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September 11th Remembrance

 

Every single American citizen has a unique perspective on the horrific events of September 11th 2001.  For every one of us was going about our daily routines before the events unfolded in front of us. We were all doing something on that day, and our individual angles of perceptions are all stories that we all can share with the world about this grave day in our nation’s history. Anyone over 10years of age will have a eternal mental bookmark image in their minds of those landmark twin towers in flames and smoldering mixed with the ear-piercing sound of tons of steel and concrete falling to rest at the base of the towers.

We cannot change the event or the fate of those who perished that day amid the lives of others who sacrificed themselves so that other could live to tell their heroic and horrific tales of the event. We must never forget the heart wrenching pain and the utter confusion we, as a nation experienced visually together and how we all wondered aloud what our own real worlds would become on September 12th. For the senseless acts of a few on that date have permanently changed a nation’s collective thoughts on horror and terror, and we must always be vigilant to future actions or events.

I just want to state for the record that I am extremely proud of the way the entire country pulled together for the citizens of New York City and its surrounding townships and boroughs that lost members of their community on that day. I am still so remorseful over the loss of those two great towers that beamed a light of freedom and power to the world as a symbol of the landscape of the Big Apple. For it was an International symbol of what we stood for, and what we can achieve as a nation. And for that same reason, it was targeted to be erased not only from our nation’s eyes, but the entire worlds view forever. This is my remembrance of that day in America’s history when even the Statue of Liberty wanted to cry and reach out to its citizens.

I remember that morning I was filling in by helping to run a vacation route that consisted of a vending machine stops that day for my job at Pepsi. Usually I do not fill in like this, but the route has some pretty particular locations on its runs, and had to be completed that day.  I was just coming out of the Franklin Templeton building on Carillon Parkway in the Gateway section of St. Petersburg when it seemed to me that the sky had fallen silent.

I was within 8 miles of the always busy Tampa International Airport, and about 2 miles from the smaller, but activity enriched St. Petersburg/Clearwater Airport. As I put my laydowns on the back of my Pepsi truck, I was unaware of the first twin tower  had been hit by an American Airlines flight out of Boston, Mass. en route to Los Angeles.

I pulled my truck into the front parking lot of the Raymond James complex just down the road and the receptionist at the front security checkpoint and the entire Security staff were all huddled near an overhanging television watching the beginning of that days horrific events as I entered the building. 

My pager immediately began to go ballistic with 8 straight emergency pagers from my company telling all company trucks to finish their current route stops and proceed immediately back to the  St. Petersburg warehouse. It was advised by the Regional Vice-President at that moment that all Pepsi company employees and their vehicles needed be off the road in case of a similar episode here in the Tampa Bay area.
Considering we had Mac Dill Air Force Base, which is home to the Central Command headquarters, which is the operating center for all current military operations conducted in the Middle East only 15 miles away, it was decided that if the terrorists were indeed targeting important military and high profile security locations, that Central Command would be a important target. So I decided to forget the vending machines and quickly returned to the warehouse and sat with most of the Pepsi plant employees watching the horrific events unfold in front of me on a television in the main meeting room. 

I could only think about how as a cocky 10-year old boy, my uncle George took me on top of the north tower while it was almost completed and showed me the beautiful sights of New York City from an entirely new prospective. How proud my uncle was of these towers, and coming to work daily with such an awesome cityscape every day just seemed to make him happy to have chosen his profession.

In that moment, while standing in the Pepsi meeting room I tried to get a hold of him on my cellphone and tried to again and again to call him, but at that time hundreds of thousands of people were jamming the cell towers with calls here and towards the Big Apple to check on relatives and friends in the city. I learned much later that some of the biggest cellphone reception towers were located on those twin towers in the heart of New York. The instant influx of calls and messages had overwhelmed the cell phone systems and caused massive busy signals and no signals messages deep within the city.
And during this tragic low point in America’s proud history, the Tampa Bay Rays were in a local hotel based in Manhattan preparing for a game that same night against the New York Yankees. They could not venture out of the safety of the hotel, or even get calls out to loved ones and the team to notify them of their safe confines until hours later. The team sat huddles in a banquet room watching what the rest of us around America was seeing, the symbols of New York burning and crashing to the ground in front of their very eyes.

With the dangers surrounding the New York area at that time not confined just to the World Trade Plaza, Rudy Giuliani, the current Mayor of New York City implored citizens to stay within their homes until it was deemed safe to again travel within the city.  That night’s game was canceled and Ray’s players and staff were instructed to stay in the hotel and not even venture to local restaurants and stores as a security measure. For the game of baseball would have to wait as the city lay hurt and injured before them, but baseball would be a key ingredient to the health of this great city.

When days later, the Rays did finally get to play New York, it was the first day that baseball again got to be played in this great city. And it was an event that evoked not only tears of sadness but of joy that a sense of normalcy was again going to fill the lives of New Yorkers. The pure act of watching 18 men take the field to play a baseball game began the healing process for some in the city. For the city had been in mourning for days and now needed an outward release, an event to boost spirits and morale, an event to celebrate the brave face of the city in this crisis. It might have been the first time in days that the city took a deep breath and relaxed as a whole.

It was a game surrounded by huge emotional episodes and truly patriotic gestures by fans and players of both teams. Some members of the Rays had been past players for the Yankees, while others amongst the Rays roster hailed from the state of New York and felt a huge rush of civic pride and compassion for the city. As a measure of remembrance, MLB had all the players uniforms emblazoned with an American flag patch over the MLB label usually located in the rear of the uniform. MLB also instructed each team to attach to the players caps, a stitched American flag on the left side of the cap, closest to the hearts of the citizens of this nation.

It was a game not played for the competition between these two teams that day, but for the grieving of the nation and this great city.  Both teams were still a bit numb, and it showed in the awkwardness on the field.  But it was a game of release and healing for the fans in attendance and the citizens of this great town at home watching on television. It was a defiant show of courage and the acts of trying to get back to normal, or trying to figure out what normal was from that day on.

It was a baseball game where the score did not matter, for it was a visual sign of rebuilding faith and reconstructing the city’s pride again. It was a time for New Yorkers to grieve, celebrate, and ponder what to do from now on.

And the Rays as a team were honored to be there for their baseball brethren and their city, for it was an honor that they could help this healing process begin for the city by just playing a game. Everyone knows the huge outpouring of the entire country for the citizens of New York City. But with the action of the Rays and Yankees playing a simple ballgame, it brought about a sense of getting back to life, and a place to remember, and a way to embrace life with their fellow man that night.

 

So on this horrific day, 8 years ago, many NYC firefighters, Port Authority and NYPD brave men and women perished in this tragic disaster. I still hold as a memory of that faithful day an old Rays cap from pitcher Brian Rekar that within the brow has his uniform number 35, and the symbols of the “FDNY”, and “NYPD” imprinted on it in black sharpie as his remembrance to those courageous souls. Rekar gave me the symbolic cap after the Rays last game in 2001 at Tropicana Field, and I have had it encased in a see through basketball display case and it is located within eye sight when you enter my home.

Like so many in this country it was a day that I will never forget, or can ever forget the sights and sounds of that event.

But it is still a real joy to me knowing that the simple actions of playing a baseball game helped the healing process in that time of grief and suffering. The city has begun to shed itself of those scars and physical memories, it has collectively healed itself, and the site of those majestic twin towers has been excavated and will someday hold a place for others to come and show respects and prayers for the many who were lost and never found. The area has undergone huge change, but the memories and the emotional pull of that day at Ground Zero will always grow heavy on this nation’s heart.

It was one of the darkest days of this nation’s history where human life and perspective were damaged and destroyed forever. It was also a day that came to remind all of us the courage and the strength that this nation embodies from sea to shining sea. For life has changed in many ways from the events of this date, but the heartbeat of this country remains strong and more powerful with each day. For we lost our collective innocence and patriotic foundation on this date for a short time, but it was built up tougher and more resilient because of the events on September 11th.

For on this date, from now on, we can collectively celebrate the bend but not break mental and emotional bonds that weaves throughout all of us in the country, and make us strong. For this day should not be celebrated as a death, but as a reemergence of the American spirit and determination to fly high like an eagle………especially in the skies around New York City.

 

 

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