Editor's Note: What we can’t forget

By Richard Wiens, The Triplicate September 12, 2011 05:25 pm

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 – 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 anniversary.

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 Americans.

After all, he was only 14 then. But he does remember.