Keeping Score: 20 years later

  • FOR THE RECORDER/CHIP AINSWORTH

Published: 9/10/2021 8:01:54 PM
Modified: 9/10/2021 8:02:05 PM

Good morning!
Twenty years ago today, I was living in Hadley and had parked behind the Hampshire Mall to go jogging on the Norwottuck Trail. Afterward I stopped for coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts on Rte. 9 and returned to the mall parking lot to peel off the lid.

The car radio was tuned to 660AM in New York City, and Don Imus was chatting with a political wag about that day’s mayoral primary.

Suddenly Imus, who was watching the news on a small television monitor, interrupted his guest. “Did a plane just fly into the World Trade Center?” he asked.

American Airlines Flight 11 had taken off from Boston’s Logan Airport at 7:59 a.m. bound for Los Angeles. It was hijacked by five terrorists after it reached cruising altitude.

Two of the terrorists, ringleader Mohamed Atta and Abdul-Azzia Al-Omari, had taken a 6 a.m. commuter flight from Portland to Boston. Why Portland? “It is possible that he calculated that security would be less stringent in Portland than it would be in Boston,” terrorism expert Steve Emerson told NBC.

The ticket agent who gave Atta and his cohort the boarding passes told the Portland Press Herald last week, “My wife says I sometimes scream at night.”

The doomed airliner crossed over the Connecticut River near Northampton. Any one of us could have looked skyward, seen its silver glint and been unaware of the horror that was transpiring. 

The 33-year-old Atta had learned to fly in Venice, Fla. He piloted the aircraft northwest until he saw the Hudson River, then turned south and followed the river to its target. According to NPR’s timeline, the plane hit the WTC’s North Tower at 8:46:40.

I drove back to my rented house on Bay Road and was still in the car when United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston hit the South Tower.

I’m not a city person, I don’t like traffic jams, stoplights and noise, but the Big Apple has grown on me.

The summer before the attacks I parked in the Bronx and walked to Yankee Stadium. I was miles from the ballpark and there was no GPS. Strangers were happy to oblige, even if they didn’t know where it was either. My best memory was of two young guys yelling at each other and pointing in different directions. One of them barked, “Will ya shut up so I can tell him!?”

On a return trip from Florida I wound up going through a tunnel instead of over a bridge and popped up like a woodchuck in the heart of Manhattan. It was 3 a.m. and I saw an NYPD van parked on a corner. Neither cop looked happy to be working the graveyard shift. One of them had his police cap down over his brow. “Excuse me,” I asked him, “can you tell me how to get to New England?”

“Take me with you,” he said.

My co-workers in the Franklin County civil process office were quiet and stunned. Office manager Carol Smith was the first to mention the 9-1-1 correlation. She gave me court papers to serve in Hawley, and I welcomed the trip to a quiet, beautiful hilltown after seeing the horror in New York.

The next day I bought every out-of-town newspaper I could find and stashed them in a cardboard box. This week I went to the shed, opened the box and read the headlines: Terrorists Destroy World Trade Center, Hit Pentagon in Raid with Hijacked Jets (Wall Street Journal); New Day of Infamy (Boston Globe); Act of War (New York Post); WAR (Boston Herald); Intercepted Messages Point to Bin Laden (USA Today).

The Herald named several passengers who’d been aboard either of the two ill-fated flights. Berry Berenson was the widow of actor Anthony Perkins, Hollywood producer David Angell created Cheers and Frasier; and Boston socialite Sonia Puopolo was en route to the Latin Grammy Awards.

Mark Bavis and Ace Bailey had been aboard Flight 175. Bavis was an LA Kings scout and former BU hockey player. Bailey was the Kings’ scouting director. He had played for the Bruins and spent his final season in Edmonton protecting Wayne Gretzky. “Our friendship got stronger over time,” Gretzky wrote in Sports Illustrated. “Coach Glen Sather would fly him in if I was in a slump. He knew that seeing Ace would put a light back in my eyes and get me going again.”

The Recorder’s Richie Davis reported that 23-year-old Greenfield native Nathan Leonard, who worked for the Bridge Trading Co., was able to escape safely from the 58th floor of the South Tower. 

Our region got out of it relatively unscathed, largely because almost everyone in Western Mass. uses Bradley International Airport.

New York Magazine reported that citizens from 115 different nations were killed on 9/11, and over 3,000 children lost a parent. The CIA reported a 50 percent increase in applications in 2001, and 1.4 million Americans changed their holiday travel plans from plane to train or car.

Of the 2,753 people who died that day, one in every seven was a firefighter, paramedic or police officer. If you see any one of them today — a cop, an EMT or a firefighter — say hello and thank them. They had America’s back that day, and they’ll have it again the next time.

Chip Ainsworth is an award-winning columnist who has penned his observations about sports for four decades in the Pioneer Valley. He can be reached at chipjet95@yahoo.com


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