Just blocks away from the destroyed Twin Towers a TV station’s news van had frantically taken on a secondary role.
It was covered with the faces of the missing — a real-time missing persons wall of sorts.
Dozens upon dozens of photocopied pictures of people who were regular New Yorkers on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 and had now become the vanished.
More than the rubble itself, more than the smell or taste of metal in the air or the chilling TV images of airplanes being used as weapons, the faces of real people really hit me as to just how horrible this deplorable attack was.
Innocent people were lost forever. And for what?
Now on the 15th anniversary of the demonic 9/11 attacks that took almost 3,000 people and resulted in the deaths of thousands more in the armed conflicts that followed, it occurs to me whatever togetherness that was felt then is lost now.
There was an American patriotism that seemed unparalleled (in my lifetime at least). People were proud to be American and were steadfast to stick together against whoever did this and whoever backed them.
Another stirring image from that week was President George W. Bush coming to Ground Zero while the war planes circled Manhattan above and how resolved people seemed to be.
He had his arm around a rescue worker when someone yelled “we can’t hear you” when Bush countered with “I can hear you, and the people responsible for taking these buildings down will hear from all of us soon.”
There was a feeling of pure love of America.
This was followed by the spectacular buzz in the air weeks later when Bush threw out the first pitch of Game 3 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. It was pandemonium amongst a society in agreement that this was America and one does not mess with it.
But the feeling did not last.
After years of an ugly war in Iraq and even more years of carnage and few results in Afghanistan, it seems all the unity that came out of Sept. 11, 2001 was replaced by division.
People who agreed with Bush or supported him were no longer talking with those who did not.
It became us and them.
On the 15th anniversary of that turning point day the division is even more profound.
Now it’s no longer people belting out the national anthem together but instead arguing over whether it’s even appropriate to stand for it.
And things like the Super Bowl halftime show have become a place for anti-police protests like superstar Beyonce pulled off this past February.
Sure the buildings, planes and people were destroyed in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania 15 years ago today but as I reflect it was a lot more than that.
What was lost was the singular feeling shared by most that America was exceptional and Americans were darn proud of that.
That was the feeling I had walking the streets of New York following this heinous attack. That was what I witnessed as collectively all Americans dove into search, save or help Americans they did not know but shared a love of country with.
It’s a divided country now. Us and them. Not the terrorists or the people who hate America but each other.
But it was not like that on Sept. 11, 2001 or the days that followed. There was nothing political about that news van I saw with all the handmade missing posters on it.
All these years later, sadly, it was not just them who went missing.