Sunday marked 10 years since nearly 3000 people died in the September 11 attacks. Jack McKeown looks back at the atrocity, its impact and aftermath beginning where the tragedy struck closest to home.
“Where were you when it happened?” is the question people most often ask about September 11, usually as a pretext to relate their own recollections of that terrible, world-altering day.
David and Irene Sword were at their home in Broughty Ferry. The phone rang and David picked up. It was their son Derek, calling from his office on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower. The 29-year-old had just watched from his window as a plane flew into his building’s sister tower.
After assuring his parents he was safe, he rang off. At that point, everyone thought a plane had veered disastrously off course, and that a horrific accident had occurred.
As we now know, this was not the case. David and Irene watched on television as the second aircraft hit at 2.03pm, GMT. Their son phoned again to say he was fleeing the burning building. Just under an hour later the South Tower fell, killing Derek and so many more.
Using planes as weapons, the terrorists had struck almost simultaneously at both towers of the World Trade Center and at the Pentagon. Brave passengers downed a fourth plane in Pennsylvania, which it’s thought was intended to strike the White House.
Altogether the attacks claimed the lives of 2977 innocent victims, and 19 hijackers. Sixty-seven British people died. By strange coincidence this was the same number of employees of Keefe, Bruyette and Woods the finance company of which Derek was vice-president who died in the tower.
Since the attacks, David and Irene have regularly visited New York to pay their respects, going to Ground Zero and the British Garden in Hanover Square dedicated to the people of this country who died in the attack. They’ve attended many official commemorations and met Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Prince Charles and the Queen.
In October 2007, Maureen Sullivan Derek’s fiancee at the time he died married Ed Moon, who she met on a trip to Block Island. David and Irene were delighted to attend the wedding.
Following his death, the Swords wrote a very personal tribute to their son, which ends: “We are so proud of the way Derek The Swordsman to his many New York friends and colleagues touched two continents with such love, laughter and friendship.”‘Every day is the same for us’Irene told The Courier she and David would be marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11 but that, to them, each day is as hard as the next.
“I know the 10th anniversary is a big thing to others. But to us it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 years, or nine years and 364 days. Every day is the same for us Derek’s in our thoughts every day.”
The anniversary of the attacks is being marked by events in New York and across the world. President Barack Obama will be visiting each of the crash sites to pay tribute to those who were killed. The names of all the victims will be read out during a ceremony at Ground Zero.
A decade after the event, the rebuilding is under way. Five World Trade Center towers will replace the two that fell, on a corner of the Ground Zero site. Currently under construction, they’ll be dominated by the 1776ft One World Trade Center. Already 80 floors high, it’s going up at the rate of one storey a week and will be America’s highest building when it opens in 2013. It’s perhaps typical of the American spirit that the new tower will rise even higher than the buildings the terrorists brought down.
But no amount of rebuilding can change the fact that September 11 changed the world irrevocably. Two wars. Countless dead. A new enemy.
Ten years on, Osama bin Laden is dead. Tony Blair and George W. Bush are long out of office. The two post-9/11 wars Afghanistan and Iraq are not over, but they’re winding down. Yet it indelibly scarred the new century, for people like David and Irene Sword, and for those of us who were fortunate and did not lose loved ones.
The twin towers have gone, but their shadow still remains.