Editor's Journal

Observing a milestone

Many aspects of trucking have changed since 9/11, but its importance remains the same

I was pulling into the parking lot at work when I heard a radio broadcast about a plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York City. Initial curiosity about how this could happen was quickly replaced by shock, horror, confusion and uncertainty as the next few hours played out in surreal fashion.

While trying to keep up-to-date on the unfolding overall picture, we turned our focus to the trucking industry’s response to the national tragedy. The way this industry reacted was both vital and inspirational.

I just happened to be the “editor of the week” for etrucker.com, our trucking media group’s only website at that time. While I and another colleague who volunteered to help me edit and post stories were the point people for publishing breaking news, every trucking journalist here contributed to document events. We filed more than 30 stories in just the first couple of days. This became the backbone of a special section we produced for the November issue of Truckers News.

I have never been so proud to be a part of an industry. Truckers volunteered at ground zero, hauled supplies into not only New York City but to the Pentagon to shore up damage there.

We featured a married owner-operator team, Jerry and Judy Reese, who were on their way to a truck beauty show when the news of 9/11 broke. Instead, they went to the sheriff’s department in Pontiac, Mich., and loaded 85,000 pounds of donated water, food, medical supplies and flashlights. By the afternoon of Sept. 12, they were in Manhattan with the relief supplies.

Then there was over-the-road driver and Vietnam veteran Michael Frank of New York, who camped out at ground zero, helping thousands of volunteers sift through the rubble.

We spotlighted many fleets that donated trucks and trailers to the relief effort and drivers who had the solemn task of hauling debris to landfills. And certainly just as important were drivers who became part of the military machine as we entered into war in Afghanistan.

The trucking industry’s role during the immediate aftermath was essential. But it has been just as important in the months and years since. It proved that not only do we have resolve to deal with the tragedy, but that we can move forward.

Just as the events of 9/11 changed us all, the trucking industry had to make changes for the sake of security. We were forced to look at commercial trucks as potential weapons if they fell into the hands of fanatics who would like to do us harm. We lost some innocence, but we are also wiser. We are more aware and vigilant now that our world is a smaller place.

The terrorist attacks pulled us together and renewed a sense of patriotism we had not experienced since World War II. My wish is that this unity had lasted longer within our political system.

As we look back at the 10 years that have passed since that terrible day, our hope is that we remember the sacrifices of those who died. We never forget that as citizens we can rise above anything that befalls us.

As an industry, we should remember that trucking is the backbone of commerce and truckers are always ready to serve on the front lines. Yes, trucking has undergone a lot of changes in the past decade, but its overall role and importance to America remains steadfast.

Twin Towers graced August 2001 cover

One of the ironies for Truckers News and Sept. 11, 2001, happened the month before the terrorist attacks.

The front cover of the August 2001 issue featured a story about trucking in New York City, specifically Hunts Point Market. As we looked for a place to shoot the cover photo, James Neis, a trucker featured in the story, suggested an ironic spot where you could get a great view of the cityscape — with the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center being prominent.

None of us could ever have imagined that it would be among the last published photos of the majestic landmarks before they fell, especially Neis, who told us in October 2011 that after Sept. 11, people would come up to him to have him sign the cover.

Neis obliged, but put the strange celebrity role in which he found himself into perspective. “I’m flattered, but … I’m not a movie star. I’m a truck driver busting his ass for a living.”