Remembrance: Looking back at Sept. 11, two decades on
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the shocking terrorist attacks continue to be one of the defining moments of our lifetimes.
As the chaotic fall of Afghanistan over the past weeks proves, even those too young to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks are still impacted by them. Most of the 13 U.S. troops killed by the suicide bomber at the Kabul airport last month were infants when coalition forces invaded the country two decades ago.
The basics of the coordinated 9/11 attacks are well known: Four California-bound commercial airliners were hijacked mid-flight by 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists. Two were flown into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, bringing them down. One hit the Pentagon in Virginia. The fourth, believed to be headed for the White House or U.S. Capitol Building, crashed in Pennsylvania after the passengers fought back.
They are still the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history. The death toll was staggering — nearly 3,000 people were killed and more than 6,000 others were injured. In New York, that included at least 340 firefighters and 72 law enforcement officers who ran to the danger.
The psychological and economic damage was even greater. Much of the county all but shut down in the following days, weeks and months. People were afraid to fly or even venture out of their homes, not knowing whether other attacks were coming. Muslims who had no sympathy for the terrorists feared retaliation.
Fears were heightened on Sept. 13 when authorities detained two groups at New York airports carrying knives, false identification, open tickets to U.S. destinations, and certificates from a Florida flight training school attended by some members of the 9/11 hijacking teams, who were similarly armed when they commandeered the four airliners.
"In foiling what they feared was a second wave of attacks yesterday, authorities said they took into custody five people at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and five men at LaGuardia International Airport," the Washington Post reported the following day.
More 20th anniversary coverage:
• We talk with several Portland firefighters who paid their way to Ground Zero to help repair New York
• Remembering Oregon's Flight for Freedom, the famous trip to boost New York's economy
• Editorial: There are still lessons to be learned from Sept. 11
Like the rest of the news media, the Portland Tribune — which had only begun publishing in February 2001 — immediately pivoted to cover the aftermath of the attacks and the local reaction. Publisher Dr. Robert Pamplin Jr. authorized sending reporter Don Hamilton and photographer L.E. Baskow to Ground Zero to report on the impact and recovery efforts. Other reporters documented weaknesses in official regional emergency response plans, increased security at public and private buildings, concerns about weaknesses and passenger declines at Portland International Airport, more police on MAX trains, the activation of the Air National Guard, grassroots efforts to help grieving New Yorkers, and local Muslims afraid of being unfairly profiled.
Portland being Portland, the reporting also included coverage of large and futile protests against retaliating for the attacks. The invasion of Afghanistan, officially known as Operation Enduring Freedom, was launched on Oct. 7, 2001.
Related Portland Tribune stories continued for years as the nation slowly recovered. They included reporter Jim Redden and Baskow traveling to Ft. Carson in Colorado in February 2003 to report on Oregon National Guard troops being deployed from there to Iraq, where then-ruler Saddam Hussein had been accused of harboring members of al-Qaeda and possessing weapons of mass destruction. Both charges were ultimately disproven after he was overthrown.
On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, the cost and effectiveness of the overseas American response is being hotly debated. But in the days, weeks and months following the attacks, the damage was clear and the recovery efforts were heroic. Today, we're looking back on that trying time in history. It includes former reporter Hamilton's memories of his trip to Ground Zero and current reporters Peter Wong and Joseph Gallivan share their impressions of being in New York 20 years ago.
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