On September 11, 2001 Sujo John sat at his desk on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. He could hardly believe what the past several months had brought. Having wed Mary in January of 2000, he was still a newlywed and she was four months pregnant with their first child. Just six months before, the two had left their native Calcutta, India with only $50, a couple of suitcases and dreams of a better, more prosperous life in the United States. In that short time in America, the two had landed good jobs. Mary worked nearby—on the 71st floor of the WTC’s South Tower.
As he sat typing an email to a friend from church, Sujo confided that he believed God wanted more for him. Having read the Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson, Sujo wrote, “I’ve been chasing stuff in America. I want to be used of God.” He finished his email and hit “send”. It was 8:05 on a beautiful Tuesday morning, and it was time to start working. About 40 minutes later, Sujo was sending a fax and heard a huge explosion that we now know was American Airlines Flight 11 striking the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.
Down on his floor, Sujo watched as the world seemed to crumble around him- a huge hole allowed him to see ten floors up. The building shook violently, walls started to fall apart and jet fuel from the planes caused fires to break out everywhere, making every minute more treacherous for those in the building. Sujo made his way to the stairs along with his co-workers and thousands of other workers in the building. He remembers the people’s faces saying the “fear of death was written on the face of everyone.”
A short time later, he heard another loud crash when United Flight 175 slammed into the South Tower around the 81st floor, just ten floors up from where Mary worked. Wondering whether he would get out alive, he was now more worried about what was happening with her. Sujo tried to use his cell phone and those of people escaping down the stairs with him, but he couldn’t get through to her. By the time he made it to the ground level of the tower, an area called The Plaza, the horrors of that day really hit Sujo. Normally, The Plaza was a bustling, lively place, but what Sujo saw was beyond human comprehension. He said, “This place of life, this place of just exuberance where life would be celebrated has now been turned into a place of death, a place of destruction, as I see hundreds of bodies of people that jumped out of those buildings, people who were in those planes.”
As time ticked away and he made his way through the chaos, away from the North Tower towards the South Tower, he felt the ground beneath his feet begin to rumble. Sujo described feeling as if he were being “sucked into a vacuum” as he heard the roar as the upper floors of the South Tower began to crumble. He stopped momentarily and huddled with a group of 15 or 20 people and suddenly became very concerned of what would become of them if they all died without hearing about Jesus.
Until this point in his life, Sujo described himself as a “closet Christian”, keeping his faith to himself and never sharing what he believed about Jesus Christ. Now facing death, Sujo found a boldness he never had and began praying out loud, crying out the name of Jesus. He then realized those people he was with were also joining him in unison as he prayed. He went on from there, stumbling through the dust and debris, covered in soot and wondering what became of Mary.
After the dust settled somewhat, Sujo decided to try to crawl back to the group of people he had prayed with a short time earlier, only to find they had not made it, and had been crushed by the hurricane-force wind and debris cloud caused by the South Tower’s collapse. Downhearted and questioning God as to why He would allow him to survive and not them, Sujo said he felt God’s presence and believed those people were at peace now. After the North Tower followed its twin and imploded, Sujo was shocked and couldn’t believe he was still alive. He found himself out in the street, certain his beloved Mary was gone.
After wandering into a shop, he met a young woman who helped pull bits of glass out of his hair and offered to call someone for him. Just as he handed his phone to her, it began to ring for the first time in many hours. It was about noon by this time, and the clerk handed the phone back to Sujo. The caller ID said it was from Mary’s number, but he was certain it was going to be the worst news…that someone was calling from her phone to let him know she didn’t survive.
He was wrong. When he answered, he heard Mary’s voice. She told him she had wanted to get to work early that day, but ended up running late. When they reunited that night, they made a vow to each other and to God that they would make every day of their lives count. Sujo prayed for God to “rewrite the history of my life”. He knew that he and Mary had not come to America just to make money, pursue success or have financial security. He believed that what was important to God was people…all people.
Fifteen years later, Sujo and Mary live near Dallas with their three children and have started an organization called You Can Free Us. This organization works to abolish the modern-day slavery of human trafficking by rescuing women and children forced into prostitution in the U.S. and around the world. As 21st century abolitionists, Sujo and Mary have made good on their promise to God and have taken their message of survival and hope to people of all ages all over the world.
Before there was Facebook or Twitter or Instagram…long before everyone had a phone that was also a camera, Bill Biggart knew what it was like to look at life through a lens. He was doing it before it became the thing to do. Bill’s work took him all over the world in his career as a photojournalist, but that day 13 years ago found him home in New York.
When the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center, a taxi driver passing by him on the street alerted him to the news. He quickly ran home to get two film cameras and one digital camera and walked towards the Twin Towers, snapping pictures as he went. His passion for the people affected by the historical events he covered is evident in his work. He seemed to capture an odd beauty of regular people in irregular circumstances, as in his photos of the people of Northern Ireland struggling for independence in the 1980’s. He was there when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and once again his lens focuses on the people, their faces full of excitement and expectation.
But it was his work from that September day in 2001that most of us would know. If you’ve seen any pictures from 9/11/01, you’ve seen a Bill Biggart picture. Once again, many of them are of people: the stunned and weary firefighters and shell-shocked office workers who escaped from the towers. A friend and fellow photographer said of him: “One thing Bill taught me was that sometimes the picture is behind you, in the faces of people watching.”
And so it was this passion for the real story as told on the faces of those on the scene, that led him to get as close as he could to where things were happening. Shortly after the South Tower fell (the first to go down), Bill’s wife Wendy called him on his cell phone. He told her not to worry and that he would meet her at his studio 20 minutes later. He reassured her saying, “I’m safe. I’m with the firemen.”
By now you’ve probably guessed that Bill never made it to his studio to meet his wife. He continued taking pictures of the aftermath of the South Tower’s collapse…right up until 10:28 am when the North Tower fell. In fact, his last shot, pictured below, was time-stamped at 10:28:24. Only seconds after he took it, Bill Biggart perished. His camera and press passes where found in the debris four days later. He was the only professional photographer to be killed covering the September 11th terrorist attacks.
His wife Wendy said, “With a press pass around his neck and a camera bag over his shoulder, in the middle of a cross fire – Bill was in heaven.” In his 54 years of life, Bill saw the world and translated what he saw through the lens of a camera. He left the world more than just some really poignant pictures of historical events, however. His life and work leave the rest of us with the idea that people can do what they were born to do. His is an example of a life lived with passion and intention, doing what he loved to do…and he did it until his last breath.
“One year like any old other year
In a week like any week
Monday lying down
People doing what people do
Loving, working and getting through
No portraits on the walls
Of Seventh Avenue”
-lyrics to “Tuesday” by Five for Fighting
In a couple of days, we’ll mark another anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania that took the lives of nearly 3,000 people. It’s also the first anniversary of the attack on our embassy in Benghazi that left our ambassador there dead, along with three brave Americans. That second incident could never have happened, I’m afraid, without some amount of forgetting about the first one by some people in very high places. It appears now we may be on the eve of yet another war…this time, though, our brave soldiers will be sent to Syria to fight on the side of the people who took down those two massive towers—and left the lives of thousands changed forever.
Sure, we’re being told that this isn’t going to war, necessarily- just some very precise strikes at certain locations. Does anyone really believe this? Given the record of this president and his cohorts, how can we ever trust what they say? These are the same people who blamed the Benghazi attack on a poorly-made You Tube movie by some guy no one ever heard of (who only recently got out of jail on supposedly “unrelated charges”).
They’re the same people who, to this day, refer to the deadly shootings at Fort Hood in 2009, as an incident of “workplace violence” instead of calling it what it really was. Just for future reference, Mr. President and Mr. Eric Holder: when someone shouts “Allahu Akbar” (“Allah is greater”) while shooting American soldiers—or while flying planes full of people into buildings full of people—he or she is in full jihadi mode. It’s called a terrorist attack.
They also ignored warnings from Russian intelligence about the two brothers who executed a successful attack at the Boston Marathon earlier this year where 3 people died and hundreds more sustained life-altering injuries. At least that one they did see fit to call an act of terrorism, even though they had proclaimed last year that the War on Terror was officially over. In fact, when Obama became president, he didn’t even want the phrase to be a part of the government’s lexicon, preferring to call the War on Terror an “overseas contingency operation”. Political correctness gone wild.
Since then, he’s tried to fight multiple wars the PC way, by letting the enemy know in advance when we’ll be leaving the area, not even calling those who want to kill us “enemies” (or acknowledging that there are people who want to kill us), and neither defining nor desiring victory. Only a horse’s behind could concoct such a motto as “Lead from behind.”
The words from the song noted above were written by John Ondrasik of Five for Fighting. He captures very well the mindset of Monday, September 10, 2001. I wouldn’t say we were a nation of innocence and naiveté back then, but compared to what happened on Tuesday and in the years since, it pretty much was an innocent time.
Maybe we’ve forgotten that there was once a time when people who took you to the airport or picked you up could actually go right up to the gate. Or that getting on a plane didn’t involve removing any articles of clothing or being touched by a total stranger. The Constitution of the United States has taken a brutal beating over the past twelve years (even before Obama) to the point that the Founding Fathers wouldn’t recognize it or the nation that still claims to be governed by it.
It’s easy and maybe even convenient for those of us who didn’t lose a loved one, either on 9/11/01 or 9/11/12 to allow our memories of these days to fade, only to look back once a year when we’re sure to see some retrospective on a cable news channel.
But for those who lost someone, they live with the results of terrorism every day. They’d probably give anything for it to be Monday, September 10th again, just to have one last chance to see, talk to or hug the one they lost. Many of us haven’t forgotten them, but I’m not so sure about our “leaders”. It took less than a dozen years to go from Never Forget…to Try to Remember.
“The thing about memories
They’re sure and bound to fade
Except for the stolen souls
Left upon her blade
Is Monday coming back?
That’s what Mondays do”
***NOTE: You can listen to “Tuesday” by Five for Fighting HERE. And watch my video tribute to the victims of 9/11/01 by clicking the “Remembering 9/11/01” photo that is always linked from this page.
In yesterdays post, I linked to some rather disturbing audio of two victims of the attack on the World Trade Center nine years ago during their last moments on earth. I also posted a picture that’s come to be known as “The Falling Man”, depicting one of those many WTC victims who choose to exit the building on their own terms rather than wait for the fate that they knew was coming. The photographer behind The Falling Man, Richard Drew, was initially criticized for snapping that one second in The Falling Man’s life as he was approaching his death. Newspapers were also under fire for running the photo, so therefore it ran only once in most papers here in the United States. I never came across it myself until a year ago, and found it shocking and disturbing. Even so, I see it as another memorial to those who died, much like the memorial wall above at Ground Zero. The photo above was taken on my last visit there in July 2006, so I don’t know whether or not it still stands. The construction of a permanent memorial and towers is still a work in progress, as is the memorial in Shanksville, PA for the passengers and crew of Flight 93. To the best of my knowledge, the memorial to the Pentagon victims is the only one that’s been completed. These things take time, I suppose, but it’s important that they get done. Memorials serve not just to pay tribute to those who passed away, but they’re important for the living. As September 11, 2001 gets further and further in the past, we need to be reminded, at least once a year of what happened and what those people went through. Not just the people whose last dramatic moments were caught on film or audio tape, but everybody who was lost: the rescue workers, who walked up into the towers, as others were going down towards safety—and life. The passengers on the 3 flights that flew into the towers and into the Pentagon who never knew what was happening. The passengers on Flight 93 who did know, and decided to do something about it. The workers at the Pentagon who were taken in an instant as they sat at their desks… and those people who’ve since passed away from illnesses caused by working among the debris at Ground Zero. All of these deserve to be remembered, today and always.
**Note: The images and audio linked in this post will be upsetting. They’re not meant to be sensational or disrespectful, only to help all of us to never forget.**
Tomorrow marks the 9th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil. A year ago, I started this blog with the posting “Things to Remember on 9-11”. In the years since that horrible day, much has been written about, spoken of, argued over, etc. when it comes to the events of September 11, 2001 and why they happened. Sometimes it seems that the real people that were affected—those whose lives were lost and the people who love them—get brushed to the side. Even now, images of the attack come along less and less as the always-parental media (who know what’s best for us) refuse to replay or reprint them, for fear of upsetting anyone or of being politically incorrect.
That’s not the case here. Truth lives, and sometimes it hurts. We can try to bury it in the past, but we can’t ever let ourselves forget what really happened…and what really did happen that day? Put yourself in some other shoes…
Suppose you were a tourist hoping to get an early start on seeing all the sights of New York, or maybe you are a local on your way to work. The day is beautiful and calm until the first plane strikes the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Not long after, another plane strikes the South Tower. Shock and fear surround you as the chaos unfolds. As you watch people running—and jumping—from the two skyscrapers, you wonder why this is happening and when it will end.
Inside the building, those who managed to escape later described what was going on as “surreal” and “hellish”. You definitely get that feeling when you listen to the 9-11 calls of those trapped above the points of impact. Kevin Cosgrove’s last moments of life have been heard and remembered by people who never met him, as were those of Melissa Doi. Both of their 9-11 calls have been edited together here. Mr. Cosgrove, trapped on the 105th floor of the South Tower is last heard exclaiming, “Oh, God!”, as the tower begins to come down above him.
No less compelling are the terrified pleas of Ms. Doi to the 9-11 operator, asking if anyone was coming to help them on the 83rd floor. Trying to keep her calm, the operator tries repeatedly to reassure her as she asks, “I’m going to die aren’t I?” Ms. Doi also describes the unbearable heat and the heavy smoke that caused many office workers to jump some 1200 feet to their deaths to avoid being incinerated.
This above photo, known as “The Falling Man” became famous around the world. Most papers ran it only once, resulting in much criticism from their readers. The Associated Press photographer who took the picture, Richard Drew, expressed his feelings towards the critics by saying, “I didn’t capture this person’s death. I captured part of his life. This is what he decided to do, and I think I preserved that.” Drew explained in an interview that 9-11 was more than just the crumbling of the buildings. It was about the people. Nine years later, the identity of this man is still uncertain, but in his death, he’s become a symbol of the horrendous choice many of those in the towers were forced to make that day.
- Photo by Susan Meiselas/ Magnum Photos
**PLEASE CHECK BACK FOR PART 2 POSTING TOMORROW AFTERNOON***