Most Ketchikan residents likely were asleep at 4:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists crashed a hijacked Boeing 767 airliner into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Before 6 a.m. that day, a second Boeing 767— also hijacked — had hit the World Trade Center’s South Tower, a third hijacked airliner had crashed into the side of the Pentagon, the South Tower had collapsed, and a fourth hijacked jetliner had crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
Many of us in Ketchikan were awake by the time the North Tower collapsed at 6:28 a.m. Word of the events on the East Coast circulated quickly, and we watched and listened to the early news reports, trying, along with the rest of the nation and world, to understand what had occurred, why, and what might happen next.
Ketchikan itself was eerily quiet.
The FAA had quickly suspended all flights that morning. No float planes buzzed or passenger jets flew.
Two Holland-America Line ships, the Westerdam and Statendam, made port calls in Ketchikan that day. By the time the ships docked, passengers had heard of the events. Some crowded around public payphones on the docks to call home. Others found public places that had televisions, such as the Sears store on Mission Street, to watch events unfold. Their faces bore the same expressions of shock, disbelief, fear and anger as did those of residents.
For many who experienced that day, the memory still feels sharp. The days that immediately followed feel more like a blur with the ongoing rush of information about the events and their repercussions. We learned of tremendous heroism and heartbreak. We watched and in some cases worked to help, the nation rebuild what had been destroyed and counter whatever threat might be still ahead.
Looking back now, one of the most remarkable aspects of the aftermath of 9/11 was how Americans came together. The sense of unity was palpable in the days and weeks that followed.
The feeling was captured by then Ketchikan High School junior Forrest McGillis, who, in a poem read during a special Kayhi assembly on Sept. 14, 2001, wrote that “Though our hearts are filled with sadness and our souls are filled with ire, nothing will bring America down, not even a tower of fire.”
Friday is the 19th anniversary of 9/11.
We do well to remember — and to ponder the question of how we would respond today.