Metro-East Living

Jack Buck’s patriotic poem brought a nation out of its funk in 2001

The Busch Stadium scoreboard and millions of TV sets around the country showed Jack Buck reading his poem in 2011.
The Busch Stadium scoreboard and millions of TV sets around the country showed Jack Buck reading his poem in 2011.

There are moments which remain imbedded in my memory.

Years, decades, lifetimes pass. But I remember where, what, why, who and when. Exactly. Precisely. An everlasting video in my head.

I was a toddler the day President Kennedy was shot and my mom cried. I was in the Smoky Mountains the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The 1966 Major League All Star game in St. Louis. Whew. It was breathlessly hot in the bleachers.

Family memories, first jobs, concerts, home runs, real-life bloopers.

But none are more vivid in my memory than Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Fourteen years have passed. Nothing magical about the 14-year anniversary. Nothing magical about the memories. Period. But they don’t fade.

Close my eyes ….

It started like every other Tuesday in my little world. I dropped off my two kids at St. Augustine Catholic Grade School in Belleville. I was running a few minutes late for work. As I walked to my office around 8:25 a.m., my co-worker, Robin, told me, “A plane flew into the World Trade Center.”

I nodded, not digesting the impact. I went into my office, logged in, checked email, and tried to get settled for another day.

A few minutes later, I realized it wasn’t another day.

I walked into the kitchen area and joined co-workers who were watching the TV news. I can tell you exactly who was in the room and where they were seated. We watched the second plane crash into the tower, in surreal silence and disbelief.

My oldest brother, Bill, lives on the East Coast. He had been traveling a lot for work. I made a few phone calls to be sure he wasn’t in the air this morning. He was not. Whew.

I skipped lunch. It was a highly unproductive day. I went home early from work. I remember wondering to myself, “What’s next?”

I worried about local monuments like the Gateway Arch and Scott Air Force Base. I hugged my kids a lot.

At night, I stood in my backyard underneath an eerily empty sky for half-hours at a time. I don’t remember a harvest moon or clusters of stars. I felt silence. I didn’t realize how many planes flew overhead until there were none. I wondered if the distant roars and trails of smoke above that I had always taken for granted would ever return to the night sky.

Oddly, I thought about Danny Almonte, a Little League baseball pitcher. He had been the subject of a national media circus in late summer 2001 when it was revealed that he was too old to play Little League baseball. I thought of Almonte only because it seemed so unbelievable following 9/11 that the Little League World Series scandal — youth baseball — had been national headline news for several weeks.

Email photos of Ground Zero arrived every day. They were some of the most emotional, inspirational and heartbreaking photos I have ever seen.

The photos that I can’t forget are of business people in midair who had desperately jumped out of tower windows to their deaths. They were dads, moms, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters. They showed up for work Tuesday just like I had.

I had never been so totally absorbed by the TV news. Every night, I watched Ground Zero coverage. I listened to heroic efforts of passengers on the hijacked planes. I listened to interviews of surviving wives and parents relaying final cell-phone conversations. “Let’s roll …”

I watched New York City firemen write their Social Security numbers on their arms with permanent marker and tried to explain to my kids why.

Every night, I felt the eeriness of the silent skies above.

Finally, the late Jack Buck woke me up from my funk. He was wearing his trademark red sports jacket, standing at home plate in the old Busch Stadium. On Sept. 17, 2001, before a national TV audience, the late Cardinals announcer read his patriotic poem to a Busch Stadium crowd.

Jack’s voice cracked. His body quivered. His grace never broke as I watched from my 13-inch TV in the kitchen, tears in my eyes.

“Since this nation was founded under God

“More than 200 years ago

“We’ve been the bastion of freedom...

“The light that keeps the free world aglow…”