Editor’s Note: David Hitt was the news editor at The Enterprise-Tocsin on the morning of September 11, 2001. He is currently a communications strategist with MTS, a contractor supporting NASA’s Mashall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
I was asleep when I got the call.
I can’t speak for today, but in those days, writing for The Enterprise-Tocsin was a job for night owls. You were at the office until well into the night, and you got a late start the next morning. Repeat until Thursday.
And so at 8:03:02 a.m. Indianola time on the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, when United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south face of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, I was still asleep.
The voice on the other end of the phone call that awoke me was that of David Rushing, then-managing editor of The E-T.
My groggy mind had trouble following what he was telling me.
He said something about two separate planes hitting the World Trade Center.
My sleep-addled brain parsed that as saying they were unrelated to each other.
My sleep-addled brain was picturing the sorts of planes you see in Sunflower County, small crop-duster type planes. Maybe something like that Cessna that had landed in Red Square. I had to admit that two Cessnas hitting the World Trade Center the same day was a bizarre story and a weird coincidence, but I had no clue why David was calling to tell me that. Not really something for The Enterprise-Tocsin, was it?
He finally gave up: “Just come to the office.” So I did.
There was a small black and white television that lived under the layout tables at The E-T in those days; it was mainly only ever turned on to watch the 6 o’clock news out of Greenville. The TV was on when I got to the office.
I watched on that small black and white television as the towers fell.
Phone calls were made. Loved ones were checked on. And then, the work began.
I wasn’t sure what we were supposed to do. The E-T, then as now as ever, is the newspaper of Sunflower County.
It focuses its attention fully within the borders of its postage stamp of native soil (to steal from Faulkner), and largely ignores anything beyond the county lines. There is no Associated Press wire content in The Enterprise-Tocsin, there’s the labor of local reporters.
What happened that day was far far beyond our county lines. But it was not a thing we could ignore.
We would use no wire stories, but we would cover the events of that day.
We began first working on a local reaction story, interviewing people in the community to talk about how these events had affected them.
But very quickly, as we made those calls and our phone rang, we learned that the story we had watched unfold on that black and white TV was very much a local story.
By that afternoon, we had talked with the parents of a young man from Indianola who had lived the events of that morning. Daniel Brasier was freshly out of college, at his first day on his new job at Morgan Stanley – in the south tower of the World Trade Center – when the first plane hit.
Hours before we talked to his parents, he had walked down 63 flights of stairs. Not long after that, his new workplace collapsed into rubble. For 40 minutes until he could call, his parents had no clue if he was alive or dead.
We talked with Dr. Ray Matthews, who started that day at a medical seminar in New York City and ended it working in a makeshift emergency triage clinic, aiding the wounded.
And there were others – Indianolans who were just blocks from the World Trade Center when it happened or who could easily have been on one of those flights. My editor, Jim Abbott, was, as always, an artist in finding the story and getting to its heart. I’m blessed to have worked for him.
It was a surreal day. The World Trade Center was so very far away when I watched the towers fall on that television, and yet very quickly was so so very close.
I’m proud of the issue we put out that week. I’m proud of our local coverage of a historic day. I’m proud that we captured and recorded and preserved the Sunflower County story of September 11th.
But more than the professional accomplishment, that issue is special to me in a very personal way. Working on that issue taught me something important. Something about Sunflower County, and something about the world.
I learned that day about what “local” means.
There are times when local is bigger than your city, or your county.
There are days the entire country is local.
There are days the entire planet is local.
Those towers fell in Sunflower County as surely as they did in New York.
When the towers fell, I’d never been to New York City; I’d never seen them in person.
I went to the city for the first time three years ago. I stayed a stone’s throw from the World Trade Center; I could see the new One World Trade Center tower from my hotel room window. We went to the observation level in the new tower. We toured the memorial museum.
As we did, I thought about that day, 20 years ago now. And I thought about Indianola.