By Roy Eaton
Originally published Thursday, September 20, 2001
It’s terrible to be away from home when tragedy strikes. When the terrorists crashed airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, I was far away from the newsroom where I desperately wanted to be.
On Sunday, we had flown to Chicago for the convention of the National Newspaper Association that was to open in Milwaukee on Wednesday. We had gone a few days early to spend some time with friends from Minnesota and Tennessee before the convention began.
On Tuesday morning, we were to meet at 8:30 a.m. for breakfast and, as is our habit, Jeannine and I were watching ABC’s Good Morning America on television. Charlie Gibson and Diane Sawyer were reporting a fire in the World Trade Center and all of a sudden, out of the right hand side of the picture came a large plane. As it disappeared behind the first building, a huge explosion erupted.
“I think I saw a plane coming from the right hand side of those buildings,” Gibson said as he asked engineers to replay that portion of the video.
It was then we knew that terrorists had struck. Within the hour, the plane had crashed into the Pentagon and word quickly spread that there was another plane aimed for the Capitol or the White House. That was the plane which later crashed in a rural area of Pennsylvania.
Needless to say, any plans for a nice few days of vacation in Wisconsin evaporated as we were glued to our television sets. An ABC reporter named John Miller, whom I had not seen before, did a spectacular job with Gibson and Sawyer and later with Peter Jennings. It turned out that Miller had interviewed Osama bin Laden several years ago and he had valuable insights that were helpful as American’s struggled to gain a mental picture of this religous fanatic who had caused thousands of deaths in just moments.
Later Tuesday afternoon, in an effort to get our minds off the tragedy, we joined our friends on a boat tour of beautiful Lake Geneva in Wisconsin. But our hearts weren’t in it.
One of our friends, Jack Fishman, owns a daily newspaper in Morristown, Tennessee. Like most small newspaper men and women, Jack is a hands-on publisher and he spent much of the time on the telephone directing news coverage for his 20,000 circulation afternoon daily. If I had ever doubted the value of cellular telephones, it was erased in an instant on that Tuesday.
Because most community newspaper publishers had planned to fly into Milwaukee on Wednesday for the convention and all air traffic was grounded, National Newspaper Association officials decided to cancel the convention.
Our friends Jerry and Vana Tidwell of the Hood County News in Granbury had already arrived in Milwaukee and quickly rented a car and drove home.
Luckily for us, we had rented a car in Chicago, and after a day in Milwaukee, we decided it was best to drive home. We left after a luncheon at the home of former NNA President Bruce Brown in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, and headed home for Texas.
We stopped the first night in Moline, Il., to visit the birthplace of John Deere and see the beautiful new John Deere Pavilion on the banks of the Mississippi river. While there, Decatur Mayor Bobby Wilson called us just to make sure we were OK.
As we drove toward Wichita, Kansas, on Friday, we listened on the car radio to the memorial service at the National Cathedral in Washington. Having been to the beautiful Episcopal Cathedral several times, it was easy to draw a mental picture of the service. Hearing Dr. Billy Graham say that even he could not explain to his own satisfaction how God’s actions were at work in this disaster brought a sense of relief to my mind. If Billy Graham can’t understand it, then it’s not offensive to God that I can’t.
And then, as the worshipers sang “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” when the service closed, tears began to flow down my cheeks as I remembered in sorrow the thousands of persons whose lives were lost and their families and friends whose lives were forever changed.
While they may seem frivolous, there are several things that I thought important. First, I learned to appreciate National Public Radio more than I ever have. My colleagues Skip Nichols and Ken Roselle are avid NPR listeners, but not until this trip, driving and away from the dependability of ABC, NBC and CNN, did I realize how much NPR meant.
Another, perhaps insignificant thing, that crossed my mind, was how Hertz Rent-a-Car had made me a customer for life when they told me to just drive the Mercury Grand Marquis I had rented in Chicago on home to DFW and there would be no extra charge or penalty for leaving the car somewhere other than where I had rented it.
I understand that other rental car companies had done the same thing for their customers, but I also heard there had been some price gouging by others.
The big story through the Midwest was that some gasoline stations were charging up to $5 per gallon for gas, but we never saw that. The most we paid was $1.81 as we made our way down I-35 toward home.
At home, in our own church on Sunday, we sat with what I would call an “Easter size” group of worshipers as we gathered to hear our minister, Rusty Hedges, try to make sense of what had happened. He did a great job under very difficult circumstances because in addition to the New York and Washington tragedies, Rusty’s good friend, Rev. Bill May, pastor of the Boyd United Methodist Church, had just died of cancer at the much too young age of 42.
But, as the service closed, when music director Lillian Sattawhite led the congregation in God Bless America, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
It’s good to be home and at work with those you love in times like these. The fellowship of your home and workplace helps heal our wounds and lift our spirits in times of unspeakable sorrow.
It’s good to be home with all of you.
Look for more of WCMessenger.com’s special 9/11 tribute at www.wcmessenger.com/911.