John’s Believe It Or Not… September 11th

9/11 and Canada. In 2001 Attack on America. In 1971 Nikita Khrushchev dies. In 1973 Allende dies in a coup.

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John Fioravanti stands at the front of his classroom.

It’s the 16th Anniversary of 9/11. Did you know…

* 9/11 and Canada.

The world watched in horror on 11 September 2001 as radical Islamist al-Qaeda terrorists launched a series of coordinated attacks on New York and Washington, DC. Nineteen terrorists hijacked four airliners, deliberately flying two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City, and a third into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia, on the outskirts of Washington.

Passengers on the fourth plane, Flight 93, fought back against their hijackers and their aircraft crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.
The attacks killed almost 3,000 people from 93 countries, most of the deaths occurring during the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

As the violence unfolded, the US moved quickly to thwart any further attacks. At 9:45 a.m. (Eastern Time), one hour after the first passenger airline flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered all civilian aircraft to land. The National Airspace System was officially shut down at 11:06 a.m.

David Collenette, Canada’s transport minister, followed suit, grounding all flights in and out of Canadian airports. Canada’s military took control of the skies, implementing the Emergency Security Control of Air Traffic Plan, something usually reserved for times of war.

As these measures were being imposed, some 500 airplanes from around the world were en route to the United States. Planes with enough fuel were told to return to their airport of origin, and the rest were diverted to airports across Canada. Fearing the attacks may not be over and worried that other planes could be turned into “destructive missiles,” Transport Canada instructed NAV CANADA (the agency that handles air traffic control) not to redirect planes to large urban areas, such as Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.

Dealing with thousands of unexpected visitors proved to be a major challenge. With security concerns paramount, each plane had to be searched and every passenger screened. Some were forced to remain on the tarmac at various airports for more than 24 hours. Once screened, the passengers needed to be housed and fed. Local officials, charitable organizations, and volunteers scrambled to find schools and community halls, beds and blankets, and food and coffee for thousands of stranded passengers.

Nowhere was that challenge greater than in Gander, Newfoundland, where 37 flights were diverted to the town’s airport. The community of fewer than 10,000 people suddenly had to find shelter and food for 6,700 people. School bus drivers who were on strike left their picket lines in order to provide transportation to area schools and halls. Medical prescriptions were filled by pharmacies at no cost, and people opened their homes to passengers in need of a coffee or a shower.

Alan Flood, of Bristol, England, who was stranded with his wife, Barbara, summed up the feelings of hundreds of passengers when he said, “We were strangers. They didn’t know what we were like. They took us to their homes, made sure we wanted for nothing, treated us as part of the family.”

Shirley Brook-Jones and the passengers from her flight were cared for in the nearby community of Lewisporte, Newfoundland. On their flight home six days later, Brook-Jones suggested to passengers that they should start a scholarship for local students as a way to thank the community. By the time the plane landed in Atlanta, passengers had pledged $15,000. Word spread and the fund grew. By 2014, the fund had committed $1.5 million and awarded more than 130 scholarships to students in Newfoundland.

On the morning of 11 September, Ron DiFrancesco, from Hamilton, Ontario, was in his office at Euro Brokers on the 84th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center when, at 8:46 a.m., a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower. An announcement over the building’s public address system told everyone the building was secure and there was no reason to evacuate, but after speaking with colleagues, and with his wife on the phone, DiFrancesco decided to leave.

As he headed to the elevators, DiFrancesco was thrown against the wall as United Flight 175 struck the building between the 77th and 85th floors. As DiFrancesco and his colleagues started down one of the emergency stairwells, there was smoke, fire, debris, and confusion. By the time he made it to the 79th floor, the stairwell was blocked by a collapsed wall. As people lay on the floor desperately trying to escape the smoke, some losing consciousness, DiFrancesco says he heard a “powerful voice” inside him that told him to keep going. He found a hole in the wall and ran through flames and burning debris for the next three stories.

When he finally reached ground level, DiFrancesco says he saw a fireball and heard an “ungodly roar” as the building collapsed. DiFrancesco woke up three days later in Saint Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan. He is believed to be the last person to make it out of the building alive, and the US 9/11 commission report says he was one of only four people to escape who were working above the 81st floor.

Two children looking out of windows with the U.S. and Canadian flags draped beside them with the caption "Friends. Neighbors. Always"
Remembering 9/11

* 2001 Attack on America.

At 8:45 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The impact left a gaping, burning hole near the 80th floor of the 110-story skyscraper, instantly killing hundreds of people and trapping hundreds more in higher floors. As the evacuation of the tower and its twin got underway, television cameras broadcasted live images of what initially appeared to be a freak accident. Then, 18 minutes after the first plane hit, a second Boeing 767–United Airlines Flight 175–appeared out of the sky, turned sharply toward the World Trade Center, and sliced into the south tower at about the 60th floor. The collision caused a massive explosion that showered burning debris over surrounding buildings and the streets below. America was under attack.

The attackers were Islamic terrorists from Saudi Arabia and several other Arab nations. Reportedly financed by Saudi fugitive Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist organization, they were allegedly acting in retaliation for America’s support of Israel, its involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and its continued military presence in the Middle East. Some of the terrorists had lived in the United States for more than a year and had taken flying lessons at American commercial flight schools. Others had slipped into the U.S. in the months before September 11 and acted as the “muscle” in the operation. The 19 terrorists easily smuggled box-cutters and knives through security at three East Coast airports and boarded four flights bound for California, chosen because the planes were loaded with fuel for the long transcontinental journey. Soon after takeoff, the terrorists commandeered the four planes and took the controls, transforming the ordinary commuter jets into guided missiles.

As millions watched in horror the events unfolding in New York, American Airlines Flight 77 circled over downtown Washington and slammed into the west side of the Pentagon military headquarters at 9:45 a.m. Jet fuel from the Boeing 757 caused a devastating inferno that led to a structural collapse of a portion of the giant concrete building. All told, 125 military personnel and civilians were killed in the Pentagon along with all 64 people aboard the airliner.

Less than 15 minutes after the terrorists struck the nerve center of the U.S. military, the horror in New York took a catastrophic turn for the worse when the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. The structural steel of the skyscraper, built to withstand winds in excess of 200 mph and a large conventional fire, could not withstand the tremendous heat generated by the burning jet fuel. At 10:30 a.m., the other Trade Center tower collapsed. Close to 3,000 people died in the World Trade Center and its vicinity, including a staggering 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 New York City police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers who were struggling to complete an evacuation of the buildings and save the office workers trapped on higher floors. Only six people in the World Trade Center towers at the time of their collapse survived. Almost 10,000 other people were treated for injuries, many severe.

Meanwhile, a fourth California-bound plane–United Flight 93–was hijacked about 40 minutes after leaving Newark International Airport in New Jersey. Because the plane had been delayed in taking off, passengers on board learned of events in New York and Washington via cell phone and Airfone calls to the ground. Knowing that the aircraft was not returning to an airport as the hijackers claimed, a group of passengers and flight attendants planned an insurrection. One of the passengers, Thomas Burnett, Jr., told his wife over the phone that “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Another passenger–Todd Beamer–was heard saying “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” over an open line. Sandy Bradshaw, a flight attendant, called her husband and explained that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”

The passengers fought the four hijackers and are suspected to have attacked the cockpit with a fire extinguisher. The plane then flipped over and sped toward the ground at upwards of 500 miles per hour, crashing in a rural field in western Pennsylvania at 10:10 a.m. All 45 people aboard were killed. Its intended target is not known, but theories include the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, or one of several nuclear power plants along the eastern seaboard.

At 7 p.m., President George W. Bush, who had spent the day being shuttled around the country because of security concerns, returned to the White House. At 9 p.m., he delivered a televised address from the Oval Office, declaring “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” In a reference to the eventual U.S. military response, he declared: “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led international effort to oust the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, began on October 7, 2001. Bin Laden was killed during a raid on his compound in Pakistan by U.S. forces on May 2, 2011.

America was under attack. 911world-trade-centre911
America was under attack.

* 1971 Nikita Khrushchev dies.

Former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, one of the most significant figures of the Cold War and certainly one of the most colorful, dies. During the height of his power in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Khrushchev was involved in some of the most important events of the Cold War.

Khrushchev was born in Russia in 1894. He was an early adherent to the communist cause in Russia, but his rise to power really began in the 1930s. His loyalty to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin served him well during that tumultuous decade, as many other communist party leaders fell to Stalin’s wrath and suspicions. Khrushchev worked his way up the party hierarchy, and his organizational skills in the areas of Russian industry and agriculture brought him praise during World War II. After the war, Stalin brought Khrushchev into the highest echelons of both the party and government. When Stalin died in 1953, many observers outside of Russia thought it unlikely that the brusque and seemingly uneducated Khrushchev could survive without his mentor. Khrushchev fooled them all, however, and through a series of alliances with others in the party and the military, succeeded in removing any opposition to his power by 1955. After that year, Khrushchev was thoroughly in charge in Russia. He surprised many of his colleagues and Western observers when he began to talk about the idea of “peaceful coexistence” with the United States. He also moved to decentralize some of the rigid state economic controls that he believed were stifling Soviet economic development. In a 1956 speech before the Congress of the Soviet Communist Party, he denounced Stalin and his police state tactics.

In terms of international relations, Khrushchev cut an interesting figure. Many people dismissed him as a boorish, ignorant peasant. However, the Russian leader was an adept and clever negotiator, who often used those negative perceptions to his advantage. During the late 1950s, he tried to work for closer relations with the United States, and in 1959 became the first Soviet leader to visit America. Relations quickly soured, however, when the Soviets shot down an American U-2 spy plane over Russia in 1960. A planned U.S.-Soviet summit was canceled. During that same year, Khrushchev achieved instant celebrity status when, during a debate at the United Nations, he took off his shoe and pounded the table to get attention.

In 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States nearly went to war when the Russians attempted to install nuclear missiles in Cuba and U.S. naval forces quarantined the island. Tense negotiations with President John F. Kennedy followed, the Russian missiles were withdrawn, and the United States promised not to invade Cuba in an attempt to overthrow communist leader Fidel Castro. While war was averted, the incident cost Khrushchev dearly in terms of support at home. Many communist party officials and a growing number of military men had grown anxious about Khrushchev’s idea of “peaceful coexistence” with America, and his calls for a reduced military budget convinced some that he would reduce Russia to a second-class power. The 1962 Cuban missile crisis was viewed as a terrible embarrassment for the Soviet Union. In 1964, Khrushchev’s opponents organized a political coup against him and he was forced into retirement. The remainder of his life was rather solitary-he was forgotten by most and reviled by many in Russia.

John F. Kennedy meeting with Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna.
03 June 1961 President Kennedy meets with Chairman Khrushchev at the U. S. Embassy residence, Vienna. U. S. Dept. of State photograph in the John Fitzgerald Kennedy Library, Boston.

* 1973 Allende dies in a coup.

Chile’s armed forces stage a coup d’état against the government of President Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected Marxist leader in Latin America. Allende retreated with his supporters to La Moneda, the fortress-like presidential palace in Santiago, which was surrounded by tanks and infantry and bombed by air force jets. Allende survived the aerial attack but then apparently shot himself to death as troops stormed the burning palace, reportedly using an automatic rifle given to him as a gift by Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The U.S. government and its Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had worked for three years to foment a coup against Allende, who was regarded by the Nixon administration as a threat to democracy in Chile and Latin America. Ironically, the democratically elected Allende was succeeded by the brutal dictator General Augusto Pinochet, who ruled over Chile with an iron fist for the next 17 years.

Salvador Allende Gossens was born into an upper-middle-class Chilean family in 1908. He became a Marxist activist and worked as a doctor and in 1933 was a founding member of Chile’s Socialist Party. Elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1937, he later served as minister of health in the leftist government of President Pedro Aguirre Cerda. In 1945, he became a senator. He unsuccessfully ran for president several times in the 1950s and 1960s, and in September 1970 won a three-sided presidential race with 36.3 percent of the vote. Because he lacked a popular majority, his election had to be confirmed by the Chilean Congress.

After the victory of Allende and his leftist coalition, U.S. President Richard Nixon summoned CIA Director Richard Helms to the White House and ordered him in no uncertain terms to prevent Allende from coming to power or to unseat him. Allende, after all, had threatened to nationalize U.S.-owned industries in Chile, and Nixon did not want another Fidel Castro coming to power in an American hemisphere during his watch. President Nixon authorized $10 million for the covert operation against Allende and instructed that it be carried out without the knowledge of the U.S. embassy in Chile.

With its mandate from Washington, the CIA attempted to bribe, coerce, and blackmail Chile’s Congress and military into denying Allende the presidency, launched an international campaign of disinformation against Allende, and paid a right-wing general to assassinate General Rene Schneider, the chief of Chile’s armed forces. Although a conservative, Schneider was staunchly opposed to a coup or any other military interference in Chile’s democratic processes. He was murdered by a gang led by right-wing General Roberto Viaux. One month later, the group received a check for $35,000 from the CIA. Years later, the CIA would claim it only wanted Schneider kidnapped.

With only one week remaining before the Chilean Congress was to vote on Allende’s election, CIA headquarters sent a cable to its Chilean office that read: “It is firm and continuing policy that Allende is overthrown by a coup. It would be much preferable to have this transpire prior to 24 October but efforts in this regard will continue vigorously beyond this date.”

After a heated debate in the Chilean Congress, the mostly conservative body decided to confirm Allende’s election on October 24 after he promised support of 10 libertarian constitutional amendments. In spite of U.S. opposition, respect for Chile’s democratic tradition–the oldest in Latin America–had won out over ideological hysteria. A few days later, a bungled coup by a group of Chilean military officers helped to rally the country around Allende, who was inaugurated on November 3.

In his nearly three years as Chilean president, Allende worked to restructure Chilean society along socialist lines while retaining democratic government and respecting civil liberties and the due process of law. Meanwhile, the CIA worked to destabilize Allende’s government, spending a total of $8 million on the effort. Opposition groups received funding from the CIA, anti-Allende propaganda efforts continued, strikes were instigated in key sectors of the Chilean economy, and CIA agents maintained close contact with the Chilean military. However, the real cause of the 1973 coup against President Allende was not the insidious activities of American spies but rather the U.S.-led international backlash against his economic policies, which had a disastrous effect on the Chilean economy.

In 1971, President Allende began nationalizing foreign businesses in Chile, including U.S.-owned copper mines–Chile’s main source of protection–and a large U.S.-run telephone company. Nixon was outraged, and he created an interagency task force to organize economic reprisals against Chile. The task force plotted steps to sink the world price of copper and ordered a complete ban on U.S. economic aid. The World Bank was successfully pressured to end all loans to Chile, and the Export-Import Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank likewise turned their back on the country. Meanwhile, other foreign investment in Chile dried up out of fears of nationalization.

By 1973, the Chilean economy was in shambles. Inflation, labor strikes, and food shortages were rampant, and violence between the right and the left became a daily occurrence. President Allende still had the support of many workers and peasants, but the middle class was united in opposition to him. There was open talk of an impending military coup, and conspirators needed little help from the CIA to put it in motion. The CIA, however, was informed of the planned coup in advance, and on September 10 this information was passed on to President Nixon.

The next day–September 11, 1973–Chile’s three armed forces launched a concerted attack against Chile’s democratic government. Allende gathered with his loyal presidential guard at La Moneda, the presidential palace. He was photographed inspecting the palace’s defenses, rifle in hand. Tanks and troops surrounded La Moneda, and Allende and his supporters were ordered to surrender by 11 a.m. or face attack by the Chilean air force. Allende refused.

At 11 a.m., via telephone, Allende’s voice was broadcast over Radio Magallanes, the Communist Party radio station. “I can only say this to the workers: I will not resign,” he declared. “With my life, I will pay for defending the principles dear to our nation. I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this gray and bitter moment where betrayal threatens to impose itself. Continue knowing, all of you, that much sooner than later, the great avenues will open through which will pass free men in order to construct a better society. These are my last words having the certainty that this sacrifice has not been in vain.”

Just before noon, two fighter jets flew over Santiago and descended on La Moneda, firing rockets with pinpoint accuracy through the doors and windows of the north side of the palace. Six more attack waves came during the next 20 minutes. The palace was in flames, but Allende survived in a wing of the building. Sometime around 2 p.m., Allende allegedly died by placing his rifle under his chin and firing. Reportedly, a gold metal plate affixed to the stock of the gun had an inscribed message that read, “To my good friend Salvador Allende from Fidel Castro.”

A few weeks later, Fidel Castro would tell the Cuban people that Allende died while advancing on army troops and firing his gun. The fascist soldiers, Castro said, cut him down in a hail of bullets. This account was taken up by many supporters of Allende and persists in various forms to this day. However, Allende’s personal surgeon reported having seen the president shoot himself with the rifle, and a 1990 autopsy of Allende’s remains confirmed that he died from a single shot that shattered his skull.

In the aftermath of the coup, General Augusto Pinochet Ugarte, commander in chief of the armed forces, became dictator of Chile. He rounded up hundreds of Allende’s supporters, including two American citizens, and had them tortured and executed. The United States immediately offered military and economic aid to the new ruler of Chile–”the savior of democracy”–and the CIA may have helped him identify and capture dissidents. In his 17 years of repressive authoritarian rule, more than 3,000 political opponents were assassinated or “disappeared.” His assassination squads were also active outside Chile, and in 1976 Orlando Letelier, Allende’s former defense minister, was killed by a car bomb in Washington, D.C.

Last photograph of Chilean President Salvador Allende inside the presidential palace during the 1973 coup d'état.
Last photograph of Chilean President Salvador Allende inside the presidential palace during the 1973 coup d’état. (Reddit)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* Canadiana Encyclopedia                    http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canada-and-911/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

15 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… September 11th”

  1. No one in America will ever forget where they were when 9/11 occurred. Years later I read about the Newfoundland story. I still believe that goodness triumphs, and this is proof. Some years ago my husband and I attended a family wedding in NYC. We booked the least expensive hotel. When we arrived in our room and opened the curtains… we were at ground zero. We had no idea. Looking down was moving and humbling.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure that would have been an emotional experience, Jennie. Right now there is a musical about the role played by the people of Gander Newfoundland on 9/11 called “Come From Away” playing on Broadway. Thanks for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I want to thank you for including accounts of how Canadians were affected by 9/11. While it was a US-based crisis, it really did affect the world, including Canada, and that’s often forgotten. ♥

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    1. I saw a caravan of Hydro 1 vehicles from Ontario heading to Florida on the News today to help get the power back on there. I left out (for the sake of brevity) in the 9/11 story that lots of Canadian first responders streamed across the border that day with canine units, etc. to help with rescue/recovery operations in NYC. I’ve often stated on this blog that Americans and Canadians are family and we always have each others’ backs when the chips are down. John, I know that most Americans are unaware of these facts. Thanks for your comment, good sir!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What a powerful story, John. I did not know that incoming planes were diverted to Newfoundland or that the local people cared for the passengers as they did. I am so moved by that story. Thank you very much. I’ve wanted to visit Newfoundland for some time; now it has become a bucket list item for sure. Blessings on your day, John. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I watched the horrors of that senseless attack on World Trade building as it unfurled. I still find it hard to believe that people can behave so callously. It was inhuman to fly planes containing innocent women and children to their deaths. To think that those fools who did that could possibly believe they were going to be rewarded for such an act of barbarity and wake up in paradise. It changed the world. I wonder just how many millions of people have died because of that act? How many suffered? The fanaticism of religion to the extreme.
    America orchestrated that coup against Allende as they have done so often through the world. Their paranoia about communism is of a religious fervour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, Opher. I’m grateful that here in North America, the TV News networks filtered out the pictures of people who jumped to their deaths from the burning Towers. A friend was vacationing in France that day and their TV coverage showed those horrific pictures. I had a hard time emotionally as I put together this remembrance report while watching the coverage of Irma devastating Florida – it was almost overwhelming. I cannot imagine the suffering today or in 2001. Thanks for your insightful comment, good sir!

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