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Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

 
     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Maria L. Evans
Contributor's location on 9/11:
Contributed on: 20 August 2002

How did you witness history on September 11th?

I live near Sublette, MO (I have a Greentop address) and work in Kirksville, MO. I was off work (I'm off work on Tues. a.m.) and I was checking my e-mail when I heard about the first plane. (I was listening to National Public Radio.) I thought, "What a weird accident." A few minutes later the second plane crashed into the second tower and I thought "That ain't no accident!" I went to the TV set and turned on CNN and watched the horror...actually I was riveted to it. When the towers crumbled, I remember just repeating "Oh, my God," over and over. It was so shocking, it seemed like a bad movie, totally unreal. I imagine it was kind of like how the U.S. soldiers in WWII must have felt when they saw the concentration camps for the first time...weirdly unreal. The odd thing was my grandmother, who had terminal lung cancer at the time, was on her way up to my house with my mom and mom's friend Paula because she wanted to see my donkeys, Sylvia and Topaz, and pet and feed them. When we were out there with the donkeys, it was like nothing ever happened. So bizzare. I figured we'd be at war by the end of the day. I was kind of surprised we hadn't declared war "the old fashioned way" via Congress. My grandmother told me that it would be like Pearl Harbor day or when Kennedy was killed, I'd always remember that day like it was yesterday. Later that day I went to the Hy-Vee grocery store in Kirksville (Kirksville has about 17,000 people) and cars were lined up clear onto Hwy. 63 to buy gas. I thought to myself, "People are crazy. We could be at war and they're all filling their tanks thinking there's going to be a run on gas." Some unscrupulous gas station owners had already raised the price 10-15 cents. I was really miffed about that...some patriots! When I got into Hy-Vee the other shocker was that there was not a single bottle of bottled water in the store! Like terrorists were going to mess with the water supply in a small, overly white town where anyone would notice someone different. Shoot, people in my town know my car, me, my dog, and some terrorist is going to slip in? Give me a break! I marveled at the fear and gullibility of some folks. Meanwhile, I bought beer instead. I figured, "If we're going to be attacked, at least I'll have beer." I also remember being angry that Pres. Bush was flying around in Air Force one, seemingly hiding, instead of going back to Washington. He straightened up, and I was ok with his actions over the following week, but I distinctly remember thinking that no matter what the reason, it LOOKED like he was hiding like a scared rabbit in the bushes. I think if I were him I'd have gone back to DC even though it was somewhat of a security risk, because I believe that in times of trouble like this, people expect their president to look like they are in charge and to stand up and be a brave person, an example to the nation. Had it been me, I'd have quietly returned to Washington and when I got back, I'd get on TV and say, "We have to sit still, hang tough, keep our powder dry and not let these guys win. We're not cancelling baseball, golf tournaments, football games, nothing, because then the terrorists win....then they have affected our daily lives." I spent much of the next day worrying about the daughter of my significant friend Mitch, who lives in Queens. I was relieved she was fine.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

In some ways yes, in some ways no. Yes in that it made me realize that our borders are not impregnable (sp?). We are at risk for terrorism like the rest of the world. Yes in that I value my civil liberties even more and am more actively angry that John Ashcroft is attempting to combat terrorism by throwing some of my civil liberties and rights to privacy out the window. Yes in that I realize that we are all in a weird mix. I am proud to be an American and am as patriotic as the next person but I am not blind to the fact our attitudes are not well received throughout the world. No in that, on one of the worst days in American history, our infrastructure outside of NYC wasn't even SCRATCHED. My friend Julie was able to e-mail her cousin who was stationed on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. (He couldn't e-mail back because they were on a security alert, but he did get the e-mail from her.) In the midwest, our phones were untouched. Mitch's daughter e-mailed me the very next day (although she had to go to a friend's house in NJ to do it, her phones were screwed up). Most of us still had business as usual. No in that my political views are pretty much the same.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

That it probably surprised the terrorists that we didn't crump over this. I think most of our enemies in history have made the mistake that, because we are a "mongrel nation" of sorts, with a lot of pleural views and cultures, that we're weak because of it, and can be fragmented. On the contrary, it's what makes us strong....you might say it's a form of "hybrid vigor". Totalitarian regimes just don't get it, they try to break us, and they (so far) have always failed.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

I got a flag decal for my car and I did fly the flag as part of the President's request to do so for 30 days. I was glad I already had a flag because there was a run on them, too! I joked that the Republicans bought up all the flags so the Democrats would look like pinko traitors. Over the following year, I have found myself being really angry that some Republicans have played this game where they're the only real patriots and that if you question the President at all, you're a traitor. People have a short memory. My grandmother told me Republicans "pissed and moaned" about FDR all the time, even during the war. To hear it on TV now, you'd think no one ever uttered a harsh word about FDR from 1941-45. Of course, most of the people who remembered that are all dead, so it's easy to revise history. I've always felt soft and squishy about the flag. I think one of my favorite sports memories was the 1980 miracle on ice in the Olympics where the hockey player was wrapped in it. That's why I can't believe all the recent flap about the pledge of allegiance. Once again, people have a short memory. My mom grew up before "under God" was put in the pledge and she still goofs it up and occasionally says, "one nation indivisible". The other funny thing about the Pledge is that most people don't realize it was written in 1892 by a Baptist minister who was also a "Christian Socialist" for a model Columbus Day program provided by the National Education Association! Only in America, right? Only in America can a pinko preacher write something for the teachers' union that the right wing hates and it becomes a national icon. I like his original pledge better. It goes, "I pledge allegiance to MY flag and to the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." He was a BAPTIST and he wasn't all hung up w/putting God in it! I like the "my flag" concept of the original one, too. He wanted to also put the word "equality" in but he knew some school superintendents in the south would reject it because of the civil rights controversies at the time. But that's the deal, right? Our flag unites our strange little mongrel nation and only in America can you go from the outhouse to the penthouse. What a country! (To borrow from Yakov Smirnoff, the comedian.)


Cite as: Maria L. Evans, Smithsonian Story #317, The September 11 Digital Archive, 20 August 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/smithsonian/details/317>.
Archival Information: 651 words, 3412 characters

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