I didn’t know about it until early in the morning on the 12th.
And when I saw those images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again I could not believe what I was seeing. I refused to believe what I was seeing.
No, this cannot be happening!
It had happened and halfway around the world I broke down and cried.
It was the night of the 11th in Korea and there had been a graduation ceremony at the language institute I taught at that had ended a little after 8:00. Afterwards, I came back to my apartment in the teacher’s dormitory. I had to work the next day—interviewing new students for our language program as well as fly from Seoul to Kunsan Air Base in the evening to interview three female F-16 pilots (the following day) for a newspaper a feature story I was going to write.
Being it was a Tuesday night in Korea, Monday Night Football would be on at 7:30. (The game was recorded live from a satellite feed in the morning from the West Coast and then later played that night in Korea.) If it was a game I really wanted to see I would record the game and watch it later that evening around 10:30-11:00. Of course, this meant that I could not watch any other TV program until the game was over or even surf the Internet because of accidentally finding out the score. At the same time, I could not turn on the TV too soon—fearing that the game would be still on.
On the night of the 11th I waited until 10:30 and watched the game.
Having recorded the game I had the luxury of fast-forwarding through commercials and time outs and I finished watching the game around 12:30.
11:30am Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001 in New York.
After I had finished watching the game I turned off the TV and turned on my computer to check my email. That was when I first had learned about what had happened. I immediately turned the TV back on to AFN (Armed Forces Network) and that was when the shock and horror of this tragedy finally caught up with me halfway around the world in Korea.
I just sat there in shock as I stared at the images of the towers, the smoke, the fire and the second plane being played over and over again.
This was not happening. This could not be happening.
Along with the shock I was feeling, I was also feeling so alone being so far away from home and not having anyone to talk to. I suppose I should have picked up the phone and called home, but I just was in so much shock glued to the front of the TV and seeing all those painful images that I could not. And that’s what I did I just kept on watching and watching.
When you are overseas and you hear about some natural disaster striking like a tornado or hurricane back home you feel bad and a sad but it would be the same feelings if I had had heard about a hurricane hitting say Texas or Louisiana and I was back home. You do feel something. You feel sad. You feel sorry for the people who lost loved ones or their homes.
What happened on 9-11 was something that I just could not comprehend being halfway around the world. It was just something I was watching on TV and not having anyone to talk to about or share in the grief.
How could this have happened?
Years before, in 1995 when Timothy McVeigh blew up in the federal building in Oklahoma City, I remember how shocked I was when I saw those images on TV and how I tried to comprehend the sheer tragedy of this event and the human loss.
This just does not happen in America.
I stayed up as late as I could—I know I couldn’t have slept if I wanted to—and watched the latest reports coming out of New York. The next day I had to go into work and interview new students for the coming semester. If I felt strange having to interview new students to evaluate their language skills—especially after what I had been watching on TV—and still in shock, the students I interviewed also felt the same way.
Almost all the students I talked to expressed their shock and sorrow. However, not everyone felt the same way. One of my colleagues told me that one of the students she interviewed told her that America had it coming. If that had been me, I know I would have walked right out of that interview.
That night I flew down to Kunsan Air Base (about one hour south of Seoul) as planned. All the US military bases in Korea were on alert and locked down—meaning no civilian employees other than DOD (Department of Defense) employees and their families were allowed on base. After all, no one at this time, at least here in Korea knew if America was under a large-scale attack and that bases and embassies around the world were also being targeted.
On September 13, 2001 I was probably the only civilian allowed on a US military base in Korea (approval had to go all the way up to the Commander for U.S. Forces Korea) for me to conduct my interview with three female F-16 fighter pilots as well as another story on how some Korean ancestral graves/burial mounds on the base had been preserved. It was only then, that I could finally be around some fellow Americans and share in the grief I had been feeling for the past two days. That’s what I really needed more than anything else then—to just tell someone how bad I felt about what had happened. And it helped.
We were all devastatingly affected by 9-11 no matter where we were at on that tragic day in September. We will always remember where we were and what we did on that morning and how life would never be the same again after that first plane hit the tower.