Where Were You, When

Everything Changed?

Where was I when Everything Changed?

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, June 28, 1914, igniting the powder-keg Europe had become, my grandparents were small children.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, my parents were children, and had not been within a thousand miles of each other.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, November 22, 1963, I was barely over seventeen months old, and completely unaware that anything had happened.

When Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in the Apollo 1 Fire, January 27, 1967, I was not yet five years old, and like the Kennedy Assassination, I didn't find out about it until years later.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, April 4, 1968, I had not even heard of him, and like most people in white suburbia, had little understanding of the significance at the time.

I know exactly where I was, when the Challenger exploded, January 28, 1986, the result of an entirely preventable mishap. I was at work, on a four-and-a-half-month tour of duty as a Maintenance Worker, with the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was sitting on the ground, outside a toolshed that was crammed with broken chairs, broken tricycles, and so forth, at a child-care center (the one at Locke High School, as I recall), bolting new seats onto chairs. My partner for the day (Maurice Metcalf, as I recall) returned from a coffee run (it was break-time, but I felt little need for a break) with the news. At first, I thought it was some sort of cruel joke. Then I turned on my car radio. Then I felt the need for a break. Followed by the need to bury myself in my work.

I also know exactly where I was when I first got word of the World Trade Center Atrocities (which I refuse to euphemize or trivialize by reducing them to three digits and punctuation) began, September 11, 2001. I was at work, in the very same building in which I type this, when a colleague announced what had happened. (While I distinctly recall first hearing of the atrocities at work, well after 8:00 AM Pacific Time, history tells us that I was actually almost certainly barely out of bed [or more likely, still in bed] when the first aircraft struck the World Trade Center, and probably not even out the door when the fourth aircraft crashed in rural Pennsylvania.) Just as I refused to trivialize the events of that day, likewise, I refused to give in to sensationalism and watch any of the live television coverage. Photographs and written descriptions were quite enough. More on the World Trade Center Atrocities momentarily.

I also know exactly where I was when the Columbia broke up over the American Southwest, February 1, 2003, again from an entirely preventable mishap. It was a Saturday, and I was just getting off the freeway on my way to an organ lesson in Long Beach, when I heard, on my car radio, that the Columbia had been lost with all hands. I canceled my lesson on arrival - I owed my teacher a formal cancellation - and went home.

I was already flying the U.S. flag, half-staff, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, when the Columbia broke up. First, for a full year of mourning for the World Trade Center Atrocities, and then in mourning for the lives lost over President George W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. I resolved to continue flying that flag half-staff, 24/7, for at least another full year, by which time it was too tattered and faded to continue display.

Like the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia disasters, the World Trade Center Atrocities were preventable. While it is understandable that no sane American would have anticipated a terrorist suicide squad hijacking an airliner for the express purpose of turning it into a giant "baka bomb" - after all, previous hijackings had been about either hostages, or transportation to a forbidden destination, or both - there were still things that could have been done. President Clinton had left clear warnings about the dangers of Al-Qaeda; President Bush ignored them. There had been talk of a Department of Homeland Security at least as early as the Clinton Administration, but Congressional Republicans had shot the idea down. For years, airlines, more concerned with profit than with passenger safety, had refused to voluntarily fit their aircraft with armored cockpit doors, and had successfully lobbied against legislation to require them. Passenger screening at America's airports had become nothing more than empty "security theatre," contracted out to the lowest bidder, or as Shakespeare would say, "a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

But perhaps most damningly: our flight schools failed to notice something as inherently suspicious as a group of people seeking to learn how to fly large, multi-engine aircraft, without any apparent interest in learning how to land them safely.

I know where I was when Everything Changed. On at least three occasions, including the biggest, most horrific such occasion of my lifetime.

Where were you when Everything Changed?

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James H. H. Lampert
Copyright © James H. H. Lampert, 2011. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Revised Monday, November 16, 2015.
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