September 11, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating attacks that forever changed the course of American history. AFGE Field Services and Education Director Bill Fletcher recalls his experience that day.
Like many other people, I was struck at how beautiful a day Sept. 11, 2001, started out to be. I was driving to the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Md., and was in a good mood until I heard this strange radio broadcast about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. My assumption was that this was an accident, just like years ago when a B-25 hit the Empire State Building. But it soon became clear that this was no accident.
I had a very good friend and colleague who I knew was in New York City that day for a meeting. I knew that she was somewhere near the World Trade Center. I called her frantically on my cell, but with no luck. Finally, later that morning I reached her. She was OK, but there was a sound in her voice unlike anything I had ever heard. She had been no more than 2 or 3 blocks from the World Trade Center when everything happened, and she saw it. In a low voice, she said that she saw the crashes and she saw the people jumping from the building. There was fear, horror, sadness and anger in her voice.
Two months later, on Nov. 7 — almost to the day of the attacks — my friend died in her sleep of a massive heart attack. She had gone through anti-cancer treatments that had weakened her heart. But a therapist noted to me, having spoken with her after 9/11, that he thought that 9/11 killed her. He said that the trauma of 9/11 and everything that she witnessed was her undoing. There was no other reason that she should have died.
9/11 has had an ongoing impact on everyone who was alive and conscious on that very sunny morning. We have been the friends and family members of those killed on-site; and the friends and family members of those killed in its aftermath, including those who died as a result of the courageous work done on 9/11 and subsequent days on Ground Zero.
It is not about whether you were affected by 9/11; it is about how you were affected and how you have interpreted the entirety of that experience.