank you SWA for doing your jobs so well.
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Brian, One of your very best. Bravo!!!! Bill
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Beautifully written! Thanks for putting into words a day that many of us could not. So many stories from that day we will never forget.
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On 9-11, I was landing in Houston when the attacks were announced. We were advised by Hobby Tower that, "Two 737's just hit the World Trade Center. It appears to be an intentional act." What does one do with that kind of information? Fifteen simple words that initially make no sense. We assumed two planes had collided mid-air and fallen on the WTC. Of course, later reports corrected the type aircraft involved. As we waited for our gate, I advised the passengers of what Tower had told us. I closed by saying, "This is truly an extraordinary day." After parking at the gate, I ran to a dark bar in the terminal I knew had a TV. People were gathering around watching blurry pictures. I ran back and told my First Officer to run see the video images. "This is historic..." I told him. While he was gone, we were still grasping for information on what, how and why. Then, from the back of the plane, a Flight Attendant on her cell phone yelled, "ANOTHER PLANE JUST HIT THE PENTAGON!" It all clicked: We were under attack. One image I will never forget is of the grass median in front of the Hobby airport on 9-13. Some citizen had placed 5000 4x6 American flags in a single row down the median, for what seemed like a whole mile.
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Wow. Well done. Time closes in on us doesn't it? And the memories abound. I remember exactly where and what I was doing during the Kennedy assissation, the Challenger, and 9-11. And each moment still hurts. Thank you for such a wonderfully written letter. SWA is great. Love you guys
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I flew about eight or nine days after 9/11, and again a week after that. Both times, BWI was eerily quiet. I grabbed some pizza for lunch before both flights, and the second time, the same woman served me--and recognized me. "So nice to see you back again," she said--very sincerely. The events of 9/11 touched more people in more ways than most of us will ever appreciate. While we need to remember, Brian is right--we must go on. For if we don't, the terrorists have won. --Mike
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Brian, So beautifully stated. Too many time our innocence is lost, and yet in comparison to our brethren in other countries we are lucky. We have not suffered daily bombings, massacres, villages of women and children being sexually assaulted, walls built to keep out needed supplies, kiddnappings from getting into our cars, hunger, starvation, and complete annihilation because of our beliefs. We are a young nation, and it is my prayer that we never have to suffer the humilities that so many live with daily. It is my prayer that we as a nation stand strong and bring an end to these hostilities. It is my prayer that we look beyond party lines and bring relief to our country so we may take our hearts to those who need them more than I.
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Hi everyone, thanks so much to all of you for sharing your hearts and your thoughts. It means more than you will know. Brian
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Thanks Brian for your comments. This day will be hard for everyone that experienced it. I was working in a different industry on 9/11.. I worked for a pharmacutical/medical supply wholesaler at the time and it made me very proud to know that the company I worked for stopped their normal work and shipped as much medical supplies to NYC to help the medical professionals near ground zero. They even showed their trucks being escorted by army vehicles down the freeways towards NYC. A huge part of my heart will always go out to everyone that puts their lives on the line every day just by doing their jobs. Everyone remembers that the police, firefighters, and EMS workers do put their lives on the line every day but we don't always remember that everyday could mean their lives to other workers including the airline employees. Thanks to Southwest for always being there every day of the year!
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Our first flight that September 2001 after 9/11 was through Baltimore on Southwest Airlines. The lines were out the front doors, people were a bit tense. But as we rounded a corner on our way through the first "security" checks, a Southwest employee stiffly "walked" down the lines with cane in hand and top hat dressed as "Charlie Chapman", kidding with those ahead of us. A smile crossed a few faces. The next corner revealed Groucho Marx with his cigar and bouncing eyebrows helping to relieve the tension. It was quite a moment for us, one we won't forget. Thanks for bringing a smile to our lives in a very difficult transition to how we fly today.
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On Labor Day weekend, 2001, I flew Southwest from MCO-LAX to visit some friends from San Diego. We walked through LAX like we owned the place. A week later I was watching a reporter stand at LAX, a group of Southwest tails behind her, talking about the events of 9/11, and I couldn't believe that just a few days ago I been at that very airport. Two weeks later one of those same friends was on a Southwest jet heading to Florida, we had begun dating while I was in California. We long distance dated for a year, about every 2-3 weeks one of us was on a plane crossing the country, every flight on Southwest sans 1; on a Delta 767 with about 50 people I flew to SAN after connecting in ATL. Gradually security got more reasonable, the planes got more passengers, and now, although I haven't been on a Southwest plane in over a year, I still wave to every one I see arriving or departing my home airport of PBI and tell her, "Fly safe pretty girl" May we never forget.
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Thank you for your very well written and moving piece commemorating the horrific events of 9/11. We were living in Arizona at the time of the disaster and I was cleaning up the dishes after breakfast with the television on - I watched as the second plane hit the towers. Having just moved from North Jersey where we had a view of the towers from our upstairs bedroom I was stricken with such grief and fear. That moment will always be ingrained in my mind as will be the assassination of President Kennedy even though I was only in second grade at that time. After 9/11, our family did not get on a flight until December - a SWA flight from Phoenix to Las Vegas and I remember that the airport was a ghost town and the flight was almost empty. Our country did recover from the terrorist attack but it did so with hard work and brave leadership. We, as a nation, must never forget - yes, we move forward but always remembering that day lest history repeats itself.
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So very well written. It's hard to imagine it's only been nine years. Innosence was lost that day, but life does move on. Indeed it does. Wonder if we should celebrate the triumph of human spirit as we mourn those we lost that day.
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Brian, Great, and I concur with the others--it's one of your best, if not *the* best... ;) I happened to be off that morning, and caught the view of UAL175 hitting the second tower on TV. To say that I was stunned was the understatement of the year 2001. I was in between houses at the time, and was staying at a hotel on the NE side of DFW. Once "ATC Zero" was implemented nationwide, it was a surreal experience being so close to the nation's 3rd busiest airport, and observing that NOTHING was flying. It was almost as it the clock had been turned back to 1903, before the Wright Brothers made their first flight. I still think about the events of that day, and what it meant then, and also now. I still get moist-eyed whenever I see a fire truck on a run, which has a large American flag flying on the back end. All those fire fighters, police, EMS, and other first-responders lost... Many bumper stickers say "God Bless America", and while it's true (He has), maybe a better bumper sticker is "God Bless The World", in the hopes that Peace can be attained everywhere... Thanks again for a GREAT posting...
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To OPNLguy's comment regarding the clock being turned back to 1903. In addition to memories of 9/11, another one stands out in my mind on Friday, Sept. 14. I was in Michigan and I needed to get back to Colorado. Had a ticket the night before on Northwest, but the system had not recovered yet, so I was driving back on I-80. It was great that National and all the car rental companies allowed people to drop off anywhere without the not-where-you-rented-it drop off charge. I was about 30 miles east of Omaha and, like 9/11, it was a beautiful blue-sky day. Driving, instead of flying was in my mind regarding the impact of that day. I'd look up in the sky and not see any contrails. But, then I saw an American MD-80 climbing out from Omaha, perhaps one of the first to get back in the air. It was like the first flower on a burnt field after a wildfire. The very first sign of recovery.