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<p>(Arizona Republic)</p>
(Arizona Republic)

The 9/11 column that keeps history alive

He was there when it happened. And now this professor has been writing the same story since 2001.

Robert Anglen has been telling the same story for 22 years.

The Arizona Republic Reporter and Arizona State University adjunct professor has written about his 9/11 experience in an annual column since the American tragedy occurred.

He described the context of 9/11 to his students last Monday, sharing the impact of his personal experience that still shakes him to the core.  

“I don’t know the lesson of this,” Anglen said. “I just want to make you more intimate with my experience.”

When 9/11 happened, Anglen was a reporter for the Cincinnati Enquirer and had just finished a heavy piece about a child molester. He and his wife decided to vacation on the east coast after the intensive investigation.

They arrived in New York City late September 10 and went out for drinks.

The next morning’s plan was to score some half-priced Broadway tickets in the basement of the World Trade Center and then eat breakfast at the Windows of the World Restaurant at the top of the North Tower.

But thanks to the cocktails imbibed the night before, Anglen and his wife slept in.

They woke up to blaring sirens and citizens yelling. They turned on the news to see reports of what they thought was just a building fire not far from where they were staying.

Anglen recalls his wife telling him, “We are not spending our vacation covering a building fire!”  

The World Trade Center’s first tower had fallen.

Anglen hastily put on a shirt and ran out of their hotel to hail a taxi. “Get me as close as you can,” he told the driver.

He arrived on the scene before the second tower fell, acknowledging later that if he had been able to figure out how to get closer to the scene, he would have been one of the casualties.

The stark reality of ground zero was sobering.  

He wrote of “human limbs sticking out of the ground like obscene shrubbery,” an image that still haunts him to this day.  

Since then, Anglen has recounted his story annually, each year bringing a new aspect of the story to light. It’s not a regurgitation so much as a sacred tradition at this point.

Though he recognizes the problem of writing annually about a fixed event that will never change, he hopes that the continual recounting of it through different lenses makes younger generations see the importance of remembering 9/11.

“I hope that my experiences bring people closer to it, so they can understand and see the horror of it,” Anglen said. “Frankly it’s been used and abused by people who weren’t there.”

Anglen received multiple messages from readers of this year’s 9/11 column, whose headline read:  “9/11 was a shared trauma with no room for conspiracy theories.” Many of the messages were rife with claims that it was an “inside job.”

“I refuse to engage in that nonsense. In fact, I think it’s a disservice to everybody,” Anglen said.

Last year, he wrote the 9/11 column in what amounted to an open plea to the city of New York to keep his daughter – who had just started college there -- safe.

The year before that, he took his family to Ground Zero for the 20th anniversary and wrote about the surreal experience of going up into the One World Trade Tower for the first time.

“It’s my way of keeping it alive.” Anglen said of sharing his story.

“I hope that through me retelling it, it connects people to that event, and they realize that it’s a solemn day,” Anglen said. “I don’t want it to be forgotten.”

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