Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 2001 terror attacks will naturally make a person remember what they were doing that day.
That morning I was up early. Myself and two friends, Ryan Foley and Cory Etherton, had planned all week to go teal hunting that day. In case you are wondering, Blue and Green Wing Teal are a species of duck that migrate earlier than other migratory waterfowl, so there is a special September season for them.
We had a successful hunt that morning, harvesting five blue wing teal. I still have the slightly out of focus disposable camera photos of us from that morning.
On the drive back to Murphysboro from our hunting location near Pinckneyville I rode in my truck alone, while my two friends were in a truck ahead of me.
I had no cell phone, and didn't turn on the radio. I remember listening to a CD by the group Sugar Ray, who had a hit song called "When It's Over" at the time. As we drove back to Murphysboro I noticed my friends had begun to periodically wave their arms out the window. I didn't know what to make of it, and they didn't pull over to explain.
Upon our arrival back in Murphysboro, we pulled into the Hardees Parking Lot. It was there that I first learned what had happened. We went inside and ate breakfast. Cory and I were 20 years old. Ryan would have been 24.
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Immediately, the conversation turned to "What we should do? Should we join the military? Should we stock up on food and gasoline?"
We parted ways without making any real decisions, other than to meet up Friday night for drinks.
That afternoon I had class at John A. Logan College. Upon my arrival, I found that nearly all the classes had been canceled. There were large TVs that had been set up all over campus playing the various news networks coverage of the events of that day.
How haunting it was as Peter Jennings voice echoed down the empty hallways from one end of campus to the other.
As I drove home, it was obvious that panic was setting in. All the gas stations had lines backing up 10 and 20 cars deep. Gas prices had jumped from $1.25 a gallon to $4 and $5 a gallon in a matter of hours. Many of these gas stations were later charged with price gouging by the Illinois Attorney General's Office.
In the years since, I have traveled to New York City several times. I saw the Sept. 11 site in 2007 when it was still essentially a hole in the ground. I have been back since and have seen the Sept. 11 memorial that serves to beautifully commemorate the lives lost on that day.
When I reflect on that day, and the time since, several things always appear on the canvas of my mind's eye. First, that song "When It's Over" will always have a certain place in my mind. Many things were "over" for many people that day. I can't ever hear that song without thinking of that morning.
Second, my friends and I had no cell phones or social media to check. We as Americans had to connect with one another around our televisions, radios, and newspaper opinion pages. I think it helped us a nation to not tear at one another so much, as we seem to do today over things that are not nearly as dramatic or historic as Sept. 11 2001 was and remains.
Lastly, since Sept. 11 2001, according to New America, there have been 480 people charged with attempting to carry out terror attacks on U.S. soil. I am thankful daily for those people who serve on the front lines of America's counter terrorism units in the FBI. CIA, and other branches of the U.S. Armed services.
Their vigilant dedication to making sure that the American experiment of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness remains a beacon for the world is something I am ever appreciative of.
Will Stephens is mayor of Murphysboro and general manager of WXAN Radio Station in Ava.