On the morning of 11 September 2001, I was working in the newsroom as the editor of a newspaper in Garner, that no longer publishes, but was still going strong at the time. This was on a Tuesday, and we had to have it done and ready to go to the press by sometime in the late morning, I can’t remember what the deadlines were.
Anyway, we were busy laying in the last copy on the layout sheets (we were doing old-school cut-and-paste layout until November of that year), when the courier who took the pages to the printer every week arrived. He told us that something had happened in New York and we should turn on the TV. I cut on the TV in my office and we were actually watching when word came that the Pentagon had been hit as well.
As the editor, I had to get everyone away from the TV long enough to wrap up the paper and sent it to the press, which fortunately didn’t take very long. Once it was done, I sent everyone home except for the office manager, who had to be there to handle any business that came in. I returned home, where my mother was staying at the time. As soon as I came in the door, she asked me if I knew what had happened, and I told her yes, we’d been watching it at my office.
About 10 minutes into the TV broadcast after I came home, the reporters said that no one knew who was responsible for the attacks. I immediately looked at Mom and said “I know who did this and they should too. Osama bin Laden did this, that guy who attacked the World Trade Center a few years ago.” I knew it was his organization, because at the time, they had been the only ones to ever attempt terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. I also remember saying that he was a dead man. I was right on both counts, although it took us a few years to kill him. In fairness, I’m sure the FBI and CIA immediately had a very good idea who was responsible, and I do remember bin Laden’s name coming up in discussion that very day.
That night, I had to come back to work and put together another paper that we did for another community, which was done in the middle of the night and delivered to the press. I actually received criticism from a few readers for not mentioning the attacks, but what they didn’t realize is that we were already at deadline when it happened, but the papers didn’t arrive in the mail until Thursday, the 13th. On Friday, it was my job to cover a high school football game for the local team, which was ranked No. 3 in the state. It was kind of a surreal atmosphere, with about 3,000 people in the stadium and everyone a little nervous, because none of us knew if 9/11 was all that they had planned—any large gathering of people was a potential target. Security was beefed up for that game and for several weeks afterward.
All I remember is being angry about what I was seeing, that someone was such a monster that they carefully planned such coordinated attacks over a long period of time and somehow believed carrying the plan out would further their cause, rather than bring even more war and misery to the people of the Middle East. And I remember being glad I wasn’t George W. Bush, who at that moment had only to issue one order, and within 10 minutes, he could exact immediate, horrendous retribution against anyone in that part of the world that he thought was responsible. Bush knew better. I’m not sure one of the current candidates for his job would show the same restraint if confronted with the same situation.
John Cate is sports editor of The Sanford Herald. On Sept. 11, 2001, he was editor of The Cleveland Post in Garner.