TODAY, WE WEPT
by Dick Kraus
There is probably not a person on earth who isn't aware of what occurred on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Every media outlet from tv, newsprint and the web has describe in to the utmost detail, the devastating events of that day and every day since. With the exception of those who would rejoice at innocent people dead and dying in the name of whatever twisted rational created this obscenity, we wept at the images and descriptions and the numbers......the vast, vast numbers that were repeated over and over and over again. Numbers that were beyond comprehension. Numbers. Numb. The mind has trouble processing all of this information.
Last month, these pages were filled with a gloomy forecast about the future of journalism. Almost every journal on Assignment Sheet and in the rest of Digital Photographer found little hope for the future of this once proud profession. I am still of the same mind. However, what I saw coming across my tv screen and what I saw in the newspapers around the country and the world and also what I saw displayed on the web, showed me what is possible when publishers and station managers put their minds and efforts into bringing major news to the public. There were no thoughts of budgets and costs. The story had to be told and talent was dispatched wherever necessary in order to do so.
And, the story was told. It was told so graphically that no one will ever forget the images that have been burned into our collective brain. Can you ever forget the bone chilling still image of the second jetliner about to slam into the second tower? Or even more frightening, the video footage of that plane striking the tower and flames and debris hurling from the opposite side?
There is no denying that the video images made very dynamic graphics. But, I can recall still images coming out of that carnage that will live in my mind for the rest of my life. There were several outstanding still shots made by very brave photographers who were able to stand their ground and squeeze their shutter releases as the towers came down. And the photo of civilians, with panic, fear and terror etched onto their faces, running for their lives as those towers crumbled and fell and the dust and debris chased them down the narrow corridors of those city streets. It reminded me of the faces of the Chinese at the outset of World War II as refugees fled from their cities as Japanese armies invaded.
There were photos of American flags hanging from twisted steel girders with the mountain of rubble that was once the symbol of America's greatness dim in the dust laden air that lay over the downtown area of the stricken city. Those photos have been likened to the famous Joe Rosenthal picture of American troops raising the flag at Iwo Jima.
And photo upon photo of brave, bone-tired rescue workers with dust streaked faces and gaunt, unbelieving eyes that brought to my mind, the photos by David Douglas Duncan of similar faces on American GI's as they retreated from Korea's Chosin Reservoir after being routed by numerically superior Communist Chinese troops.
Such photographs will document one of the most tragic periods in American history, save only the American Civil War. They are important in that they will show us where we were and hopefully will depict the beginning of our climb back up. Just as this country has done in all of the instances that I just used to compare then and now.
I am sure that we will come through this but we must always have a prayer on our lips for the innocent victims and their families.
I am truly touched by the outpouring of concern and encouragement that I have received through e-mail, from people around the world who read Assignment Sheet. They have expressed concern about those of us who work in the New York City area because they have read that some of our associates have been injured and some are missing. They pray for all of us. Many such messages have come from our friends in Canada. I would like to print one of them along with my response. I think it is meaningful. In order to provide some anonymity, since I didn't ask his permission to publish it, I am deleting his name. He comes from Vancouver and his words are worth repeating here.
My love goes out to you for what has happened in the Untied States. Vancouver has been in a morning state all week and two cathedrals were packed on Friday with services and over 75,000 people filled Parliament Hill in Ottawa to express our Countries sympathy and support.
May God continue to bless you in all that you do and to continue to Bless America. I can tell you many tears have hit my face this week. I flew to Beijing in August on Air China and there was one person who kept smoking in the washroom and the flight attendant would not do anything about it.
I was listening to the radio just before 6 am ( 9 am NY time) here in Vancouver on my way to my studio and the news reader has to say that this was no joke but real. It was hard to cope with it and it was not until 8:30 that night before I got home to see the TV. It was a very hard day for me.
I hope you and your family are doing well.
This was my response.
I cannot express how much your message means to me. It is so heart warming, in light of such a devastating blow to humanity, to get such expressions of concern and love from people all over this country and around the world. I never knew that so many people read the journals that we post on the Digital Journalist, which is where I assume many people have found out who we are. But, I have been getting messages of sympathy and support from so very many wonderful people like yourself and it makes me realize how fortunate we Americans are to have such staunch allies and friends around the world. There are so many times when we are viewed as the "Ugly Americans" and often with good reason. But in the midst of our national sorrow, the good people of the world have joined with us in mourning our dead and helping us to rebuild our national pride. And there have been no more loyal and steadfast friends or allies than our wonderful brothers and sisters from Canada. Thank you and God Bless you all.
I am so very fortunate that none of my family or friends was a physical victim of this terrorist madness. But we are all emotional victims.
"Where were you when JFK was shot?"
That was a common question asked after 1963.
"Where were you when you heard about the terrorist attack?"
That's what is being asked, now.
I was enroute to my first assignment of the day. I was covering the local primary election and was on my way to photograph a candidate for county sheriff. A bulletin broke through on my favorite jazz station. They said that a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. Hmmmm. Probably a small plane, I thought, but I called my Photo Desk and asked if they had heard the news.
OK. They were probably busy on the phone with our NY City editors. I've done my duty. And, I continued on my way. Before I got to my assignment, there was another bulletin. A second plane had crashed into the other tower. Incredible. I still didn't realize that these weren't small private planes, but rather, commercial jet liners packed with human beings and tanks full of fuel.
I called my desk and asked if they needed me.
"No, continue on your assignment."
Do you have any idea how it feels to know that the world is about to change and that as a journalist, you are not going to be able to have a part in the reportage? If you are a journalist, you do know.
As the gruesome events unfolded, I had terrible feelings of helplessness. One, for having my country attacked by madmen and not being able to do anything about it. And two, for having to shoot mundane and unimportant photos that certainly were not going to get used. Indeed, the Primary was canceled later that day. But, before that happened, every time I called in, I was directed to cover another polling place or candidate and I was only 60 miles from "Ground Zero." I might have just as well been on the moon.
Finally, later in the day, an editor radioed me and asked if I had any ideas about a local angle to the story. I said that I had heard that there was a call out for blood and suggested some photos from one of the local blood centers.
"Do it," I was told. And I did. And then I photographed security officers in bullet proof vests guarding the Federal and State Court Houses that had been evacuated. It was long after quitting time when I finished downloading my digital images back at the office. One editor told me to go home. Another editor grabbed me before I left and told me to find a convenience store that was selling the "Extra" that we had put out. I found one and transmitted my shot from home. That was the only photo of mine that made the next day's paper.
Later that night I got a phone call directing me to meet a reporter at a Long Island RR Station at 7 AM and ride into NY City while she interviewed commuters. The next morning, while I waited for the reporter on an empty platform, which normally would have been packed with rush hour commuters to NY City, I talked with a very distraught man. He told me that the day before, he had been held up on the subway, and had finally gotten to his stop almost an hour late. He got up to the street level just in time to see his office in World Trade Center Tower One disappear into dust and smoke. He had no place to go to, this next day. But, he said that he had to be here to try to find some of the fellow passengers with whom he normally traveled. He stood there dazed and saw no one. I photographed him standing in the early morning sun, with tears running down his cheeks, looking..........looking. I got his phone number and radioed the desk to have someone contact him. Then I saw the reporter and we jumped onto the train. When we got to Penn Station, in the heart of the city, I photographed large crowds in the AMTRAK section of the station. People who weren't able to get out of the city because the airports were closed, were jamming the railroad station. I photographed the empty streets in normally crowded midtown. I never got to the war zone, but, I was being a journalist, any way. I felt good about that.
I was disappointed when none of my pictures made the next day's paper. But, the story about the guy looking for friends on the platform on Long Island did.
It's been like that, every day since Tuesday. And, I expect that it will be like that for a couple of more weeks, until I go on vacation. I wish that I could have had the opportunities to make some of the terrific photos that I have seen. I did get to make some telling images of Muslims at a Long Island Mosque, waiting outside in the rain before attending a prayer service for the victims of this terrorism. They had to wait until the bomb sniffing dog proved the bomb threat to be a hoax. I called the desk a couple of times, suggesting that they send a reporter here to cover this. They didn't. The next day, there was a photo of a Mosque in the city that showed a cop standing guard. There was a mention in the story about the Long Island Mosque being evacuated, but, no photos.
I'm disappointed, yes. It's tough working the fringes of the big story and not having the satisfaction of seeing your work used. But, I understand that it is difficult to put out a paper under these circumstances and having to wade through the tons and tons of photos and information that flow across the copy desk.
And, like everyone else who has been working this story, whether at the center of it or from far away, I am touched and awed by the enormity of it all. And of the humanity that is lost forever. I will continue to do whatever is asked of me, because like all of my associates around the world, that is is what we do. We are newspukes. We are journalists. And, when we have time to think, we weep, along with the rest of the world. As I write these words, I am thinking about the funeral of one of the NY City Firemen who died in the building collapse. I covered it, this morning. I focused on the flag draped casket as an honor guard from the dead man's engine company came out of the church. Behind that, the grieving widow and four young children. I shifted my focus to them. I hate that. When I saw the daughter cry, I cried, too.
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