My earliest vivid memory was Decmber 7, 1941. I was four, and remember my mother crying and screaming when the news bulletin was heard on our radio that afternoon (Pittsburgh time) that Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, had been bombed by Japanese war planes. Some of my other recollections of tragic events, as is probably the case with many readers, include JFK's, RFK's and MLK, Jr.'s assassinations, the explosion of The Challenger space shuttle, TWA flight 88's mysterious explosion over Long Island Sound on its way from New York to Paris (which killed the wife and daughter of one of my friends, named Richard Hammer) and so many more. Obviously, the strongest of all, in my opinion, was the heinous and "pure evil" (as Colin Powell justifiably called it) of what transpired that bright September morning 11 years ago today.
Bill Bonds, a former broadcast colleague of mine in Detroit, called it "a sucker punch" to the U.S. What those 19 individuals did in those planes (or tried to do in the case of United 93 crashing into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, rather than the U.S. Capitol Builing or White House, thanks to Minnesota's heroic Tom Burnett and others) forever awakened us from the thought our shores could never feel the ravages of such savagery.
That morning I was in Dearborn, Michigan, watching GMA, when the first tower was hit and was also on the phone with some Detroit friends. Needless to say, we ended the conversations to further concentrate on what had happened, and why. The reason for my being in Dearborn: I was understudying longtime (from childhood) friends Dick Van Patten and Frank Gorshin in a national tour of Neil Simon's play, THE SUNSHINE BOYS, which was supposed to begin the next night (9/12) at a brand new theater built directly acrioss from Ford's world headquarters building. Melissa Manchester (ex-wife of my friend, agent Larry Bresner), was scheduled to open the theater the preceding night, i.e., the night of 9/11, followed by Lou Rawls after our SUNSHINE BOYS debut. Ms. Manchester's performance went on that night, to very few in the audience. Our national tour debut began the night of 9/12, with only a handful of people. It was debated whether or not to cancel the opening of the tour, but then was decided the old axiom, "The show must go on", had to take precedence. Needless to say, with most of our audiences and potential audiences spirits deflated because of the 9/11 attacks, not many people were interested in seeing our show, or any show, throughout most of the tour, which ended in Idaho Falls, Idaho, in the spring of 2002.
One of those affected by 9/11 was my longtime friend and mentor, Tony Randall. During one of our play tour stops, in Columbia, South Carolina, I asked Dick and Frank if they wanted me to call Tony to just say hello. They said, "Yes", because they of course knew him throughout the years. I called. Tony talked with Dick and Frank, as well as with one of the actresses in our show named Lola Lesheim, who had acted with Tony on Broadway in M BUTTERFLY. (Lola is a Twin Cities-based actress, but originally from Cleveland.) Then I got back on the phone and asked Tony if the 9/11 attacks had negatively affected attendance at the National Actors Theater in New York, which he owned. There was a long pause. "Yes. It did", he said, in the most deadly tone I'd ever heard anyone use. I didn't pry any farther.
A friend of mine in Chicago today called my attention to one very interesting aspect of 9/11, to wit: How were box-cutters allowed to pass through Boston's Logan Airport security devices?, he asked me. I had no answer, except to say it was quite odd, and here's why: After covering the start of 1986's Iditarod race for Channel 11 (and fed to ESPN at the time), I bought a souvenir "ulu", which is a rounded Eskimo-created cutting device for vegetables or anything else that will succumb easily to its excellent and easy chopping method. I innocently placed it on the Anchorage airport security conveyor belt, and the screener said I couldn't carry it onto the plane. I asked why. She said it could be considered a weapon, and I'd have to put it in a box (which they provided) to be shipped like checked baggage back to the Twin Cities. I put in the box, it was shipped and I still have it. That was in 1986, long before we ever knew about the sort of terrorism bubbling up to eventually surface globally. Of course we went through screening, but not as thoroughly as post 9/11. But if that Anchorage security person wouldn't let me take an "ulu" on a plane as carry-on, how did Mohammed Atta and his terrorist group get through Boston's Logan Airport security, let alone security at the other airports with other terrorists involved in the attacks? As they say on Channel 4, "Good question". As all of us should remember to say, in my opinion, the horror of 9/11 should never leave our memories, nor its importance minimized.
Thanks for taking the time to read these pieces, as well as possibly viewing my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/video. The subject changes every Monday, but because of some minor surgery the past few days, the next new SENIOR MOMENT will be ready to view Monday, September 24th.