WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Most everyone remembers where they were or what they were doing the moment they heard a plane hit the World Trade Center. I was pulling out of my apartment complex; a young reporter on my way to work at WWAY not realizing quite yet how the next few minutes would change our nation forever.
That morning the WWAY news team gathered around the multiple TVs in our newsroom not quite believing what we were seeing. Usually we don’t sit around when there’s breaking news. But this stopped us in our tracks.
Not for long, though.
Within minutes of the second plane hitting the twin towers, management was directing us where to go. Because the largest Marine Corps base is just a few miles up the road, that’s where I went.
It was chaotic. Bomb sniffing dogs everywhere checking every vehicle that attempted to drive on base. Everyone on high alert wondering if terrorists would attack Camp Lejeune.
“It doesn’t put me at ease of the situation, but they’re doing a good job,” one visitor to the base told us while waiting at the security checkpoint.
Back in Wilmington, televisions everywhere showed the carnage.
At one gym we went to, few people were working out. Those who had cell phones at the time were on them trying to make sense of what was happening.
While we were there American Airlines Flight 77 flew into the Pentagon.
“Everyone’s in shock,” one gym customer said. “Twenty people standing around watching TV with mouths dropped open. It’s unbelievable. I can’t believe it’s happened to such a powerful nation.”
It was amazing to see the outpouring of support as people jumped into action. Our community truly came together that day. Police had to direct traffic into the American Red Cross parking lot on 16th Street as hundreds rushed there to donate blood thinking it would be needed desperately.
“I saw it on the news,” a donor said. “It seemed like the right thing to do.”
But the industry that changed the most the moment terrorists hijacked those four planes: the airline industry.
At Wilmington International Airport, planes were grounded. Passengers arriving to catch a flight were turned away.
As you may recall, planes still in the sky had to immediately land at the nearest airport. Longtime Airport Authority Director Jon Rosborough recently recalled how hectic it was.
“It was very congested, needless to say, for our little airport, but we made it happen,” Rosborough said this week. “There was fear. No one knew what else was going to happen.”
ILM had to accommodate about eight planes and hundreds of their passengers, who were simultaneously dealing with the shock of learning about the attacks while trying to rent a car to head to their final destination. One traveler told us that day of waiting in line for an hour at the rental car counter.
And some knew, even then that flying would never be the same.
“Just hang in there and be patient, because it’s going to be very different when the planes start again,” one traveler told us on September 11, 2001. “We’re all going to have to get used to things different, and if that means we’ll be safer as a country, then that’s OK.”
Now, the Transportation Security Administration, an organization created by the federal government in response to the terrorist attacks, mans the metal detectors and X-ray machines. Liquids are no longer allowed past security. Family and friends can no longer meet you at your gate.
Rosborough says the screening checkpoint isn’t the only place they’re keeping a watchful eye, especially now.
“When you look at the mode of operation for terrorists today, it’s basically car bombing,” he said. “Now it’s getting to suicide bombing, attaching bombs to the person, and they’re walking into crowded places, so we have to be ever vigilant looking to see and detect, so we can’t allow people to park their cars on the curb like we used to and be able to walk in.”
Ten years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we continue to see security upgrades at our nation’s airports. Within a year we should see full body scanners at ILM. Not the ones that have sparked controversy because of the revealing images displayed on the screens. Instead, these will show a generic body image while scanning you for weapons and other prohibited items. It’s an industry and an entire nation changed… forever.
Camp Lejeune has certainly changed. Before 9/11, you used to be able to drive through base instead of going through Jacksonville to get to Swansboro and Carteret County. Since then, Highway 172 has been closed to civilians. The training facility has changed to a more Middle Eastern setting. And today, Camp Lejeune is on high alert at Force Protection Bravo, because of the approaching anniversary.