An unforgettable American tragedy

Published 6:28 pm Tuesday, September 7, 2021

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By Chris Quilpa

Let’s pause for a moment to pray for our innocent brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, children, friends and acquaintances, workers, businessmen and women, professionals and leaders, veteran firefighters and police officers, chaplains, and service members who lost their lives unexpectedly on Sept. 11, 2001.

Let’s also pray for all the victims of the deadly Kabul airport attack, Aug. 26, 2021, that claimed the lives of nearly 200, including 13 of our U.S. troops who were helping in the massive evacuation in Afghanistan.

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It’s been 20 years since the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania that shocked the world and transformed many people’s lives in various ways. It’s an unforgettable American tragedy.

How can anyone ever forget the deadliest, saddest, and most memorable tragedy in American history? The barbaric attacks in American soil claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 and injured more than 6,000 people. They have left an indelible mark on the psyche of people around the world.

We don’t forget this “tragedy of all tragedies” in modern American history. We remember vividly that day, Tuesday morning, what we witnessed or saw on TV. Our brains or minds recorded and stored details of what happened.

I was still active duty, a hospital corpsman X-ray tech in the U.S. Navy, working in the radiology department at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth. On limited duty, because of my chronic lower back and other problems connected with it, I was assigned to do administrative work, checking in patients and preparing paperwork, answering phone calls and assisting others, like student X-ray techs when needed.

That day, I was in the staff lounge in our department, working on our staff training records, entering data and other pertinent information in a computer. My back was facing the TV mounted on the wall, and it was on. I was the only staff member in that room.

Suddenly, from the only door in that staff lounge, appeared Mr. Thomas (or Mr. T., as he was fondly called, although he was a retired Navy chief). He broke the news to me as he switched the TV channel to one of the local TV stations in the area. And there it was — the World Trade Center in New York under attack by a reported hijacked plane, not once but twice!

Momentarily, personnel started showing up one by one in the lounge. The news spread so quickly that eventually the lounge was full. I was praying silently, as silence dominated the room. Quiet and sad and disturbed, we were all glued to the TV. Then, someone in the room switched the channel to CNN, presumably to get another perspective of the breaking news. All of us remained calm, in total shock and dumbfounded! Work stopped completely in the department, I think.

Eventually, in twos or threes, our staff walked out quietly, distraught and seeming unfocused. I noticed some of them shaking their heads, biting their lips, and others covering their mouths, teary-eyed.

I lost my concentration of what I was doing, because my mind was preoccupied already with that unfortunate, tragic event. I was sad, and upset, too. I just prayed quietly. Then I talked briefly with one of my fellow Navy X-ray techs and shared each other’s views about this unexpected tragic event.

Who would ever think or expect that catastrophe would happen to the World Trade Center? And it was not only the Twin Towers that were attacked, but we learned later on that another hijacked plane had crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and another plane crashed on a rural field in Pennsylvania.

May God bless America always!

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk and Portsmouth. Email him at