“Just another guy with a blog.  No big whoop.”

March 15, 2010

My visit to Gate 32 at Boston's Logan Airport

Part of my work-related activity involves crisscrossing the country conducting parish seminars and speaking at conferences on Catholic themes. This past week, I was speaking at multiple parishes within the Archdiocese of Boston and returned home last night.

The weather in Boston the last few days was raw, rainy, dreary. This is why, perhaps, as I waited a few hours in the American Airlines terminal at Boston Logan Airport for my (weather-delayed) flight home, my mind turned to somber things.

Pondering the fact that, at 7:45 a.m. on September 11, 2001, American Flight 11 pulled back from gate B32 and commenced its journey into death, I realized that though I had flown in and out of that airport many times over the years, I hadn't stopped to think of its historical importance as one of the starting points of the terror attacks on the United States that terrible morning. (The doomed United Flight 175 also departed that morning at 7:58 from Gate C19).

I approached a cluster of idle TSA workers standing near the security checkpoint and asked which gate Flight 11 had departed from on 9-11. Without hesitating, they pointed out the window to an American flag in the distance, fluttering in the stiff, rainy wind atop a departure ramp way down at the far end of terminal. Thanking them, I headed in that direction, passing through throngs of passengers and airport workers toward an historical monument it seemed nobody else was conscious of.

Surely, many others in the airport knew the significance of Gate 32 — American Airlines gate agents, pilots, flight attendants, TSA folks — but as I made my way toward the end of the terminal, I felt as if I might be the only one, at least at that moment, to be preoccupied with the grim memory of what happened in that place on September 11th. I realized that Gate 32 will forever be to Boston what the Sixth Floor is to Dallas.

I tried to imagine myself there that morning, seeing the five murderers walking toward Gate 32, their minds brimming with hatred for America and Americans. A line from "Riders on the Storm," The Doors' anthem of doom, came to mind as I tried to envision the hijackers going about their deadly errand:
There's a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin' like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If ya give this man a ride
Sweet memory will die
Killer on the road, yeah
When I got to Gate 32, I was not surprised to see how completely ordinary it was. People were coming and going, a gate agent stood at the counter typing on the computer. It could have been any other nondescript gate at any other nondescript airport.

In the years since 9-11, untold numbers of passengers and flight crews have passed through that very doorway and over that very jet-bridge within which the killers and those they killed walked that fateful morning. Do they feel anything different? Do they realize where they are?

There is no commemorative plaque or sign to signify what happened there, just the understandable, real-world obliviousness of all those anonymous passengers, endlessly arriving from and departing to points unknown.

Just that and a forlorn yet defiant American flag snapping in the wind and rain.

Post Script: I have been a loyal frequent flyer with American Airlines since 1988, logging over 2 million miles with them. Sometimes, as I settle into my seat for a flight, I wonder if I might ever have flown in the particular 767 aircraft which was Flight 11 on 9-11. Was I ever aboard a flight served by any of the pilots or flight attendants who perished that day? It's possible. I hope so. I have prayed for them and their passengers many times since.