Remembering 9/11: Death, Daft Ideas and a Tree

Michael Rieger's FEMA News Photo: New York City Deputy chief fire coordinating clean up efforts at New York City's World Trade Center. (September 25, 2001)
Clearing debris at New York City’s World Trade Center. (September 25, 2001)

These days, September 11th is mostly remembered as the date of the 9/11 attacks.

But that’s not the only ‘on this day in history’ incident from my country’s history.

The Halve Maen, for example, a Dutch East India Company vlieboot, sailed into what we call Upper New York Bay 412 years ago today.

A log entry noted that locals called an island there “Manna-hata” — or maybe that was the name for part of the island, or a hickory grove on the island’s southern tip.

We’re pretty sure that what the ship’s officer heard was Munsee “manaháhtaan,” meaning something like “place for gathering the wood to make bows. Or maybe it was “manhattoe.”

Anyway, I think “Manna-hatta” isn’t a bad effort for someone recording a word from an unfamiliar language. Although it would have been nice if the ship’s officer had recorded more about Munsee and Algonquin languages in general. And that’s another topic.

More immigrants arrived over the next few centuries.

Their cultural heritage included engaging in trade. And since “Manna-hatta” was on an excellent harbor, their settlement grew. A lot.1

Just Another Tuesday Morning

Photo by Idawriter, Walker and Centre Streets, New York City. (July 18, 2021)
Idawriter’s photo (July 18, 2021): Walker and Centre Streets, New York City.

Then, 392 years after the “Manna-hatta” log entry, folks in Manhattan were starting another weekday morning.

Photo of Winter Garden Atrium and other damaged buildings, by U.S. Navy photo by Chief Photographer's Mate Chief Photographer's Mate Eric J. Tilford. (September 17, 2001)It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

Twenty years ago today.

At 8:46 Eastern Daylight Time, someone flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Everyone on Flight 11, along with folks on floors 93 through 99, died.

About 16 minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower.

After that, American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon and United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field southeast of Pittsburgh.

At 9:59, the South Tower collapsed.

The North Tower fell at 10:28.

Death, Dust and Debris

Photo of World Trade Center rubble and fires, by U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson. (September 14, 2001)
Jim Watson’s photo of Word Trade Center rubble and fires. (September 14, 2001)

By then, folks around the world had begun watching more-or-less frantic reporters trying to make sense of smoke, sirens, fleeing folks and dust. Lots of dust.

But what may have gotten the most attention after 10:28 was the burning scrapheap that had been the the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

By midday, folks in lower Manhattan and Arlington had started putting out fires and were picking through the rubble, looking for identifiable pieces of people and property.2

Lord High Muckamucks and — Finally — a Medal

FBI's map, showing flight paths of the four aircraft hijacked September 11, 2001. (May 18, 2011))
FBI’s map, showing flight paths of the four aircraft hijacked September 11, 2001. (May 18, 2011)

I wasn’t taking notes at the time, so I can’t remember who insisted that two airliners flying into two of New York City’s tallest buildings was just an accident. Or the exact words.

Important people making daft statements is probably par for the course in situations like the 9/11 attacks. City and state lord high muckamucks are human, too. I’ll take the hysteria as evidence that they knew how bad it could be.

The two towers housed 430 companies employing 35,000 people. Thankfully, many were below the floors occupied by Marsh & McLennan Companies, Fuji Bank and smaller outfits.

I’m not sure when someone with both an impressive title and common sense acknowledged that my country was under attack. I figure it was before 9:45 a.m., when America’s air space started getting cleared.

At 9:57 a.m., the passengers and crew on United Airlines Flight 93 began fighting the four terrorists who’d hijacked their airliner.

Then, at 10:03 a.m., Flight 93 dove into a field, killing everyone on board.

The passengers and crew of Flight 93 were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. Posthumously, of course. After only eight years of debate.3

It’s nice to know America’s Congress can get something right now and again.

Life, Death and Labels

Photo of World Trade Center rubble and fires, by U.S. Navy Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Eric J. Tilford. (September 16, 2001)
USN/Eric J. Tilford’s photo: Fire engine at World Trade Center site in New York City. (September 16, 2001)

Although I’d imagine very few folks seriously believed that four airliners had ‘just happened’ to fly into buildings and a field, it took time to learn who the terrorists were.

And even more time to isolate DNA from scraps found in New York City, Arlington and that field, sort through testimony and surviving records, and come up with a death toll.

A reasonable estimate says that 2,996 folks were killed that day, including 19 terrorists who had committed the slaughter. That number will almost certainly change, since we’re still analyzing DNA from pieces of more than 1,100 unidentified individuals.

I’ve used the conventional “terrorist” label for the 19 people who killed thousands. I suppose they might have called themselves martyrs or heroes in a holy war.

I gather that the chap who inspired the September 11 attacks said America was guilty of attacks, aggression and atrocities against Muslims.4

I think words, labels included, matter. But that mass murder is mass murder, no matter what the killers call themselves.

I also think that human life matters. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258-2262)

And, although I don’t always approve of what my country’s government does: I don’t think mass murder is a reasonable method for expressing disapproval.


United States of America flag.

I’m an American and a Christian.

If one set of stereotypes applied, then I’d have been spending the last two decades ranting about Islam and striving to have all American Muslims deported.

But I’m a Catholic. So, applying other stereotypes, I’d have been plotting against real Americans all this time.

Or, adopting another stereotype, one that’s been fashionable much of my life, I could have displayed sophistication by declaring ‘religion kills people.’

But I’m an American, a Christian and a Catholic. So I’ll take a quick look at an imaginative alternate history.

Islam is a Catholic Plot?!

Excerpt from 'Mamma's Girls,' Chick Publications. (Currently out of print, retrieved September 9, 2021)
Excerpt from “Mamma’s Girls,” Chick Publications. (Currently out of print, retrieved September 9, 2021)

I’ll give Jack Chick and the folks carrying on his work at Chick Publications credit for evangelical zeal.

Accuracy, not so much.

But I’ll grant that Chick tracts tell compelling tales and proclaim clear messages.

One of those messages, part of one at any rate, is that Islam is a Catholic plot. Or, perhaps more accurately, that both are a Satanic plot.

Maybe someone who believes the message(s) in literature like “Mamma’s Girls” — that “The Whore” and Islam are in cahoots with Satan — can be convinced otherwise.

However, making the effort strikes me as an exercise in futility.

But then, I’ve rubbed elbows with folks who hold similar beliefs; and don’t enjoy metaphorically slamming my head into a brick wall.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Death, destruction, 9/11 and DNA. Stereotypes and religion. Comic books and an alternate history.


There was a time when I was in online groups which included Muslims. I probably still am, but who has which faith hasn’t been as much of an issue lately.

They were self-identified Muslims, at any rate. I can no more peer into the mind of someone online than I can face-to-face, and that’s yet another topic.

One of the points my Muslim fellow-members made was the one Ali Moeen discussed in “Yeh Hum Naheen/This Is Not Us!”5

Okay, but that doesn’t change religion’s connection with the September 11 carnage.

(Not Just) the Bible and Me

Excerpt from 'Allah Had No Son' and 'The Death Cookie,' Chick Publications. (retrieved September 9, 2021)Mass murderers may have apparently-religious motives. But just as not all Christians are in the Ku Klux Klan, not all Muslims are terrorists.

And I’m quite sure that not all feel that having different beliefs deserves death.

I’m inclined to believe folks like Ali Moeen, since I’m a Catholic: and know that my faith isn’t even close to fitting Chick Publications’ “The Death Cookie” profile.

If some of my fellow-citizens are profoundly wrong about my faith, then I figure maybe they’re not 100% accurate about what other folks believe.

There’s the whole ‘respect’ thing too, but before I get to that: about the “Mama’s Girls” claim regarding Sacred Scripture and rules for Catholics.

Half of what the”religious advisor” in that comic said was almost right.

Since I’m a Catholic, I can’t read Revelation 13:2 — and decide that, Biblically speaking, its true meaning is that zoos are Satanic. Or that Doomsday is on the 132nd day of next year.

But I can read the Bible. Make that I must read the Bible.

One of my faith’s happier obligations is frequent reading and study of Sacred Scripture. (Catechism, 101-133)

And, since I’m also supposed to pay attention to wisdom accumulated over the last few millennia, I can’t start my own ‘Bible Prophecy End Times Fire Insurance’ business. (Catechism, 75-95, 2033, 2121)

Which is fine by me.

Now, about the rabidly religious and respect. But mostly respect.

Truth and Love

Branford Clarke's illustration for 'The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy,' Bishop Alma White; Pillar of Fire Church, Zaraphath, New Jersey. (1925) via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.
From “The Ku Klux Klan in Prophecy” Pillar of Fire Church, Zaraphath, New Jersey. (1925)

Watson Heston's 1896 political cartoon, warning against 'Single Gold Standard,' 'Interest on Bonds' and 'Wall Street Pirates.'Because I’m a Catholic, I must both seek truth and respect “…different religions which frequently ‘reflect a ray of that truth which enlightens all men.’…” (Catechism, 2104)

That respect includes valuing religious freedom. Everyone’s religious freedom. (Catechism, 2104-2109)

I see that sort of respect as a subset of my faith’s top obligation: loving God and my neighbors. All my neighbors. Everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31 10:2527, 2937; Catechism, 1789, 2196))

Love and respect aren’t easy when some of my neighbors have killed other neighbors, or seem convinced that folks like me are a threat to their country.

But it’s still a ‘must do.’ Or at least a must-try.

Anger and Remembrance

Photo of 'The Sphere,' by FEMA/Michael Rieger. (September 21, 2001)
U.S. FEMA/Michael Rieger’s photo: (“The Sphere” at the World Trade Center. (September 21, 2001)

I’m still angry that a handful of religious fanatics murdered more than two thousand folks on September 11, 2001.

But staying angry won’t bring them back. And that’s yet again another topic.

There’s no way I can highlight every 9/11 victim, so I’ll link to one remembrance and move on:

I’m upset about the mass murder.

But I’m also none too happy about the property damage: which included public and private art valued at an estimated $110,000,000. I’m not exactly ecstatic that my native culture measures art in terms of currency, and I’m wandering off-topic again.

The art thing isn’t all bad news. Some pieces, like “The Sphere” weren’t destroyed. Weren’t completely destroyed, at any rate.

And, although I’d vastly prefer that crackpots would take a cognitive leap back into reality: conspiracy theories happen. Like ‘airplanes didn’t make the towers fall because they couldn’t, that’s why.’

My favorite, in terms of weirdness, is one person’s insistence that America’s vice president ordered the Pentagon part of the attacks. I am not making that up.

The Sphere — AKA Sphere at Plaza Fountain, WTC Sphere and Koenig Sphere — is a whacking great bronze sculpture. Is, present tense.

It’s the only World Trade Center artwork recovered more-or-less intact. And, after standing in New York City’s Battery Park for a few years, it’s back at the new World Trade Center.

I think the powers that be had the right idea, dusting it off but not repairing damage sustained during the attack.6

A Special Tree

PumpkinSky's photo of the Survivor Tree. (July 16, 2012)
PumpkinSky’s photo: The “Survivor tree”, alive and well and back at the World Trade Center (July 16, 2012)

Finally, there’s the Survivor Tree: a callery pear tree pulled from the World Trade Center’s rubble in October 2001.

It was eight feet tall at the time; mostly burned, but with one living branch.

New York City Department of Parks and Recreation transferred it to a nursery in the Bronx for recovery. Folks didn’t expect it to survive; but when it did, they planted it in the Bronx. Then a storm blew it down, and the Bronx nursery planted it again. And it kept on not dying.

The last I heard, the Survivor Tree is back at the World Trade Center, has several namesakes, and provides photo ops for visitors.7

Oh, yes: we rebuilt the World Trade Center, and that’s — what else? — still another topic.

As for what I think the 9/11 attacks “mean;” I talked about that and free will, in “Health and Surfside Condo Collapse: Siloam Scenarios” and “Joy and Shadow, Free Will and Something Silly:”

1 A ship, an island and languages:

2 A Tuesday morning in autumn:

3 Remembering:

4 Motives and DNA:

5 Making sense and other alternatives:

6 Art, casualties and odd ideas:

7 New York City’s special tree:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Remembering 9/11: Death, Daft Ideas and a Tree

  1. irishbrigid says:

    Wrong word: “said America as guilty of attacks, aggression”

    Missing punctuation: “All my neighbors. Everyone No”

    Misplaced punctuation: “but when it, did they planted it in the Bronx.”

Thanks for taking time to comment!