It's too bad that those rare moments we Americans can collectively recall can't be pleasant ones.
Maybe someday we'll make first contact with friendly extraterrestrials, and we'll all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the word. Until then, the type of news we all remember initially learning of will probably be jarringly bad.
While the deaths of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr. and Elvis were memorable, I believe there have been only two such nationally transcendent events in my 54 years. The first began with a playground monitor's whistle, prematurely ending recess on a gray Oregon Friday and sending my classmates and me back to our first-grade classroom. Our teacher told us our president had been killed. We went home early to a weekend trapped inside black and white TV sets.
My son awakened me 38 years later in Spokane. He'd been watching the
alarming but not earth-shattering news of an airliner hitting one of the
towers of the World Trade Center. When the same thing happened to the
other tower on live TV, he decided it was time for his old man to open
his eyes. I did so in time to hear the dread in a newscaster's voice as
he delivered the first word of smoke rising from the Pentagon.
I forget the exact moment when I realized I had a job to do. Was it
before the first tower imploded? The second? I was trapped in a color TV
set this time, but I couldn't linger. I was an assistant city editor,
not a first-grader. There were calls to make, people to mobilize.
It's actually therapeutic, in a time of tumultuous tragedy, to go to
work covering the event instead of numbly watching it unfold. Over the
next few hours, The Spokesman-Review produced an extra edition. It
wasn't hard finding local connections to this story andndash; heck, one of our
vacationing reporters had been hustled out of the White House while
taking a tour that morning. By mid-afternoon, the extra editions were on
the streets of Spokane. Some reporters, sensing a once-in-a-lifetime
opportunity to connect with an earlier era of newspapering, even
volunteered to hawk the papers to passing pedestrians and motorists.
The much-smaller Daily Triplicate did not produce an extra, but its
staffers were certainly hard at work. The Sept. 12, 2001, edition
featured a thorough overview of how the previous day had played out in
Del Norte. That article is reprinted today, on the eve of 9/11's 10th
Also in today's paper is a Northcoast Life piece further exploring
the event through the eyes of people who were here. And a front-page
article surveys some of the locals whose lives were irrevocably changed
that day because of connections to the American military.
Both articles are the work of our new staff writer, Adam Spencer, 24.
He told me that reporting the pieces gave him a new appreciation of how
9/11 affected people as individuals, as community members, as
After all, he was only 14 then. But he does remember.