Roger Richards
View From The City Desk


On the morning of September 11, 2001, after terrorist hijackers steered airliners into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, the staff of the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Virginia, went into action. Our mission: publishing the newspaper's first extra edition since World War II.

Reporters and photographers were immediately dispatched to local airports for public reaction and to document security clampdowns as flights across the country were ordered to land when US airspace was closed.

Pilot journalists were there when many Americans flocked to their churches, synagogues and mosques to offer prayers.

The area is home to the largest naval bases in the world and Pilot journalists were on hand as the military alert status went to a level just below that of open war.

A Pilot news team including staff photojournalist L. Todd Spencer departed with local fire rescue personnel for the Pentagon in northern Virginia.

By early afternoon, sixty thousand copies of the five page extra edition, with the banner headline 'Under Attack', were being distributed free of charge on the streets of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Chesapeake, Virginia. The covers had photos from AP and Getty Images of the twin towers about to be hit by the hijacked airliners, and the ensuing explosion and collapse of New York's skyline icons. Inside were reports from the wire services and staff photos and stories of the effects from a local perspective.

The days following the attack our photo editors worked hard to produce special photo reports from around the country and the world as the paper's A section was expanded. Pilot photojournalists Chris Tyree in New York and L. Todd Spencer at the Pentagon transmitted moving images from the scenes of disaster.

"Our focus is mainly local, but in this situation because the military was so involved, we sent photographers to both DC and New York," says Pilot director of photography Alex Burrows.

For readers of the Pilot, the story was becoming more local as President Bush ordered the mobilization of the US military. In the Hampton Roads region alone are Norfolk Naval Base (home port to most of the navy ships at sea near Afghanistan, including the USS Enterprise and USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier battle groups); Oceana Naval Air Station (aircraft carrier air wings of F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet fighter squadrons); Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base (US Navy SEAL teams are based here); Langley Air Force Base (F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon fighter jets patroling Washington, DC airspace are from here).

As full realization of the magnitude of the events of September 11 set in for Americans, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt prepared to sail from Norfolk with her crew of 5,000 sailors and full battle group of 14 ships, including two nuclear attack submarines. For thousands of Hampton Roads residents, their sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, friends and neighbors, were preparing to go into harm's way to defend their country. My neighbor Charlie, a great guy who helped me to figure out how to keep the swimming pool in our new home from turning into a frog pond this summer, was leaving to fly aerial reconnaissance missions in hostile territory. He did not say where but I have a good idea. Many of the parents I saw each day when I took my daughter to preschool were noticeably absent.

For the photo staff of the Virginian-Pilot, this departure of the Roosevelt battle group took on special significance.

"One of the specialties of the Pilot is recording the comings and goings of the US military. What amazes me is how members of our staff can go to the same type of event and come back with totally different pictures each time.
In this situation the pictures seemed more intense, more meaningful. The families obviously knew that the peril was more real than other missions," says Alex Burrows.

On the day that the ships slipped from their berths at Norfolk Naval Base, the eyes of the entire nation and the world were focused on their departure. Because of the Pilot's close relationship with the US Navy, our photographers had access to the departing ships and their personnel both before and during their deployment from Norfolk. The memorable photographs made that day by Pilot photojournalists Vicki Cronis, L.Todd Spencer and Bill Tiernan were used in a huge display in the paper's A section the following day. Both Newsweek and US News and World Report published images from that day, as well as scores of other publications around the world after the Pilot photos were put on the AP wire.

Now, like the rest of America and the world, the staff of the Virginian-Pilot and our readers are waiting to see what type of response President Bush will order for the New York and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Whatever it is, our job will be to continue to bring them accurate information in one of the most memorable periods of American history.

Roger Richards is a staff photojournalist and photo editor at the Virginian-Pilot and also the editor of The Digital Filmmaker at

A Portfolio by the photo staff of The Virginian-Pilot

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