WILDER'S WHOLE WORLD: I cannot believe it has been 20 years…

By Dwayne Wilder
Special to the Herald Democrat

I was a newly branded reporter when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 happened on that Tuesday morning. We had a television in the newsroom of the Denison Daily Post. And like most Americans, we stayed glued to the tube all morning. Yes, we saw the people jumping out of a 100-story building, but we didn’t understand the historic and epic impact on humanity that was occurring before our eyes.

Those early hours were chaotic. We didn’t know what to expect — what would happen. People rushed to buy groceries and gasoline. I went by packed pump after pump with long lines as I tried to put together a local story. There were barricades at county lines; yes, barricades in Grayson County!

We didn’t know if we were being invaded or if this was a random act. Yes, it was coordinated, but we didn’t know the magnitude. Simply put, nothing like this had ever happened to us on U.S. soil.

The events at the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania were proven to be part of the attacks. Then, all air traffic was grounded for four days. Even civil air traffic — light aircraft and small engine aircraft included — were in question; would terrorist commandeer such planes to wreck havoc on our other landmarks?

Some television newsmen and women stayed on the air for four days; there was nothing but news from Tuesday to Friday. Only when Saturday Night Live aired on Saturday did we return to some degree of ‘normalcy’ – a new word in our everyday vocabulary. Wow! And it’s been 20 years…even that concept is as hard to believe as the acts themselves. So much has happened since; and we live in a different world.

But in my role as a journalist, I have had the privilege of talking with local people who have a connection to the Sept. 11 attacks.

Even in horrific circumstances, our humanity comes shining through. There was a Denison student going to college in NYC that day; there were local Red Cross volunteers who went to NYC in the weeks following the attacks to help; and I spoke to them on other anniversaries.

There are connections everywhere, especially in the aviation industry. Sept. 11 affected the airlines like no other event in history (except the COVID pandemic). I haven’t gotten to talk to any local people who were part of this industry over the years until now…and this anniversary seems appropriate.

“We were just stunned; the agent told us what happened (the first plane hitting the north tower) when we got off the plane in Atlanta,” said retired flight attendant Marilyn Zickrick, of Denison. “We deplaned the passengers off our flight and went on to our next flight. We stopped where everyone was in front of a television just in time to see the second plane hit the (south) tower.”

“It was like watching a movie; it didn’t quite register what was happening,” continued Marilyn. “By the time we got to our next flight, it was canceled.”

It was a similar experience for husband, Fred Zickrick, who was a commercial pilot for 25 years. He had just landed in Brighton, England that morning. He was following his usual ritual of taking a walk around town when he stopped at a storefront television as the attacks happened.

“I didn’t know what to do; I couldn’t believe it,” said Fred, the first officer on his flight. “I went back to the hotel to meet with the crew. The captain called us together to debrief us, but he didn’t know much either. I ended up spending almost a week in England just waiting.”

The married couple – 37 years – didn’t have direct connections to the attacks, but were involved with the airline industry, which took a hard hit economically and culturally as its ‘way of life’ was altered forever. (Example: When you go to the airport now, you have to take your shoes off!)

“All I could think about that week was ‘How could anyone hate us this much?’” recalled Fred who retired in 2004. “The anniversary is always a very emotional time. It had a huge impact on us and the industry.”

Marilyn agreed, “Airline employees are a large family; if one of us is hurting, we all hurt. It doesn’t matter which airline you work for; we are all in it together. You have a personal attachment to each flight and its crew if something bad happens. You feel for them and the passengers. It was so hard.”

“That day, we felt displaced. No one knew what was going to happen. People began helping strangers as we waited for days,” recalled Marilyn, who spent 33 years in the aisles. “I was lucky because I had a niece in Atlanta. On Friday, the scheduler said that I was going home. It was a tough time.”

“It had a huge impact; just like COVID has,” began Fred. “We may not have retired as early as we did if not for the events of 9/11; it was the core event in the airline industry for decades.”

Marilyn, who retired in 2012, added that ‘safety became paramount’, “All the training changed radically; the emphasis was ‘secure the cockpit.’ It became the only way for anyone to survive; before we could let passengers talk to the pilot, but after 9/11, not anymore. No one was getting control of the airplane after that.”

After the couple and the industry got back to ‘normal,’ Marilyn said that there was always an added dimension to flying after Sept. 11. Airline employees had to be ‘vigilant,’ but not stereotypical in relationships with passengers.

“From then on, it affected the way we handled passengers; we had to be careful,” she recalled. “I had people telling me of ‘suspicious’ people on the plane. We had to use our best judgment and report to the pilot. I decided I was going to get to know those ‘suspicious’ people; and usually, they were just flying from one place to another — no nefarious intentions. After 9/11, I spent a lot of time doing that.”

“In a bad situation like that (terrorist acts), you get to see the best coming out in people; we all came together to help in those years following 9/11,” said Fred. “In a lot of cases, you get to see the good side of humanity, even though it was horrible. It was quite an event; one that is still with us today.”

…even 20 years later.

Dwayne Wilder

Dwayne Wilder is a Sherman native who currently lives in Denison. Wilder’s Whole World is his commentary about life in Texoma and the world. Wilder can be reached at cmandad17@gmail.com. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.