When retired NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was killed in the helicopter crash on Sunday, January 26th near Calabasas, CA, I heard a TV newscaster intone, “This is one of those dates you’ll remember for years to come”.
No disrespect to Mr. Bryant and the eight others, including his daughter Giannna, who perished on that foggy mountain, but I’m not sure January 26th will trigger an automatic “where-I-was” or “what-I-was-doing” on that day response.
If I were a huge fan of the NBA or was somehow touched by Kobi, my response might be different.
For example, I’m sure there still are a few folks around who can tell you what they were doing and where they were on Sunday, December 7th, 1941.
I remember asking my Mom years ago if she recalled when she heard the news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
All I had to say was, “What were you doing, how did you react to the news of December 7th, 1941” and she knew.
It’s interesting to note that most of those dates we recall are traumatic events.
Those things seem to mark our memories indelibly.
For me, November 22nd, 1963 is one of those days.
I was in Mr. Bob Danner’s class at Madison Junior High School in Mansfield, OH when the announcement came over the PA system that the 35th President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy had been assassinated.
I was all of 13 years of age when I heard the news, shortly after noon on that Friday.
In those days, tensions between the US and the Soviet Union were high and I wondered what might happen on the world stage.
I remember bounding off the school bus that afternoon and I immediately lowered our US flag to half-staff.
Like most American families, we were glued to the black and white television for days on end.
I vividly remember yelling to the family, “Somebody shot Oswald!” as he was being transferred in to a different location.
Later we learned it was Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby.
I remember thinking, “This was a real shooting” and not one of those deeds I often watched while following the Lone Ranger as a kid.
In 1986, I was working at WMAN/Y-105 radio in Mansfield, OH when another one of those “moments” occurred.
Normally, we covered all of the Space Shuttle events live but the relative uneventful results of recent launches found us instead monitoring events in the newsroom that Tuesday morning.
Then, at 11:39 am, 73 seconds into the mission, it all changed.
The bright blue sky was filled with plumes of smoke and flame and we realized that something terrible had happened.
Suddenly, our stations switched to “wall-to-wall” coverage through our network radio sources as we learned that the entire Space Shuttle Challenger crew, including the first teacher in space, Sharon “Christa” McAuliffe had perished right before our eyes.
In those days, we had a teletype machine in the newsroom that constantly typed out stories and items from the Associated Press.
I had the forethought to save all of the actual wire copy of the first several hours of the tragedy and it is chilling to read, even today.
My experience in news has shown me that when you’re covering an event, you’re so concerned with getting information “on-the-air” that you don’t have time to digest what your’re reading.
Later that evening, several of us were unwinding in the station break room when I blurted out, “Oh my God, all those friends and family members of the crew were on the reviewing stand watching that when it exploded.”
That’s when tears came to my eyes.
It’s the moment when a news story becomes real to you.
For many of us, mention September 11th, 2001 and we can recall where we were and what we were doing when the news first hit us at 8:46AM.
I was wrapping up my on-air work at WCSI in Columbus, IN when the newsroom TV started showing photos of an “explosion” in or on the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
As we watched the coverage, I remember a collective “twitch” when we saw the 2nd plane plow into the south tower of the trade center.
Then we learned that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon and still a 4th had crashed near Shanksville, PA.
Eventually we learned that 19 terrorists had hijacked 4 American Airlines flights and had planned all of this.
Our constant coverage relied on our network affiliate as we reached out locally for reaction and comments.
Again, I had one of those moments later in the day after finally going home.
I then recalled hearing a report of someone who had gotten out of the North Tower before it collapsed. He reported seeing an area near a still-operating elevator filled with people in wheelchairs.
It was only then then I wondered aloud if they were able to escape before the tower collapsed.
Once again, tears filled my eyes.
Days later, I recall being in the backyard with my wife and looking up in the skies around dusk and not seeking any airplanes.
Very strange, indeed.
What’s sobering for me, personally, is that there are generations of people who have no first-hand knowledge of any of these events.
Sure, we remember our weddings, the births of our children and such but these huge national or world events that impact millions fade quickly as the years pass.
Remember, folks born prior to 2001 have no first-hand knowledge of the events of 911.
It’s also what make the study of history so important.
What we are today and where we are is always tied to the events of the past.
As painful as those memories might be, we need to remember.
We cannot forget.
It’s the only way we learn.
Writer/philosopher George Santayana is the one who said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.
So maybe we shouldn’t tear down those Civil War statues and monuments?