Archived Story

Tragedy reminds us we are all Americans

Published 9:14am Friday, September 14, 2012

I was far from my hometown of Ironton when 9/11 happened.

I moved to New York City a few years before, graduated from New York University, and got a job at a national news magazine.

I saw the first plane hit on live television while trying to catch the weather.

The second plane I saw hit while walking to work. My office was evacuated, but a few of us came back to rewrite the magazine.

On the way back to the office, I saw ashes of paper float up from the towers through the air on Broadway and smelled the unspeakably tragic smell of burnt flesh in the air.

We stayed at the office until around 9:30 that night. The city made all the payphones free, so I was able to reach my crying parents in Ironton. (Cell phone lines were all busy.) They begged me to get married, so I wouldn’t get drafted to war. I assured them I was too old to get drafted, even though I probably wasn’t.

Finally, I headed home to my Manhattan apartment.

New York had made the subway systems free. I sat next to a nurse on the train. She was supposed to have left work early that morning, but stayed on for extra shifts.

Her skin was covered in black ash or soot. She had tears in her eyes but was too traumatized or tired to fully cry as she told me in a daze of the horrible things she saw in the emergency room that day.

A few short months later, I was back in Ironton for Christmas. A woman working the register at a gas station asked me for my I.D. as I bought beer. Noticing my New York license, she asked if I was there that day, then told me how the whole town of Ironton grieved.

Ever since, not only do I think of my new hometown of New York City every anniversary, but I also think of Ironton on this day when we’re all Americans.


Jon Nicholas Velez-Jackson is the senior editor at The Week Magazine in New York City. He is a graduate of the Ironton High School Class of 1996.

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