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Where Were You on September 11th? – Ryan O’Bryan Was Sleeping

Smoke pours from the twin towers of the World Trade Center after they were hit by two hijacked airliners in a terrorist attack September 11, 2001 in New York City. (Photo by Robert Giroux/Getty Images)

It was one of the most terrifying, horrific, and unforgettable days in American history — and I slept right through it.

In 2001, I was the overnight jock on our sister station, 103GBF. I went on the air at midnight and left at 6am Monday through Friday. I generally got home around 6:30am, about the time my wife was waking up to go to work and would fall asleep watching TV somewhere between 7:00 – 8:00am. September 11th was no different. I got home, crawled into bed and flipped on the Today show on NBC as normal. As I felt my eyelids start to get heavy a little before 7:30, I set the sleep timer on the TV and drifted off as I had done every day before, not knowing that a mere 15 minutes later, the world would change forever.

I woke up to the phone ringing around 3:30 that afternoon. I hopped out of bed and try to answer it in a voice that didn’t sound like I just got out of bed at 3:30 in the afternoon. On the other end was my best friend, a teacher here in Evansville who had just wrapped up his day. He asked if I saw what happened, when I responded with a confused, “no,” he told me I needed to turn on the TV then gave me a brief rundown of the days events.

I hung up the phone and stared at the television, trying to wrap my mind around what had taken place in the world while I was off in dream-land. At first I didn’t know what to think. Emotionally, I was torn. The events of the day were taking place a thousand miles away in New York and Pennsylvania, I didn’t have any friends or family in those areas, so I initially I didn’t feel like it affected me directly. Don’t get me wrong, I felt for the families and friends of the victims, but I didn’t feel a personal connection right away. Selfish? I’m sure that argument could be made convincingly, but I think it was more confusion and trying to catch up on what had happened during the eight hours I was asleep than it was a lack of compassion.

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

As time went by and I watched the footage of the planes literally disintegrate into both towers, exploding into massive fireballs that ultimately led to both towers collapsing, and creating absolute chaos for the millions of people living in those areas, my emotions started to sort themselves out. Anger set in as the compassion for my fellow American’s and my country in general began to surface once my mind started to wrap itself around the severity of the situation.

Revenge also found its way into the mix. At this time it was still unknown who exactly was responsible for the attacks, although Osama bin Laden’s name was beginning to be tossed around by the network news departments, but it didn’t matter. Whoever was responsible, whether it was the epitome of evil hiding like a coward in a cave somewhere on the other side of the planet, or it was my neighbor across the street, they needed to be dealt with swiftly and severely.

I’m not a fighter. Actually, I try to avoid confrontation like its the black plague. I also wouldn’t classify myself as vengeful, but I firmly believe in karma and it’s “what goes around comes around” philosophy. If you do bad stuff, the day will come when it catches up with you, and you will get what you deserve. But this was different, I wanted justice. Not the kind where whoever is responsible is arrested, placed on trial, and spends the remainder of their days wasting away in a prison. No, the justice I, and presumably every other American watching the events unfold, wanted was more the “eye for an eye” type. The “live by the sword, die by the sword” kind of justice that could only be obtained by the death of those responsible — and I wanted it right then and there. As we all know, it would be over 10 long years before that justice was served. But served it was, and exactly the way it needed to be.

There was a third emotion that also exposed itself — fear. Fear of more attacks. Fear that we as a country weren’t as protected as we once were. Fear that no one could be trusted. It’s one thing to be on guard when you’re walking back to your car in a poorly lit parking lot after a night out, but this was on a whole new level. Is the semi next to me on the Lloyd Expressway full of explosives in route to its target? Will the plane flying over my house suddenly fall from the sky because some radical whack-job is looking to make a point? It was fear of a new unknown. Nothing could be taken for granted anymore.

Did I think something so horrific could take place here in little ol’ Evansville, Indiana? If you asked me that question on September 10th, 2001, the answer would have been an easy, “No,” but the September 10th world was vastly different than the new September 11th world. In the September 10th world, the idea that people could pass through airport security, hijack an airplane, and fly it into a building wasn’t on anybody’s radar. The concept seemed more like something dreamed up by Hollywood. Only this time there was no hero to thwart the bad guys plan before the unimaginable took place. The exception of course being the heroes on Flight 97 who made the ultimate sacrifice to stand up to the terrorists aboard that flight and send the plane careening into a Pennsylvania field.

I remained glued to the coverage for the rest of the day. My wife and I were playing on a co-ed softball team at the time and were scheduled to have a double-header that night. Much to our surprise, the games hadn’t been cancelled. I assume that those in charge of the league either felt as I did earlier in the day; that while tragic, the events, and the fallout afterwards, were taking place a thousand miles away, and really had no direct effect on the majority of the Evansville community. Or they felt the best route to take would be to allow the games to play as scheduled in an effort to provide people some sort of comfort, to return to some type of normalcy. Whatever the case, we opted not to play that night. It just didn’t feel right. Instead, we attended a prayer service with my mom at St. Phillips Church. Everything else was insignificant.

(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

To this day, the photos and video of that day are difficult to stomach. To see the explosions, the smoke billowing from both towers instantly makes me think of the thousands of innocent people who were sitting at their desks, starting another day of work like they had done so many days before, minding their own business, when suddenly their lives were over. The targets of misdirected hostilities toward perceived crimes of the American government by religious zealots. I think of the firefighters, police officers, and emergency personnel who ran toward the chaos, when so many others tried desperately to run away. I think of how panicked I get when I lose sight of my son or daughter at the grocery store for five seconds and how that feeling was infinitely multiplied by the families and friends of those in the towers as they desperately searched for their loved ones.

Even something as simple as seeing the numbers, 9-1-1 next to each other in any setting brings back memories of that day, much like I imagine the date, December 7th, or the numbers 12-7 do for those that were alive to witness the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

September 11th was and always will be my generation’s Pearl Harbor. It’s the day our world changed. The day we questioned everything, and realized that even in the greatest country in the world we can take nothing for granted. It’s the day we must never forget.

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