My September 11, 2001 happened at 8:30 p.m. I’d already peacefully lived through the morning and afternoon of that Tuesday. For me, remembering September 11, 2001 starts in the evening. I don’t think my story is very unique, but it’s different from many of the stories remembered and told on Patriots’ Day.
Knock, Knock. . . Have you heard yet?
I was serving an LDS mission when the September 11 Attacks occurred. I was in Ploiesti, Romania. My companion and I were almost finished with our appointments for the day. We had one more scheduled visit with a family from the congregation in Ploiesti. We knocked on the door. The first words out of the father’s mouth were “Have you heard yet? Are your families okay?”
Normally, LDS missionaries don’t have access to television.
To say we were confused by his greeting was an understatement. He then invited us in, sat us down, and turned on the satellite feed for FOX News. At first the news was being delivered in Romanian, which was okay, but this kind man switched the feed to English so we could understand more completely what had happened.
Normally, LDS missionaries decline offers to watch television when they are offered the opportunity to view television.
My companion and I were about to say that we weren’t supposed to watch television when what the newscaster was saying sunk in. And then, the second tower was struck by an airplane. Suddenly, we were riveted. We watched in silence as the towers fell, and first responders braved the scene. This kind family asked if either of us were from New York, or knew anyone who worked in the towers. We gently reassured them that our immediate families were far away from New York and we presumed safe. He then offered to pray with us. After the prayer, we politely excused ourselves and headed back to our apartment, unsure what to do for the next 30 minutes. Obviously, our visit hadn’t gone as planned.
Be Ready to Go to the US Embassy in a Moment’s Notice
Our next step was to check in with our local missionary leader, our district leader. He was responsible to make sure all the missionaries in his district were accounted for and safe every night. We called him earlier than usual that night.
Our conversation was less than settling. We were told to be ready to go to the US Embassy in a moment’s notice. We were told to not speak English, anywhere, until otherwise instructed. We were told to not wear our LDS missionary name tags and we were told to not tell people we were from the US. It was an uneasy night, to say the least.
Business as Usual?
The next few weeks and months passed as an uneasy, yet weirdly normal, experience. I witnessed the Romanian people do great, compassionate things. The members of our congregation held a standing moment of silence the following Sunday. The country officials draped the Romanian flag with black as a sign of solidarity for the people of the US. Everyone who knew us asked if our families were okay, if we were okay.
Patriots’ Day is a sacred day to remember fallen heroes, fallen citizens, fallen mothers, fallen fathers, fallen brothers, fallen sisters, fallen sons, and fallen daughters. It’s also a sacred day to remember all those who survived, who volunteered, who served, who loved people they’d never met, to remember what the US really stands for. May we never forget!