Letter to the Editor: 9/11 Fifteen Years Later


Fifteen years ago today, everything seemed to change. For me, it started at the end of a hall way, near the girls’ gym, at Pottsville Area High School.

It was early in the morning, and the passing bell had rung, dismissing students to their next period classes. I was standing by my post when Jared Black and another student came up to me and said that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. Like many others my initial thought was of a tragic human error, and that’s about it. As I walked away, though I’m not positive about this, I might have even prayed for those involved in what seemed to be an unfortunate accident. In fact I recalled thinking that something similar had occurred years earlier at the Empire State Building.

But the day had just begun, and my initial perception was shown to be drastically inadequate. When word came of a second plane, it became immediately clear. This was intentional. This was terrorism. This was an act of war. This would forever divide our lives into two segments: pre and post 9/11. The world would never be the same.

There was much intensity and uncertainly present when a couple of students, entering my  classroom, exclaimed, “There’s a plane headed for the White House!” As the tragedy unfolded, I happened to be near former PAHS Spanish teacher Joe Reichert’s room, and seeing that his television was on, I caught my first glance of the burning buildings. It was mind boggling, to say the least, and no one really knew what to expect next.

At this time in our lives, my wife Marilyn had taken a hiatus from teaching to stay home with our young kids. Luke was young, and Jake was very young, and I needed to know that they were okay. Since this was before the day of mass cell phone usage, I had to use a landline to contact Marilyn, which I did a number of times that day. In fact during one of these calls she informed me that one of the Trade Center towers had fallen. My immediate response was, “You’re exaggerating!” After all, humungous buildings might be damaged, even severely so. But they don’t simply disappear . . . do they?

After this phone conversation, I quickly peeked into Joe Reichert’s room once again, and sure enough, my wife’s description was accurate. It was stunning to see a single building remaining. The depiction Twin Towers was no longer appropriate, and very soon there would be no towers at all.

During this whole confusing series of events, all typical daily routines were suspended. I can’t speak for everyone else, but most classrooms ceased instruction and instead focused on the history that was unfolding before all of us. In one of my classes, we gathered together for a moment of silence. I wish I could recall the specific students that joined in that solemn quiet time, but the segment is a bit blurry to me. All I know is that it seemed perfectly right and completely proper, even necessary.

Later in the day, I had a study hall in Room 317, and contrary to anything I’ve ever seen in that context, the television was on, and kids moved closer to quietly watch the unfolding news. No one took advantage of the situation, and no one did anything but ponder the mesmerizing revelations that streamed from news stations.

Throughout that incredible day, it was difficult not to speculate, and I think everyone wondered about the scope and implications of these terroristic acts. When I ran home at lunch time to check on my family, I intentionally looked up, not knowing whether to expect more high jacked airplanes flying overhead. Who would do this, and why? What should we expect next? Whatever we didn’t know at the time, this much was clear to every teacher and student at the Castle on the Hill: We were under attack!

Of course the attack itself was a heinous and despicable act, conceived by radicals who simply refused to accept our way of life. We were certainly the victims of hate. But it also became clear, almost immediately, that there was indeed a “we.”  We were Americans. We believed in freedom and truth and that we were truly a blessed people, a unique nation.

As the years have gone by, I fear that we’ve lost much of the passion and patriotism that were ignited that day. I used to spend a portion of the 9/11 anniversary each year relaying some of my memories and asking students what they recalled from that day. Now, however, the vast majority of students have no recollections of these events, and our younger students were actually born after 9/11. My, how quickly the time has gone.

What I hope the 15th anniversary will do is take us back to the ideals that once dominated our post 9/11 experience. Whether young or not so young, it is so important to rekindle the patriotic spirit that, amid the confusion and sadness of that day, reminded us of what makes our country great. May adherence to traditional American values return and may we together embrace and embody what makes us one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

For this to occur in any meaningful and lasting way, we must remember. For those who perished that day, for the victims and the heros, for those who experienced that day and those too young to remember, for America as it was and can be–we remember.

Mr. Carmen DiCello