A look back: Nation reels in new face of war

The Detroit News

Editor’s note: On Sept. 11, 2001 a team of Detroit News reporters and editors contributed to the newspaper’s coverage of the terrorists attack on the U.S. that resulted in a Page One story published in the next day’s paper. The story, written by then-Detroit News reporter Ron French, is republished below.

More than the New York skyline changed Tuesday.

When hijacked airliners crashed into our national psyche, the American landscape changed forever.

In one cruel morning, any notion of America being invincible was buried in the rubble. And the morning after, we awaken to an America with a shattered sense of security, a people bound together by grief, anger and resolve.

In the smoke and the flames, we saw a future less certain, less safe, than any this generation has known.

It was made-for-TV terror, death brought live into the kitchens and offices of a stunned nation. Thousands may have lost their lives, and millions may have lost their way.

"I don't know how to cope with this," said Vincent Sciarrino, manager of Westborn Market in Berkley.

Shoppers wandered in and out in a kind of daze. "I guess I'll go home and hug my grandchildren and hope this isn't the sign of the future," Sciarrino said.

America has faced terror before. U.S. embassies in Africa; the Marines in Beirut; Oklahoma City. But nothing prepared Americans for Tuesday's attack.

Now there are aircraft carriers off the coast of Washington, D.C., and New York to protect our own cities. A SWAT team spent Tuesday perched on the roof of the Livonia City Hall. Schools are closed and churches are holding prayer services.

Getting on an airplane will never be the same. Security will be toughened, meaning it will take longer to board. And who will want to get on board? There's Dramamine for turbulence, but no drug for terrorists.

Politics will change. So will the military. Bomb threats will be taken more seriously, likely cancelling major events. They are lessons learned long ago in Israel and Palestine, in Northern Ireland and Bosnia. Now, it is America that feels the ground shifting beneath its feet.

How can things ever be the same?

Something broke inside Philip Brigdani Tuesday morning.

The 55-year-old is a hard-scrabble businessman, operating bars in Allen Park, Detroit and Southgate, where 99-cent hamburgers are served by women in bikinis. "I'm just a regular Joe. I go to work every day and try to survive," he said.

But as he watched Tuesday's terror unfold, the saloon owner found himself for the first time in years unsure of what to do.

Eventually, he put a sign in front of his Detroit bar, reading "God Bless America."

"It's not business as usual anymore," Brigdani said. "It won't ever be again. We lost our innocence today."

Morning's silence broken

Sylvia Josephson was standing in the kitchen of her Huntington Woods home when reports of the World Trade Center on fire broke the silence of her morning.

For the next six hours, the 71-year-old kept vigil by her TV set and radio, helplessly watching as TV reports detailed the horrors of the attack.

Josephine had lunch plans with her husband and a friend. She cancelled.

"I just couldn't do it. I couldn't sit there and have lunch with what's happened today," she said. "I am still shaking. I started to cry."

John Carpenter of Grosse Pointe Park, watched the events unfold on his television with his 2-year-old son Patrick. As he distracted his son by reading Dr. Suess' Cat in the Hat, the second World Trade Centers tower collapsed.

"The sun did not shine. It was too wet to play," Carpenter read. "So we sat in the house all that cold, cold day."

"It was a huge big fire," said Patrick, sitting in the back of his little green wagon with his sippy cup in his lap.

"This is like Pearl Harbor," Carpenter said. "I'm obviously always going to remember this morning."

At a hastily called press conference, Gov. John Engler worried about the scars the attack would leave on America. "How much does this forever change things in our country? You worry about that," said Engler, noting that this nation has never fought a war against a foreign enemy on U.S. soil.

In a bone-chilling coincidence, Livonia Mayor Jack Kirksey received an invitation in the mail Tuesday for a conference on urban emergency management to be held at the World Trade Center next month.

"I got chills when I opened this," said Kirksey, who posted a SWAT team on top of the Livonia City Hall Tuesday morning. "We have to take every reasonable precaution because insane people come up with insane thoughts. They might want to prove that you're not safe anywhere."

After Tuesday, there was little feeling of safety anywhere.

Bob Francis, who recently moved to Detroit from New York City, said his wife called to tell him to turn on the television between the time that the first World Trade Center tower and second tower were struck by hijacked airliners.

Francis was just a few miles away from the World Trade Center when a car bomb exploded in 1993. "It is not a pleasant memory," he said. But Tuesday's attack will have an impact far beyond that.

"Today will constitute a completely new way that Americans look at their safety and how insulated they are from these other problems in the world," said Francis, an administrator for Detroit Public Schools. "It will bring us closer -- in a way that we don't like."

At Cooley High School in Detroit, teachers scrambled to find working television sets. History teacher Vanessa Nash stole one from the library and rushed it to her class.

"Let's have a discussion about what's going on," Nash said to her class. She wrote on the board: "Pentagon. World Trade Center. 4 planes hijacked."

"Everything's so inconclusive now, what can you think?" said Vitorio Penzabne, a 10th grader. "I was shocked. I heard about other countries, but I never thought I'd hear about this in the United States."

Jeremy Jones of Chicago was stranded at Metro Airport after the Federal Aviation Administration shut down all air traffic across the nation. "I truly thought I was safeguarded against something like this," Jones said. "But I see know that it was all just a false sense of security. Today proved that if a person has enough determination, they can get away with whatever they want. That's scary."

Voters bring news

The sound of news reports from a 6-inch television filled a room at Marshall Elementary School in Livonia, where city residents came to vote Tuesday in the City Council primary.

The three poll workers there -- who spent the entire day in the 10- by 30-foot room with three polling booths -- said they first learned of the attacks from early-morning voters.

"We found out by word of mouth," said June Hernick, 77, of Livonia, who checked in voters. "Little by little, people told us one plane crashed, then another. Then we heard it was terrorism. We were just horrified. At lunch-time, we went home to get this television so we could hear for ourselves."

Hernick said she felt a familiar feeling in her stomach as she watched the destruction in New York -- the same feeling she felt listening to radio reports of the Pearl Harbor attack when she was 6 years old.

"My father served in World War I, and he was so angry to hear about Pearl Harbor," she said. "We sat in front of the radio for hours. And I was stunned the whole time, just like I am today."

John Bros heard about the attacks over a bowl of cereal in his Livonia home Tuesday morning. "As a free society, we're always going to be exposed to these attacks. But what are we going to do?"

Bros, for one, knew what he was going to do. He marched into his precinct to cast his vote.

"I definitely felt a twang of patriotism when I got out of the car," he said. "It is our right to vote and we're going to fight to keep it. These terrorists aren't going to stop us."

'God Bless America'

At twilight, senators and congressman gathered on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Together, Republicans and Democrats, they sang "God Bless America," a lullaby for a tired and hurt country.

A thousand miles away, in a Livonia elementary school being used as a polling place, election workers could hear the tune on the TV.

It started with one precinct worker, murmuring the tune under his breath, and it spread, until all four were singing.

"God Bless America," they sang. "Our home sweet home."

Minutes later, the TV is off and the polls close for the night.

"I guess we have to show the world, don't we?" said poll worker Joyce Hodges.

Today, we start showing the world again, in a world where the ground is suddenly less firm.

This story was reported by Sheri Hall, Jennifer Brooks, Jennifer Chambers, Gene Schabath, Mike Wowk, Craig Garrett, Shawn Lewis, Paul Egan, Charles Hurt, Kim Kozlowski, Janet Vandenabeele, Joel Kurth, Jodi S. Cohen and Ron French, and written by French.