Ten years later, Sept. 11 memories still vivid

Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of one of the darkest days in the history of the United States — the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Sept. 11, 2001 was a day many people will never forget, myself included. What amazes me though is how vivid my memories of the event still are after a decade.

I was working with my uncle in Philadelphia when we were told a plane hit the World Trade Center. We did not see video and we both thought it was a small plane so we did not think much about it.

When the second plane hit the World Trade Center, we knew something unusual was going on so we went looking for a television. Shortly after we began watching the news, reports about another plane striking the Pentagon began.

My uncle and I began talking and decided it might be a good idea for us to get out of Philadelphia — with terrorists clearly attacking the United States, we did not think it would be smart to stay in a place less than a mile from Independence Hall.

We left the town and drove to rural Maryland for the rest of the afternoon. When it was verified that all planes had been accounted for, we went back to our hotel in Philadelphia.

I am not surprised those memories are as vivid as they are, but I can’t believe how strong the memories from the following days remain.

Our hotel was across the Interstate from the Philadelphia airport. We had been there for a while and had gotten used to the noise of planes constantly flying overhead, but in the days after the attacks, the silence was unsettling.

It was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had lived in a rural area, so I was used to little or no noise, but this was different. I do not know how to explain it, but it is a feeling I hope I never experience again.

I remember how everybody in Philadelphia was unusually friendly the next couple of weeks. The town is known as the City of Brotherly Love, but the friendliness increased exponentially beginning Sept. 12, 2001.

People waved at each other when they drove past each other — something I had only seen in the South at that point in time, and then only in rural areas. People also became much more polite and a little less self-centered.

But the one thing that stands out to me more than anything was my return flight to Alabama. I returned home Sept. 20 and remember walking into the airport for the first time since the attacks.

The crowds were reserved and quiet. People were friendly, but conversations were nothing more than a brief exchange of pleasantries. It was clear the passengers were nervous.

The thing I remember most about going through security were the National Guard members standing around in full battle fatigues holding their M-16s.

The only other time I remember seeing armed soldiers at the airport was when I was flying back from Italy, so I knew some airports around the world had armed soldiers.

I had never thought I would see anything like that in the United States. I knew on Sept. 11 that things had changed, but I did not realize how much they had changed until I looked at the National Guardsmen with their M-16s. It made me think of the United States becoming into a police state — a thought that sent shivers down my spine.

With time things began to revert to normal. The planes returned to the air; people replaced their newfound friendliness as they returned to the rush of daily life in the United States; and to my relief, the National Guard did not become a permanent fixture in America’s airports.

The United States did what it does best — it put its head down, worked hard and forged ahead to let the world know it would take more than a few terrorist attacks to stop our way of life. Yes, Sept. 11, 2001 slowed us down for a while, but it did not break us. That is what the United States is all about. We bend, but we do not break.

God bless America and all of the innocent people who died on that tragic day 10 years ago.