On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was sitting at the Denver Zoo just starting the Breakfast Club. We were there for the annual Senior Day and at 6a I was chilly from a little breeze coming off the lake in City Park. The menagerie of animal sounds let the neighborhood know it was time to get up and it really looked like another ordinary beautiful Colorado morning. Then I heard in my ear from back in the studio, “Oh My God a plane just flew into the World Trade Center!” Mark was running the board for me in the studio and he had the television on and they were showing smoke from one of the towers and saying a plane of some sort had hit the building. There was confusion about what kind of plane and where it came from and then the second tower was hit and all Mark said to me was, “Rick, you need to come back here now.” I can hear it today as clearly as I could 11-years ago. I packed up, ran to the truck and listened to the news on the way from the Denver Zoo to the station and I kept looking up at the sky as if I expected more planes to fall. Of course everyone has stories about where they were that day and what they did. It was a moment that touched us all and as we approach the 11th anniversary of 9-11 I am only now beginning to realize just how deeply it touched me.
In December 2001, three months after the attacks, Diane and I flew to Hawaii for the 60th anniversary of the bombing at Pearl Harbor. Remember the scene at the airport then? National Guardsmen with M-16’s patrolled the concourse and security took hours to get through. When we got to Pearl I broadcast back to Denver from the deck of the USS Missouri and after the broadcast watched as 9-11 first responders who had been flown to Hawaii as guests of the Governor met Pearl Harbor Survivors. It was the first time since the attack that the first responders felt like they were with people who truly understood what they had been through. These were the men who 60-years earlier had crawled through ship wreckage and oily water looking for survivors of the Japanese attack like the first responders had just crawled through the crushed ruins of the Trade Center towers looking for survivors of the terrorist attacks. Everyone who was there that day cried…and hugged…and spoke very little. Words were not necessary between men and women who had seen evil first hand.
I realize now that 9-11 changed much about me. For the first five years or so after the attack whenever I boarded a plane I quickly looked around to see who was on the flight. If I saw someone Middle Eastern I was nervous about it. I’m not proud of that, but it’s what I felt and I only mention it because I know that kind of suspicion and fear invokes hate and hate invokes more violence and where does that get us? I’m glad I don’t have those feelings anymore.
Perhaps the biggest change in me is who my heroes are. It used to be athletes and man I wished I had half the talent they had. Now it’s 19 and 20-year olds with names like Andrew, and Doc, and Sam, and Lars, and Tommy and Danny and Faith. Kids who had their entire life in front of them but were so filled with patriotism after the attacks of 9-11 they felt a duty to serve and they died protecting the freedoms we all enjoy. The price of Freedom is most often paid for with the futures of young men and women. Man how I wish I had half the courage and belief in a higher calling that they did. The best friends I have ever known have been made from the tragedy of 9-11. In the ensuing years as Colorado’s finest have given their lives in the fight on terror I have become close with many of the Moms and Dads and Brothers and Sisters left behind. I have come to know the remarkable citizen soldiers who laid down their lives through the tears and story’s their families share and I am inspired by them, and saddened I will never know personally the kids they mourn.
We are all a little different now than we were before 9-11. It has hardened our hearts some and put us all on edge. Maybe we could all go to the Zoo for the morning show and start anew. The sound of all those animals waking up will put a smile in your heart! God bless you victims of 9-11. May we never again take for granted a single moment of our lives on this Earth knowing how quickly it can all change.