We all have our memories. On September 11, 2001, I was working at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site on the Montana/North Dakota border. I was on the later shift that day, so I was in my car about 8:45 a.m., listening to NPR's Morning Edition. Some guest was speaking, when Bob Edwards interrupted almost apologetically, saying something like, "It seems that another airplane has hit the Twin Towers." When I got to the fort, all the other rangers were upstairs, gathered around the one television set. And there it was, buildings on fire and if I recall correctly, one of them about them about to collapse.
Through the day, we were quickly informed that the National Park Service had put every monument, park and historic site on high alert, because no one knew what would happen yet. By then, we were joking a bit about how they should send the president and other important folks to Fort Union because a) we had a 14 foot wall around the whole thing b) we were so isolated no one - not even visitors - could find us.
We carried on as everyone did all week. My position at Fort Union was such that I worked a week on and a week off. I happened to share a house with the chief ranger, an old friend. He had no television, so our news came from the radio and that TV at the fort. On Saturday, I drove home to Valley City for my off week. The very first thing I did after getting home was go straight to my fiction bookcase and pull out one of my favorite books, "The Lawrenceville Stories," by Owen Johnson. I just stood there and held the book, because books comfort me.
That was it. I felt better and reshelved the book. I looked through the mail then. At the time, we were Newsweek subscribers. I picked up the issue that had come when I was over at Fort Union, ruffled through a few pages, then set it aside. Nothing in that issue had any relevance to what had just happened that week. We were in new, uncharted territory and last week's news was less than useless.
For the next month, Fort Union did as all government facilities did and flew the flag at half staff. Some of us chose to put a piece of black tape on our badges. I did.
Here was the worst part: as one of our daily duties, the first ranger on site had to raise the flag. No biggie, except that month, we had to raise it to half staff, which is done properly by raising the flag to the top of the pole and then lowering it to half staff. On the mornings I was on first, I had to do that. It's a hard and sad duty, and remains my strongest memory of September 11.
Books to comfort me, and flags at half staff.