Memories of a Community Pulling Together

Seventeen years ago, this nation woke to a tragedy unlike anything it had seen since Pearl Harbor. Our nation was under attack. Four commercial airliners had been hijacked. Two flew into the Twin Towers in New York. Another crashed into the Pentagon and the third in a Pennsylvania field. That third crashed there because of the heroism and sacrifice of the passengers and crew onboard who refused to let their flight be used as yet another weapon against our nation.

To say the country was in shock as it reeled from one event to the next is putting it mildly.  We were stunned, hurt, angry and so much more. We watched as first responders risked their lives in an all too often vain attempt to rescue those trapped by the terrorist actions aimed against all of us. We watched in horror as people jumped from the Twin Towers. It was the thing of nightmares, something our country has yet to heal completely from.

But something else happened that day. In cities and towns across the country, neighbors and strangers pulled together. There was a sense of need–to act, to help, to cope–that joined us. People in areas immediately impacted by the crashes opened their doors to those trapped in town because routes away from the Twin Towers and the surrounding area were shut down. They donated their time, their food, their money.

In towns like mine, so far from where it was all happening, we did our best to pull together as well. Within an hour and a half or so of the second plane hitting the Towers, I was standing in line at the local blood bank. It was the only thing I could do right then. I was surprised by the number of people already there. The blood bank wasn’t even officially open and there were already close to 75 people in line. It didn’t surprise me to see the doors to the center open as well. Employees had come in early, without having to be asked. And not just those who were set to work that day. Those who were off, as well as at least two who no longer worked there, had come to do what they could to help.

Within another hour, at least another 100 people stood in line behind me. The blood bank, which is located in a strip mall, had a line that extended down the length of the center and around the corner. One of the employees came around and told us the line was about to turn yet another corner. Finally,  with something like 200-plus people waiting in line before 11, they finally sent a worker out to talk with us. He had a pad and pen and was asking if anyone wanted to leave their name and number and come back the next day or two. There was simply no way they could process anywhere close to as many people as were there.

No one ahead of me volunteered to come back. I didn’t either. Why? Because I needed to do something. We all did.

It took time, but they finally whittled the line down to about 100-125. And man were those techs hustling.

But that wasn’t the end of it.

The sandwich shop next to the blood bank also opened early. It opened its restrooms to us and offered us free water and soft drinks. Someone, and I never did learn who, brought up a TV and several radios so we could listen to what was happening. Another several people who lived nearby brought some lawn chairs.

Albertsons, one of our local grocery stores, sent their manager and several clerks with half a dozen or more ice chests filled with drinks, ice, etc., All free of charge. We wouldn’t even have known who they were if someone in line hadn’t asked. They came in their personal cars and didn’t wear anything to identify their employer. They simply wanted to help.

It was almost 5 by the time they got to me. As they took me back to a chair, another local merchant arrived. This time, it was a local restaurant. They had coolers and hot boxes filled with food–meals–for the workers and for those of us still there. Again, no one wanted recognition. They simply wanted to help.

In the nation’s hour of tragedy, it pulled together.

I refuse to turn the sacrifices of all those who died on 9/11 into a political statement. So I will leave it with this: I was proud of our nation that day and it proved we can pull together when we need to.

As Todd Beamer said, “Let’s Roll!”

(New York Magazine,  May 14, 2014)


  1. Riots? No.
    Bread lines? No.
    BLOOD lines. Not to draw, but to give.
    And for all the “$WHATEVER means the terrorists already won.”
    That, right there, reveals they failed – and will continue to fail.
    Yeah, stupid things will be done (TSA, etc.)
    But that?
    It’s not just Do Something and “what can I do?” but looking at problems or at least possible problems and going for a solution. Not ‘managing’ the problem, FIXING it.
    Or at least trying to.

    1. Absolutely.

      In a lot of ways, it reminded me of the morning we learned the American embassy in Iran had fallen. I was a post-grad student then out at Texas Tech. Much like 9/11 later, the news rocked the city. Partly because it was home of a large USAF base, and had ties to Iran (the Shah’s son had trained there). Partly because that sort of thing just didn’t happen to the US.

      When I reached the school and joined friends I met every morning for coffee, the guys were grim-faced. They were also clean-shaven and most now sported high and tights. All were former military or in the Reserves. All had been in contact with their COs or former COs and had offered to do whatever was needed. They were ready to go to war because of their love for this country and what it stands for.

      They were ready to act. They didn’t go into a corner to gaze at their navels and whine about what happened was all our fault. I’m proud to have known them and proud to call them friends.

  2. Thank you for remembering, and pointing out, the small bright spots.

    Yes, we did come together. I remember joining a vigil on the levee in Dayton. Buying three custom designed shirts, the proceeds were going to relief work. I didn’t run to donate blood. I’d heard that the lines were long. I knew that the ferver would die down a bit, donations drop, so I waited. A couple of weeks later I walked in, hoping I would not freak out at the sight of the needle, and signed my name to donate. I am O-, the universal donor – they were happy to see me. It was all I could do.

    1. I was back as soon as I could to donate again. And for much the same reasons. I knew the donations would drop. So many people I know were personally impacted by what happened that terrible day. Yet they continued and they did not give up and spend the intervening years whining or blaming the US for what happened.

      Today, in the rain, a memorial service was held at our local 9/11 memorial site. Many of the first responders who went to NYC and DC to assist were there. We still remember and, at least for the day, that sense of community returned.

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