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Sept. 11, 2001, was deadline day at the Bowie County Citizens Tribune and DeKalb News in New Boston, Texas. As managing editor, I had already gone in to work early, as is usually the case on deadline day, to start editing copy and laying out pages for our Wednesday edition.
There was nothing about that morning to indicate it would be any different than any other deadline day I had experienced during my nine years as a professional working journalist up to that point.
Other staffers started to come in and we were making small talk. The phone rang and Carla, the office manager, told me my then-wife Selina was on the phone for me.
“Have you seen the TV? A plane just hit the World Trade Center!” Selina said when I answered. “They don’t know what happened or what caused it yet, but it’s horrible!”
At that time, our little semiweekly newspaper didn’t have a TV in the newsroom. Our publisher Don thought it a distraction more than an extra news source, so I didn’t have a way to turn on the news at that point.
We started to discuss what possibly could have caused a Boeing 767 to veer into one of the biggest and most obvious features of the New York City skyline when I heard Selnia go, “Not again! Another plane just hit the other tower! Someone did this intentionally!”
I told her I would call her back and went to Don’s office and told him what Selina had witnessed on TV. I told him I thought we needed to get a TV up and running ASAP and got him to agree to let me run a splitter off our cable internet connection.
I ran home, got a TV and got it connected and the scene we saw unfold that day on the small screen was one of chaos and horror.
By the time I returned, a third plane, a Boeing 757, had crashed into the western facade of the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and there were reports of a fourth plane, United Flight 93, that was unresponsive and believed to be under the control of hijackers.
Eventually, the passengers on that doomed flight attempted to seize back control of the plane, only to have the hijackers crash the aircraft intentionally in a western Pennsylvania field.
We reworked our front page of the newspaper to localize our coverage of the day’s events because we could tell this was more than just a story about plane hijackings and terroristic events in New York City or Washington, D.C. This was an attack on all of us as American citizens — an attack against what our nation stood for as the beacon of hope and freedom to the rest of the world.
New Boston sat within minutes of two United States Army depots — the Red River Army Depot (RRAD) and the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant (LSAAP). We had a close working relationship with these organizations as we printed their monthly newsletters, so I hopped into my car and drove up to RRAD to see what was happening there and to get the commander’s perspective.
When I got to the depot, they were placing concrete barricades in front of the guard shack at the entrance and armed personnel in fatigues were holding M16 rifles. I was told I wouldn’t be allowed into the depot proper as all bases had been ordered on lockdown, but I was able to snap a photo of the scene at the front gate before turning back around and departing.
Before I went back to the office, I went to Crestview Elementary, where my daughters were in class, to go check on them and make sure they were okay.
I thought it was important they stayed at the school and had as normal a day as possible, but I wanted them to know that 1) Daddy loved them and 2) they would be safe and nothing was going to hurt them.
I felt torn up inside, however, knowing a lot of children would never get to hug or hear their parents tell them they loved them ever again after that day.
The rest of the morning was spent putting out that fateful Wednesday, Sept. 12, edition of the Tribune and DeKalb News and watching the images of people jumping from the fiery World Trade Center before the Twin Towers eventually collapsed and praying to God that such atrocities never again happened in our lifetimes.
Today, Sept. 11, 2020, seems like a lifetime removed from that fateful day, but every year brings back my personal memories of one of the darkest chapters in American history. And it reminds me that we never should forget those whose lives were lost and how we, as Americans, came together as a united people in the wake of that tragedy.