911 Memorial
911 Pentagon
Citizen Frank
Mike Levine


Thoughts of Citizen Frank

The Day the Music Died
Frank Settineri - September 12, 2001

    I learned about the disaster after it occurred. Sitting in a meeting two blocks away from the Capital in Washington, DC, I heard about it when the meeting was interrupted by an announcement about 10 AM that the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon were hit by airplanes earlier in the morning. Afterwards I could not believe my eyes when I saw on TV the towers crumble as though they were sandcastles randomly discarded by a child. This had to be a dream, a nightmare, a hallucination. Between this carnage and that of the Pentagon (which was about two miles from where I was) I knew that life would no longer be the same for me. Both twin towers collapsed and gone. The Pentagon, shuddered by the force of the collision, exhibited a huge "V" shaped crater in its armored side. A fourth jet was missing and possibly heading for the Capital, two blocks from me. For the first time I thought that I might be in the omniscient path of danger. I don't know why but I had to go out to see that the Capital was all right.

    Once outside it seemed like a dream that just the day before I walked to the Capital for the first time in over twenty years and looked - really looked - at the magnificence of the building. I counted the steps to the top, 74, basked in the spectacular view of the Washington monument and pondered that these halls of Congress are the epicenter of our country and all free countries throughout the world. Now, on this sunny, late-summer morning the building was evacuated and barricaded, I could get no closer than the outer perimeter and I saw F16s strafing the skies of Washington. The very city of freedom, our nation's capital city, was a war-torn armed camp. And I felt insecure about life in the America.

    It's strange how during a tragic event the mind wanders between the present and the past, almost as a protective mechanism to diminish the reality of the horror. I remembered studying in junior high how the British burned Washington during the War of 1812, but it had no relevance to me at that time; it was merely an historical event that was relegated to words in a history book. Now, being in a similar situation almost 200 years later, I wondered if the feelings I was experiencing were the same that were felt by the citizens in Washington back then. Is this how it felt in London and Paris during World War II? Is this how it was in Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Is this how it always feels in Israel? Then the reality struck again; I could not believe those majestic, strong, impenetrable towers were gone. It was such an inconceivable event, as surrealistic as a movie except it was real life. There was no way this could have happened to us, no way we could have let our guard down so much, no way we should be facing this tragedy. I wanted to find the terrorists and make them face retribution for their evil, inhumane dastardly crimes against my country and the citizens they have literally destroyed. I also knew that I had to leave for home.

    The entire trip back to New Jersey was eerie in that there was no traffic on the road, almost like a Sunday morning at 7 AM. It was uncanny to be in this situation, knowing that thousands of bodies were buried in New York and Washington and there I was traveling on a beautiful day back to my home to the security and serenity of my family.

    The radio talk shows kept me company and the individuals calling into them appeared to be experiencing the same feelings that I had; they were in disbelief and wondered why and how this could have happened. I noticed the absence of air traffic, since all commercial aircraft was banned, and found myself in a time warp where the best source of transportation was not a plane but a car. I was experiencing a second reminiscent moment, one that was redolent of the beginning of the last century. This is how the people of that era traveled, by car or horse. In fact, cars were still a novelty. Route 95 was a dirt road running from Maine to Florida. Few people had telephones; there were no radios or televisions. No CNN, ABC, NBC, FOX. Communication was not instantaneous, children did not play Nintendo; there were no supermarkets, shopping malls, Wal Marts or shopping on the net. People were more wholesome, ate better foods, drank cleaner water and breathed cleaner air. They were more "genuine" than we are today. Maybe they were also more alert to danger and this horrible tragedy would not have happened to them. But then again, they had to be more alert because their lives were filled with the specter of death from polio, strept throat, enteric infections and an average life span of only fifty. Maybe, on second thought, they didn't have it so good after all.

    As my mind continued to wander I thought about how technological and social evolution are integral parts of our lives that we cannot be taken away. Has technology made the world a better place? Certainly. All the amenities we have in this life are the result of advances made by great people throughout the world. We have much to be thankful for and in the great scheme of history very little of which to complain. We are blessed to be living in this era, serenaded for two centuries by songs of freedom and prosperity. Then the reality struck again: until some misguided souls attempted to shatter our lives by utilizing our greatest technological achievements as guided missiles to topple the institutions that represent freedom and opportunity for anyone wanting to participate in a democratic society.

    My daydreams were further shaken around dusk as I exited Route 95 and started riding north on Route 287. There, in the southbound lane, was a convoy of 20 flatbed trucks carrying bulldozers, cranes, and earthmovers. Implements of our success now being used as tools of salvation, traveling to the 100-foot pile of fallen debris in the streets of lower Manhattan where two of the most majestic structures on earth stood less than ten hours ago. Implements to remove the debris, extricate those fortunate enough to have survived the carnage, transport those less fortunate to temporary morgues and to remind of us all of the frailty of life and the uncertainty that each day brings to us. I reminisced, once more, of another beautiful summer night many years ago in Central Park in New York when an entire audience attending an outdoor concert given by Don McLean, sang in perfect harmony the words to his famous song:

    I can't remember if I cried when I heard about his widowed bride
    Something touched me deep inside, the Day the Music Died
    Bye, bye Miss American Pie
    Drove my Chevy to the levy and the levy was dry
    Those good ole boys drinking whiskey and rye singing
    This will be the day that I die
    This will be the day that I Die

    The music of my world suddenly stopped on September 11th. It will start again, but the songs will never be the same. I only hope that this tragedy remains a constant reminder of what happens when we fail to guard our freedom. I hope it inspires good people around the world to defeat evil by whatever means is required and to replace it with empathy. I hope it reminds all Americans that altruism has always been the legacy of our country and many of our ancestors have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect its precepts. For me it is time to defend their legacy, promote altruism and inspire whomever I meet to vigilantly protect freedom.

Frank Settineri (bio here) ...

Frank wrote this on September 12th, 2001 as he tried to comprehend the magnitude of what had been done to us. It helped him cope with the new reality and after reading it on the third anniversary of 911 he found it comforting today as well. "Although I personally did not know anyone in the Pentagon or World Trade Towers, Frank writes, "I felt, and continue to feel, personally attacked by the terrorists."




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