A generation defined, but not explained

By Gus Bode

Some generations are defined by traumatic events in a nation’s history. The Great Depression, World War II, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Watergate and the Iranian hostage situation are some examples.

Ten years ago, my generation was defined as I sat in a classroom at St. Louis Catholic School in Nokmis.

As Mrs. Walcher, my sixth grade teacher, finished leading us in the Lord’s Prayer and the pledge of allegiance, we sat down to begin the day. Five minutes later, Mrs. Compton, the school’s secretary, walked into the classroom and asked to speak with Mrs. Walcher in the hallway.


When she came back into the room, she stood in the frame of the door for what seemed like an awkwardly long amount of time. I look back on that moment now and have a vague understanding of what she must have been thinking: “How do I tell these 11- and 12-year-old kids a building in New York has been attacked? How do I translate into simple words ‘America is under attack?’”

After what seemed like 30 minutes, she looked up from the floor and said, “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center, and we’re going to go into the eighth-grade room to watch it on the television.”

Red flags, alarm bells and gun shots went off in my head. I was old enough to understand a plane crash resulted in death, and death equaled panic. In fear for my life, my hand shot up and I asked, “Is the World Trade Center close to here?”

I can remember my heart beating as though I had just gotten in serious trouble, as if I wasn’t safe. “No,” she said. “It’s in New York.”

An immediate wave of relief came over me. I remember thinking New York was so far away, and the implications of anything that happened there had little or no impact on 11-year-old me. It had no impact on the towns surrounded by corn in central Illinois. I couldn’t comprehend the thousands of people who died in a beige-colored cloud of death.

I took my seat in front of an ancient television set and began to watch what looked like an action movie.

There were people running, screaming, crying and lying on the street. There were men in business suits with blood on their faces being carried by co-workers, firefighters running, cops waving their arms to direct people, ambulances, sirens flashing lights and the smoke. A camera finally panned out to show the very iconic cityscape of New York and the Statue of Liberty engulfed by a chalky cloud.


In that moment, I was confused by the color because I always thought the smoke would be black. After all, that’s how it happens in action movies.

It was all so entertaining. It was a spectacle.

The closest thing I compared the experience to, in my young mind, were the images of  war-torn Third World countries on the evening newsA All I could think was that America had become that Third World country.

My eyes were transfixed when the second plane hit; I couldn’t help but stare when the red explosion erupted out the side of the falling structure.

I knew I was supposed to be sad because the teachers who gathered in the room whispered exclamations like “oh my God,” to one another. After all I was taught in that school, I thought God would in some mysterious way intervene in this whole situation because this was America, and these things didn’t happen to Americans.

The rest of the day was a blur. Between watching the panic unfold from a classroom’s safety and milling around the hallways, the day was completely somber. It was all over the news and every other channel when I made it home. The reality never hit.

Several years later, when I was a freshman in high school, I sat in another classroom watching another television set as the footage of the falling towers played. Then it hit me. In some weird quasi sense, I felt violated, like my childhood came tumbling down with those two pillars. Yet the world was still there — moving, changing, evolving, healing and being defined.

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed in this column are soley those of 

Eric Ginnard and do not necessarily reflect the views of the 

Daily Egyptian.