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Posted at 05:34 PM ET, 09/08/2011

September 11, 2001: The stories we told ourselves


The lower Manhattan skyline shrouded in smoke days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. (Dan Loh/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is still four days away, but the past week has seen an outpouring of recollections. The United States is circling around its memories, still grappling with the meaning of that day. So many words have been written since that bright September morning (there are around 455 million Google results for “9/11”), but sometimes it’s best to go back to the beginning to try to make sense of what’s past.

To remember the chaos and the uncertainty, but also the resilience and even the sense of humor of that time, here are six of the best stories written within days after the attack:

“Eye of the Storm” by John Bussey in the Wall Street Journal:

If there's only one sight I'll remember from the destruction of the World Trade Center, it is the flight of desperation — a headlong leap from the top-most floors by those who chose a different death than the choking smoke and flame. Some fell swinging their arms and legs, looking down as the street came up at them. Others fell on their backs, peering upward toward the flames and sky. They dropped like deadweight, several seconds, hopeless and unhelpable. And always the same end.

“September 11, 2011” by David Maraniss in the Washington Post:

The saddest and most relentlessly horrific day in modern American existence started in the most ordinary ways.... Real people, not characters in a movie, yet all of them soon to be caught up in surreal scenes of dread and death and horror organized by perpetrators who seemed to understand perfectly the symbols and theatrics of American culture.”

“‘I Saw Bodies Falling Out — Oh, God, Jumping, Falling’” by Barton Gellman in The Washington Post:

Johnson screamed a guttural, wordless wail. A sound like nothing she ever heard — low as thunder, but louder and longer — pressed in on her chest for ten seconds or more, resounding through Centre Street at Foley Square. The northern tower, the taller of the two, was gone. It was 10:29 a.m., an hour and three quarters after the first of two jetliners ripped through New York's twin emblems of global prestige.

“Act of War” by Edmund H. Mahony in the Hartford Courant

America's sense of security was smashed with apocalyptic fury Tuesday when the most destructive and meticulously planned terror attack in history shattered two of the country's most potent symbols. Shortly after leaving Boston, American Airlines Flight 11 to Los Angeles banked south near Albany and raced down the Hudson River Valley. It plummeted from a crystal blue bowl of morning sky and punched a hole through the north tower of the World Trade Center, the heart of the nation's financial nerve center in lower Manhattan.

“If you want to humble an empire” by Nancy Gibbs in Time magazine:

If you want to humble an empire it makes sense to maim its cathedrals. They are symbols of its faith, and when they crumple and burn, it tells us we are not so powerful and we can't be safe. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, planted at the base of Manhattan island with the Statue of Liberty as their sentry, and the Pentagon, a squat, concrete fort on the banks of the Potomac, are the sanctuaries of money and power that our enemies may imagine define us. But that assumes our faith rests on what we can buy and build, and that has never been America's true God. On a normal day, we value heroism because it is uncommon. On Sept. 11, we valued heroism because it was everywhere.

“Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American-Flag Cake” in the Onion:

‘I baked a cake,’ said Pearson, shrugging her shoulders and forcing a smile as she unveiled the dessert in the Overstreet household later that evening. ‘I made it into a flag.’ Pearson and the Overstreets stared at the cake in silence for nearly a minute, until Cassie hugged Pearson. ‘It's beautiful,’ Cassie said. ‘The cake is beautiful.’

By  |  05:34 PM ET, 09/08/2011

 
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