From the Editor's Desk / 9/11: Who we were, who we've become - Salish Current
September 10, 2021
From the Editor’s Desk / 9/11: Who we were, who we’ve become
Mike Sato

A structural beam from the fallen World Trade Center towers of 9/11 is the centerpiece of a memorial in the Eastsound Fire Station on Orcas Island. The artifact was awarded to Orcas Island Fire and Rescue in a program for local fire departments to memorialize the thousands who died in the attack, including more than 300 firefighters. (Courtesy photo OIFR)

September 10, 2021
From the Editor’s Desk / 9/11: Who we were, who we’ve become
Mike Sato


If you are old enough to remember and haven’t yet forgotten, where were you on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when the United States was attacked by terrorists?

We asked readers to share where they were 20 years ago when they first learned of the 9/11 attacks and what they thought and felt. Twenty years later, did they think the attacks and their aftermath changed or not changed them?

My own story: I recall that I was at my cabin on Lopez Island getting ready to take the early morning eastbound ferry to work and heard Bob Edwards on NPR’s Morning Edition announce the New York City attacks. I was confused and concerned, and afraid that “holy war” had begun. Twenty years and the War on Terror and Afghanistan War later, I see no connection between being made to take my shoes off to board an airplane and alleviating human suffering out of which “holy wars” arise.

Salish Current readers shared their stories: 

I was backpacking with three friends in the Wind River Range of Wyoming on 9/11, a perfect fall day. We hiked out on Thursday, Sept. 13. We got to town, checked into a motel, then went to Pinedale Brewing Company … empty except for the bartender. She took one look at us and said, “You’re hikers.” Yep. “How long have you been out?” About an hour. “So you don’t KNOW.” She proceeded to spin an apocalyptic tale of airplanes flying into buildings. I wasn’t processing, I remember thinking that a B-17 had crashed into the Empire State Building back in the ’40s and it wasn’t the end of the world. After our meal and beers, we went back the motel and made the mistake of turning on the TV. Yikes. Made for a very sober drive back across the featureless Snake River plain. — Rick Haley, Mount Vernon

Early that morning, my managing editor called me at home and told me to check the TV news and then to hustle down to the Herald. We published a six-page “Sky terror” extra section that day, with three local reaction stories and plenty of wire copy. The next day we published a 12-page special section. Details and consequences of the attack were skimpy at that point, but with the wars, wiretapping, torture and xenophobia that followed, it’s clear that 9/11 changed the country and the world much more profoundly than it changed my life personally. — Dean Kahn, former city editor, Bellingham Herald

I was driving to work, half listening to NPR on my car radio. When I reached my office, I immediately called my son, Tom, who’d just been hired by Continental Airlines as a pilot. At first there was no news about what airline was involved and I was determined to confirm that Tom was not in harm’s way. It took multiple calls and many hours, but I finally reached him at a bar in Houston with a bunch of other pilots, all of whom had been grounded that day. It was Tom’s first day of work, and he was furloughed. — Betsy Gross, Bellingham

On the morning of 9/11, my friend Kamal was driving me to SeaTac Airport to take a business flight to New York City. We heard news on the radio about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center. I pictured a small plane being destroyed by a big building. Kamal dropped me off and when I got to the ticket counter, the agent said, “All flights are canceled,” without further explanation. I’ve always wondered how much she knew at that moment. Kamal must have heard news about closed airports, so by luck, he returned to pick me up. We heard more details from the radio on the way back home. Beyond that first moment of disbelief, TV images revealed how horrible it all was. Now the world seems less safe, trust is lost, and it feels harder to be a non-white citizen in the U.S. — Harold Kawaguchi, Seattle and San Juan Island

In September of 2001, the biotech company I was involved with had a product in clinical trials. A meeting with the FDA was scheduled such that I was flying from Sea-Tac to join the meetings on the morning of 9/11. That morning I drove to Sea-Tac for the flight. I parked and heard that something bad was going on but without details. The shuttle took me to departures. No one there! Asking around I found a United Airlines employee who told me what had happened. Unlikely, but I could have been on one of the flights headed for Washington, DC, that day. — Alan Fritzberg, Bellingham

The news reached Karen and me on a schoolyard in Marvejols, France, where we were picking up our daughters at the end of the school day. A French-Italian friend came up to us with the unimaginable report that the Twin Towers had been struck by airliners. French friends went out of their way to offer sympathy and support. We found surprising consolation in the sentiment offered by the first edition of Le Monde newspaper published after the attacks: “We are all Americans.” We hoped that the cross-cultural experience we were living, in a rural town facing its own challenges, would plant in our daughters’ spirits the seeds of tolerance, cultural flexibility and active engagement. Twenty years later, that still seems the only path. — Ted Wolf, Bellingham

A plaque in the Eastsound station of Orcas Island Fire and Rescue serves as a memorial to those who died as a result of 9/11 attacks in New York City. The memorial was installed in 2019, part of a program of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Courtesy photo OIFR)

As my husband and I welcomed that beautiful day in Bellingham, our daughter in Austin phoned with the news that an American Airlines 767 had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. The second plane hit, then the Pentagon. My husband, a veteran newsman, said, “Today marks the day for new American exceptionalism … and it won’t be pretty.” I agreed. He died nearly eight years ago, so he didn’t live to see Jan. 6, 2021, but his instincts were right. A mere three days after 9/11, Congress plunged into a rush for retaliation, with only one dissenting vote, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). I knew then my life as a U.S. citizen would be forever changed. How could it not be changed when our elected officials in both houses of Congress essentially violated the oath they took by giving the president — any president — the authority to wage war without Congressional approval? I believe that the Congressional decision endorsed an ideology of insecurity and arrogance … which encouraged demagoguery. — Micki Jackson, Bellingham

I was walking into a public health clinic in White Center. The main receptionist was crying and people started huddling around her. We mainly served immigrants — documented and undocumented. The day was hearing people expressing upset, fear and worry. Some wondered if they would be punished and would have to return to their violent countries of origin. I cried watching people jumping to their deaths on clinic TVs. I was angry. I knew there would be another useless war. Twenty years later, I am greatly saddened by our excessive defense budget that creates its own objectives and refuses to end nuclear warfare. — Barbara Sardarov, Bellingham

I was at home in Ferndale getting my kids ready for school. I called a friend with whom I was coordinating childcare who told me about the attacks. I was horrified, especially when I turned the TV on and watched as the second plane hit the tower and when both towers collapsed. I was very concerned that the U.S. would react by starting a war. Outwardly my life has not changed substantially. However, I am very angry that so many presidents continued the war in Afghanistan, that Congress approved spending trillions of dollars our children and future generations will owe in national debt, and that so many people are actually criticizing our current president for having the courage to end the war. I’m angry that so many troops were sent to Afghanistan and that they now live with the aftermath of their multiple traumas. Can you tell, I’m angry? — Lucy Morse, Ferndale

We lived in a cabin on the southwest shore of Guemes Island with no TV but saw state ferries dead in the water. Odd. We went to the neighbor to use his fax — we were in the midst of buying a house — saw the TV and just were unbelieving, then sad, then scared. We turned away and would watch no more, and never have — such horrible impact to those poor people in the planes and buildings. We have devout Muslims in our family. It has been a long, hard 20 years but all OK. — Pete Haase, Bow

I lived in Sandy Point but owned a business in Bellingham. Briefcase in hand, I walked into the living room to check the news before heading to work. On the TV, an image of a smoking skyscraper made me stop in my tracks. Seconds later, something crashed into the adjacent tower and I simply couldn’t fathom what I was seeing … I did drive to work. It just seemed to be the only thing to do: carry on. I hardly remember the commute to town, but vividly recall trying to calm an employee who was terrified that war had broken out … In the days that followed, I experienced an upwelling of national pride. Exponential patriotism. But then, the invasions. Why were we invading countries who had little or nothing to do with the attack? Becoming involved in tribal warfare? Sending our brave fighting forces to the Middle East, where empires go to die? As with Vietnam, starry-eyed patriotism gave way to the harsh reality of the futility of misdirected aggression. — Matt Thuney, Deming

I was at a pension in the Austrian Alps when our daughter called with the news. Everyone in Austria, Italy and Greece was intensely sympathetic to America. That is no longer the case, thanks to our actions in response to the attack. We have squandered the good will. I still cannot understand why we did not respond to the fact that most of the terrorists were Saudis, and that we continue to coddle the Saudi royal family. I know that the Bushes were friends, and that oil was and unfortunately still is, important. — Jean Carmean, Bellingham

Twenty years ago I began teaching at Robert College in Istanbul, Turkey. My husband was flying back to Bellingham. He did not make it home. His plane was diverted to Belfast, Ireland, where he was given a voucher and wishes of a safe return. It took him three days to get home. I was wandering the streets of Arnavutköy and people kept stepping out to touch me and express their sorrow. One woman took me to a television where scenes of the Twin Towers collapsing were being broadcast. I had never felt so far away from home. Today I am retired and looking out at a country frighteningly divided. The sense of pride in my fellow Americans and our capacity to care for each other that I knew on 9/11 is sadly gone. At the age of 76, I look to a future for my grandchildren and am deeply troubled. — Carole Hanaway, Bellingham

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in the Salish Current. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato ( and he will respond with guidelines.

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