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Remembering 9/11: A Deadline Unlike Any Other

After four years as a reporter and sports editor, Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 was my first day running the show. I was in for a morning we'd never forget.

Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001 was going to be a stressful day anyway. 

It was my first deadline as the editor of the West Fargo Pioneer, a weekly paper in the booming town in eastern North Dakota. 

After four years as a reporter and sports editor, the responsibility of getting the publication out to readers was now mine. 

I gulped down breakfast and broke for the car, knowing I had to put my first issue to bed before lunch in order for it to be in the mail by Tuesday night. The paper, a local success story for a local family, had about 2,500 subscribers at the time. 

I got in and, for some reason, ditched the sports radio network I normally tune into for the news. Turned out they were doing sports anyway. Scott Miller, now the voice of the North Dakota State University Bison, suddenly blurted out, "Oh, no." 

The initial reports were sketchy, but he described the smoke and damage to the first tower of the World Trade Center. It was 7:46 a.m. CDT. 

As I walked in the door to the office, everyone looked grim. And the questions began swirling. 

How much do we cover? Is there anyone with local impact? How much can we squeeze in before the issue has to go to print. 

Our front page was set. I carved out a hole on Page 2, and began putting in the facts, which were still slow to develop. 

And then the second plane hit. And then a third at the Pentagon. 

By the time the paper was out, there were four planes down, of course, and air traffic had stopped. That was local. For all its small town roots, West Fargo had a thriving business community with plenty of business travelers. And, it has a small airfield, to boot. 

There are so many things I remember vividly. Unlike most weeks, the scurry and hurry of a deadline day never ended after the paper went out the door. We were chasing down facts and, all the while, keeping one eye on the television. Peter Jennings, now gone, was our voice of reason. 

We knew the loss was catastrophic. At least 10,000 we thought. Thank God, it was much less, but it was still unfathomable. 

We caught up with Gov. John Hoeven in Fargo, who had driven back from a Midwest Governors' Conference in the Twin Cities with a police escort. We talked with local firefighters, all of which were volunteers. We sat for more than an hour with a class of high schoolers, who were wondering what their future would hold. 

There were a few things that struck me in particular. 

In the coming days, the nation came together in a way that I had never seen before. Every concert, every benefit, from New York to Fargo, was packed to the rafters. Blood banks had lines out the door. The local American Red Cross was overwhelmed. 

Churches were full. We hugged our kids a little longer. There was a feeling of resolve, and of unity. 

United we stand. Divided we fall. 

For once, it seems, our Congress was effective. Our president was a leader. A sleeping dog, in those famous words, had been kicked. 

Each year, I wonder if we can get that feeling back. And we do, for a few hours. And then we go about our way squabbling over political differences and checking in on the latest Hollywood gossip. 

We forget the plumes of smoke, the rubble, and the Jumping Man. 

Perhaps, for those people in New York, D.C. and that small field in Pennsylvania, we should try a little harder. We should dig a little deeper. And we should remember a little longer. Not of those harrowing hours, but of those triumphant days and weeks that have allowed us to rebuild the World Trade Center, and move forward as a nation. 

Perhaps that's the best way to remember them all. 

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