Cal Bloom stepped out of his barber shop on Main Street, looking for someone to tell the news: A plane had just flown into the World Trade Center in New York. It was on television, live.

I was several doors down, pausing during my after-breakfast walk, talking to Tony at Giulianova's on the sidewalk outside his store. It was a clear morning, almost fall: September 11, 2001. The day we all took a fork in the road.


New York media covers New York as if it is the center of the universe. The story taking place before us would prove that it is not, and never was.

As Cal and I stood there looking at the small screen mounted near the ceiling, a second plane flew into the building.


My recollection of the moment is that I said, "The world just changed."

New York – America -- was under attack.

Then it was the Pentagon, and the flight that went down in Western Pennsylvania. Fighter jets were like flies in the sky. People watched, dumbstruck, but when the ultimate incredulity happened, and the towers dissolved like sand castles, panic and rage took hold of the nation, whether you were in the streets of lower Manhattan, or Manhattan, Kansas.

Ask anyone who was old enough to comprehend the moment and they can tell you where they were. It was like the day Kennedy was shot.

But the country was going to be affected by 9/11 more than any event since the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. We had no idea how much.

As I look back on that event, and consider the changes in my own personal life, I have come to believe that it had more effect on my life than the attacks on the U.S. Navy destroyers that gave America the excuse the government needed to dive head first into the quagmire of Vietnam. That event erased my draft deferment as a married man and put me on Navy ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, three years in Asia, all told.

Vietnam brought major change for the nation, but I believe the terrorist attack on New York was more costly. True, nearly 60,000 American military men and women paid the price for the war in Vietnam, and countless more civilians, and maps were redrawn and history took a detour through Laos and Cambodia and the halls of governments from Washington to Hanoi to Paris to Beijing and just about everywhere else.

But today, 38 years after we scooted out of Saigon, we now wear shirts and underwear made in Vietnam, and tours are offered to people who have never experienced the sound and fury of incoming.

The towers, the Pentagon, the field near Pittsburgh and the events that have transpired since will not lead to resumption of trade with an enemy. Terror – in whatever cloak -- was with us before we had cities. It was born before civilization.

If you were not there in New York that day or if you did not lose a husband or son or mother or wife or daughter or neighbor or friend – you at least began to question the quintessential tenet of American faith that everything will be OK, in time.

From that moment, we all share the dark knowledge of the survivors of the Holocaust: It can happen again.

Those who did suffer injury or loss of loved ones have every right to look upon personal reflections like this one as like an exercise in treading water in the kiddie pool.


We cannot quite relate; but we came closer that day, for a while.

The injury visited upon those of us who stood in front of television newscasts in those hours after the attacks has been like a slow bleeding. Self-inflicted injuries have led us to Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia and the dark recesses of our own hearts.

Americans have surrendered our liberties to some indefinable power known as Homeland Security, and other watchers as we hunker before television cable shows about people hoarding weapons and supplies in pathetically inept attempts to recover what we lost 13 years ago.

America was knocked off course, and we elect simple-minded representatives to public offices high and low without any idea of how the divisions that we create will allow us to get back to where we were on September 10, 2001.

Dean Minnich writes from Westminster. His column appears Thursdays. Email him at dminnichwestm@aol.com.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun