I had the radio turned off in my car the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
I was the Executive Editor of The Daily Record in Parsippany, New Jersey that awful day. I’d planned to have some conversation with my Managing Editor, Jack Bowie, about how we could improve the newspaper.
We had a drive of little more than an hour ahead of us to an Associated Press Managing Editors meeting in Central New Jersey that day.
The radio, I’d decided, would be a distraction, so I never turned it on.
In the midst of our conversation, my cellphone rang. I glanced at the phone, almost ignored it, but then thought better of it and answered.
It was my wife, Mary, calling. Had I heard, she asked, that a plane had apparently flown into one of the World Trade Center towers?
I had not.
I quickly turned on the radio. This was in pre-smartphone and social media days, so there was no other immediate way to get filled in.
It had to be a mistake, didn’t it? It had to be someone flying a private jet who’d gone terribly off course, right?
It took only a few minutes to grasp that this was far more than an inexperienced pilot and an errant flight pattern. We were under attack.
I experienced this day, and the endless days that followed, not as one who lost a loved one or who was harmed in any way, but simply as a newspaper editor trying to do the best I could to tell the stories of the local people impacted by the attacks. I don’t begin to think I know how the people more directly involved felt and responded.
I did know that Parsippany was just a bit more than 35 miles from where the twin towers had stood until that morning. I also knew there were people in our readership area who worked there.
We abruptly turned the car around, got back to the office as soon as we could, and paid attention to every detail we could get on the radio and on the phone.
In the end, 65 people from Morris County had died in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, including five rescue workers who died trying to save others, and two who had been headed to California on United Airlines Flight 93.
We worked furiously to gather our news team to try to make some sense of the senseless. We also worked with our colleagues at USA TODAY, who were working mere miles from the Pentagon, where the subsequent attack had taken place. We decided to put out an Extra print addition — something we’d never do now in the digital age.
As I wrote in my Daily Item column on the 15th anniversary of the attacks in 2016, “It seemed like almost everybody I knew was somehow connected to somebody who had either died in the attack or managed to get away safely.”
We had a son at Seton Hall University, who could see the devastation from the safe distance of the campus in South Orange, New Jersey. He was OK.
Mary went to our other three kids’ schools in Mount Olive, New Jersey and brought them home. Nobody at the school had told them what had happened. They had no idea why Mom had come to get them. Shortly, they did.
Over the next 10 days to two weeks, we worked what felt like nonstop to tell the many tragic stories of those who’d perished and the stories of those who had made it out alive.
From families left behind to first responders hurt trying to help, to parents and relatives of our friends, the mood and the focus seldom shifted.
Today, 18 years later, I’m easily drawn back to the terrible memories of that day.
I don’t think that will ever change.
Dennis Lyons is CNHI’s National Editor and Editor of The Daily Item. Email comments to email@example.com.