Blue Skies an Unforgettable Backdrop of Dark Day

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Host Noah Adams remembers how beautiful the weather was when terrorists attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

Five years ago a reference librarian here at NPR put two newspapers aside for safekeeping, The Washington Post and The New York Times; the issues from September 12. Yesterday we took a look at them. The Post headline was, Terrorists Hijack Four Airliners, Destroy World Trade Center, Hit Pentagon, Hundreds Dead. A Times lead story began, The horror arrived in episodic bursts of chilling disbelief.

I especially wanted to see the pictures from New York and the color of the sky, the backdrop for the dark gray smoke and the orange exploding flames. I remember how nice that day was here in Washington. And you kept hearing the same thing about New York: it was so pretty that morning, how could that happen? Maureen Dowd on The Times op-ed page wrote, On a gorgeous blue fall day terrorism had turned into war.

Back in 1980 I interviewed a small town newspaper editor named Henry Beetle Hough. His paper was the Vineyard Gazette on the island of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts. He had that job for 50 years. I asked Mr. Hough to read some of his diary entries for me. And here's a note that he made on the morning of another fine day, at the beginning of September in 1939. It was the day when the Nazis invaded Poland.

Mr. HENRY BEETLE HOUGH (Former Editor, Vineyard Gazette): Ordinarily the Gazette has no concern with outside news, but because this was an occasion which weighed heavily on our hearts and on the hearts of all mankind, we wanted to take some notice of it. I said a few paragraphs about how the residents of our community had heard that morning over their radios of the bombing of Warsaw and the invasion of Poland.

By now the last clouds of the northeast drama drawn away in the unveiling of a crystal gilded morning. So I put in what kind of a day it was in order that future generations might know, if they cared to look back in the files, what things were like on our island when the world went mad.

(Soundbite of a typewriter)

ADAMS: The late Henry Beetle Hough reading a journal entry from 1939.

There is, of course, no relationship between the terrorist attacks five years ago and the weather on that day, except that visibility from the cockpit to the airliners would have been exceptional; severe-clear is what pilots sometimes call it. But in our minds there will continue to be a connection - the sky and the promise of autumn, and the question, how could that happen?

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