Personal Memories of 9/11
Deaglán de Bréadún
The tenth anniversary of 9/11 has been a traumatic occasion for the relatives of those who died and who, in many cases, did not even have a body to mourn.
Like those of us who were alive when JFK was shot, everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news. I was on the road through Israel to the Gaza Strip, behind a car containing Brian Cowen, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was on his way to meet Yasser Arafat to discuss peace in the Middle East.
My travelling companion was Mark Little, then working with RTE, who learned in a phone call from the US that a plane had flown into the World Trade Centre. We assumed it was a private plane or other small aircraft.
He describes the scene in one of his books. I was sitting beside him in the back of the car when I heard him exclaiming in shock and horror. A second plane had struck.
The convoy stopped and we heard later that Cowen and Co were trying to decide what to do next. Word came through from Dublin to go ahead and meet Arafat but to confine the conversation to the importance of tracking down whoever had perpetrated these awful deeds.
There were strong initial suggestions that a Palestinian faction was responsible, until a BBC reporter came on air, citing authoritative sources, to deny this. Good journalism.
When we arrived in Gaza, Arafat was in an awful state. One of his lips was trembling like a leaf in a winter breeze. Somehow he managed to do a “doorstep” with Cowen who also pretty shook-up.
A few weeks later, I travelled to the US for a function in Boston, then flew onto New York. As I visited the men’s loo in Boston airport prior to embarkation, it suddenly struck me that this was where the hijackers had their last pee before getting on board!
The first thing that struck you about Manhattan was the smell. A strange mix of metal and burnt flesh. I wondered recently did it contribute to my subsequent bout with prostate cancer.
Crowds were meeting in Washington Square to discuss the issues in impassioned terms. The US was at a crossroads.
Downtown of course was devastation. It was General Assembly time and Cowen was speaking at the UN. While he was in NYC, he got taken out in a boat to view Ground Zero from the water. I was told later he was so moved he started to recite the Rosary and was joined in this by his colleagues. He has a very close attachment to the US, having spent time with relatives there and that may be why it seemed to shake him even more than the rest of us.
A press colleague at the UN told me he had known 36 people who perished in the Twin Towers. The Stars and Stripes was almost everywhere. One exception was the Bronx at Fordham and Grand Concourse where I had stayed fro a time as a young fellow. I went back on the D Train for a sentimental journey and saw no flags but I think this was mainly due to the fact that the place was now inhabited by poor Third World immigrants.
A friend with an apartment near Greenwich Village had heard the planes flying over that morning. Another friend was in midtown and saw the people jumping out of the skyscrapers but thought they were birds.
There were many posters displaying photos of missing persons and despairing requests from their loved ones for any information suggesting they might be still alive.
Nearly two years later, I covered the outbreak of the Iraq War, definitely the most unfortunate result of 9/11. That war should never have happened – it was a scandal and a tragedy.
The Afghan venture was more complex. There were al-Qaeda camps in the place. It is a pity some way could not have been found to deal with the threat without the fullscale military operation that still drags on today. If I may mix metaphors – a surgical strike became a quagmire.
Of course the West has committed atrocities in various parts of the world which are not commemorated in the same way and there is little or no sympathy for the victims or even knowledge of their fate. Needless to say, that does not excuse the horrors of 9/11 in any way, shape or form.
It turned out that I knew one of the 9/11 victims quite well. I had been at the same school as Patrick Currivan, one of the brighter boys to have attended CBS Synge Street. He was on the first plane.
Let’s hope nothing like it ever happens again.