TV has been saturated with coverage of the 9/11 anniversary for the past few days, but especially today (Sun. 9/11/11). I have watched some of it and have learned some very interesting things. I really do not see how the powers that be can find anything else to cover about this tragedy. There have been shows about every facet of this event…there just can not be anything else that is not known. But, of course, I know there could be. It still angers me when I think of what ordinary people had to endure at the hands of these terrorists. It is inhuman. And, they will pay. Nothing is hidden from our Lord.
So, are the big news stories and the deaths of famous people images that stay with us for a lifetime? Do you remember where you were when you heard about the deaths of Martin Luther King, or President Kennedy, the moon landing or the Challenger disaster or Princess Diana, or 9/11? Here are a few of my thoughts and memories of these events. These were actually the ones I could recall…so I guess these were the only ones that impacted me.
I was 10 years old and in either 3rd or 4th grade at Grandview Elementary School here in Dothan. This was before much technology was available in the schools, but my Mom had been PTA president and the PTA had bought a TV for each classroom. In the mornings, we would do a handwriting exercise with a teacher on the AL Public TV station. But, that was about all we would use it because there were not even VCR’s then. But, our principal, Mrs. Ruby Cherry, (who just loved my Mom and told her every little thing I ever did) came hurrying into the room and told the teacher to turn the television on right away, and fix it so the children could watch. But, she didn’t say why. My teacher did as she was asked, and the news came on about the shooting. We watched the rest of the day. The teachers were all undone and had very worried looks on their faces. I do not think we really understood the importance of what had happened. I mean, we were only 10. Do the children who are 10 years old these days have a better grasp of world events? Do they understand more about the unsettling events that are happening around us? That was still a time of innocence for us. But, we watched that TV for days…until he was buried. And then some. It was over our heads, really. I remember my teachers saying, when we would ask to do something else, “Don’t you realize that you are watching HISTORY? This will be in all the history books, and you can see it happening!” Mrs. Cherry, the principal,(who just loved my Mom and never let me get away with anything) said to me, “I am so thankful your Mom and the PTA got us those TV’s!” And, that made me proud. Because of Mom, I watched history happening…even if I wasn’t really thankful until years later.
I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. as a man who fought for civil rights. I lived in the South, and all this racial unrest was happening all around me. It always made me feel uneasy. But, at my age, I really did not have a good grasp on what all this really meant. Perhaps I led a sheltered life in this respect. I knew lots of ‘colored people’, and I thought they were just like me except their skin was darker. I didn’t know why there was a problem. We had a wonderful lady who worked for us and Joy and I loved her. She was an honored guest at my wedding. I knew about the march in Selma, AL in 1965. And, I knew Rev. King’s death was very tragic. He died in a motel room balcony in Memphis, Tenn., from an assassin’s bullet. He promoted non-violence, and I remember thinking how sad it was that he was killed in such a violent manner. I also remember seeing pictures of his wife and family as they mourned his loss. Even though it all wasn’t clear in my mind, I remember feeling very sad…very sad.
I do not remember much leading up to this mission, though I am sure there must have been lots of press about it. My boyfriend, Donald, graduated from high school that year and there was so much going on…you know…prom, baccalaureate, graduation, parties, him leaving for college, etc. [And, actually, no authority figure in my life told me to sit down and pay attention to the news because I could be watching history. And, I can for sure say that it was in the history books the next year!] So…how was I to know? Here’s what I do remember: I was over at Don’s house, and we were going out to eat. We were waiting on his mother to iron a shirt for him to wear. His dad was in the den, and was quite engrossed in the program. He shouted, “Y’all come in here and watch this.” So, we did. And, we watched as Neil Armstrong took his first step onto the moon’s surface. We watched for a little while, and then we saw him put out a flag.
I saw this and remember thinking that this was probably a ‘big deal’…but, our friends were waiting for us, so we had to go. Oh, well. Priorities, people! Come on now, you were probably the same way if you were 16! But, I had plenty of time to watch it happening again…because they played it over and over and over for days! I did think of this, I remember….as we walked out to the car to leave his house, we looked up at the moon and it just did not seem possible that real human people could be walking on that same moon! Then Don took that opportunity to give me a quick kiss and there went that thought!
It wasn’t long before there began to be talk around town that it was all a hoax. Now, let me be perfectly honest. I live in the deep South…real deep. There’s lots of ‘good ole boys’ and (I don’t know how to say this in any other nicer way,) and they know what they know and that’s all they know…or want to know. God love ’em. And if they thought it didn’t happen…well…it didn’t. And me or you or the government or the President would not convince them it really did. And they told the ‘good ole girls, and the ‘good ole kids’…and thus, it was written. Bless their little hearts. Actually, it was talked about all over the country, not just around these parts. I guess that means there are ‘good ole folks’ all over! God bless us all!
I wasn’t friends with those ‘good ole folks’ and I could read all the information. And, this little 10th grader, worried about parties, and boyfriends, and cute clothes knew enough to know that it was for real! Even if she didn’t recognize it as ‘historical’ at the time!
Again with the space travel! But, this time, I was better able to appreciate the fact that a mere mortal…a school teacher, was going up into space with the astronauts. Now this captured the attention of the world. Here I thought it took years and years of training and probably tons of math…and now they say they can pick Mrs. Ordinary Teacher and in 8 months, teach her to go into space. WOW! I couldn’t even learn geometry in 2 years!!
What smart PR by NASA. Everyone, even down to the youngest school child,was preparing to watch the launch and then watch Mrs. McAuliff’s lessons from space. School children everywhere were watching at school. Forty eight percent of all school children were watching the launch! She had a family…husband and children, siblings and parents. They were all there to watch. There was almost a festival atmosphere. When the whole team came walking out together, and waved, and walked to the craft…there was such an air of excitement. I remember sitting at home and watching in the hours that led up to the launch. I saw her parents and family escorted to a seat of honor with the best view available. And, the countdown began, and the launch began. And at 73 seconds into the flight…disaster.
I remember seeing the face of McAuliff’s mother and father as they watched the shuttle with their daughter inside. This was grief fully exposed. It was horrible.
There were reports and commissions and inquiries and guesses at the reasons this happened. I just reread the report on Wikipedia, because I had forgotten a lot of the details. The memories of the explosion and before are still vivid, however. My boys came in from school as I was watching, eager to tell me what they had seen, as well. We sat and watched together for a long time. I told them,” You are watching history unfold. This will be in your next history books.” And, it was.
The final reports said that the Challenger should never have taken off in the extreme cold. The O-rings failed. But, the major cause, reports said, was the failure of those in charge to properly relay information that was crucial to the safety of the missions. Human Error! The reports also said that, at least some, and probably all, of the astronauts, were alive when the cockpit hit the ocean. That was and still is a horrible thing to think about. The remains of all the astronauts were found in the intact capsule on the ocean floor, and all were buried. The American flag aboard the flight was also recovered.
The most vivid memories…the crew walking to the ship…the face of McAuliff’s parents…and the words of President Reagan as he said, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’
TO BE CONTINUED…..