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And the flag looks lovely waving in the afternoon breeze

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Posted: Sunday, September 16, 2001 10:00 pm

You are still groggy in bed, but your wife, the early riser, whispers to you, "There is a big story. You should watch."

You rise and shuffle to the TV and sit down and there are images of skyscrapers shrouded in smoke and dust.

Then the skyscrapers, unbelievably, implode.

My God.

Richard Hanner

You rush to the office, listening to the radio.

There is talk that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon.

There is talk that there is a car bomb in front of the State Department.

No, that was wrong, the reporter said. No car bomb.

You make a note: Try to be accurate. This will be a time of chaos, of madness. Try to stay clear.

You get to the newsroom and Chet, the city editor, is already there. So are Jennifer and Shannon, reporters who came in early because they knew this would be huge.

You click on the TV. The images are shocking. Jets disappearing into buildings. Smoke rising from the Pentagon. People running through dust and falling rubble. Running for their lives.

This is too big. You ask the sports editor to come in and help. And the Panorama editor. And the Lodi Living editor.

Of course, they say.

You ask the publisher for extra pages.

No problem.

The day becomes an adrenaline-charged blur. Somehow, with our notebooks and cameras, we must record this. Make it real.

Be sensitive. Be comprehensive.

You recall looking back, some time ago, at copies of the paper after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. You remember thinking the local angle was almost ignored.

You make a silent vow, one you know is shared by everyone in the room: That will not happen this time.

And so the reporters and editors scramble for hours on end, making it real. Making it human. The reporters talk to Lodi veterans and teachers and political leaders. And just plain folk. Men and women are lining up to give blood. Amazingly, a Lodi man was in the World Trade Center minutes before it became a collapsing mountain of death.

One Lodian speaks of rounding up people of Middle Eastern heritage and putting them in camps. It is ugly, but it is his opinion. We let it go through. Besides, we have balance. We quote local Muslims at length. We do an editorial calling for reason and restraint.

What is the main headline? We fumble a bit. Major developments have been covered by TV and radio and the Internet.

Do we spin forward, use something like "Who did this?"

Or do we reflect the horror of this day, look toward posterity. The suggestion is made: "War at Home."

Strong. But is it specific enough?

Finally, we settle on this: "Terror Strikes U.S."

You pick up dinner and go home to the your family. Your younger son, Alex, says, "Dad, should we put up the flag in the garage?"

Sure, you nod, gazing at a screen glowing with the images of madness.

You rise the next day and hold the paper and you are proud of your staff.

Still, it is not over. You go back to the newsroom, and it all starts over again. And over again.

Where is the story turning? Lodians are stocking up on ammo and flags. We have it. Lodians are still giving blood. We get the photo. People gather for prayer. We cover. How do we explain this to kids? How do we, as adults, absorb all of this insanity? We ask local counselors.

The Grape Festival begins. It usually goes on page one. This year? Amid all the carnage?


Because, despite the tragedy, life does go on.

At night, you are addicted to the TV.

One reporter announces that 10 police officers are alive somewhere in the debris. You want to call the newsroom. This could be the lead story. But you search other channels, the Internet. There is no confirmation. No attribution. You do not call the night editors.

Be accurate. Be clear.

Your son again speaks of the flag in the garage. Sure, Alex. Sure.

In the morning, Kelly in advertising suggests we help collect donations. She says we should be a center of hope and support. She is so right. You are so busy. You call the Red Cross and there is a way you can help.

We will open a drop-off center for monetary donations. We will also start a memorial book. Kelly and the publisher pull it together. You go back to the newsroom.

There is a report that some teens have been waving a Palestinian flag. A reporter checks it out. It is true. Sickening. It runs counter to everything you know about local Middle Eastern residents.

Still, it is truth. It goes in the paper. Be sensitive, but be true.

The week nears an end, yet the pace continues, the nerves grow frayed.

How is the staff holding up? You wish they could all have a day off. They have performed so heroically. A day off is out of the question.

You will thank them as much as you can. You will order pizza later.

School kids have raised $5,000. Can you cover? A lady is giving away flags on Woodbridge Road. Great story.

Lodi High School is having a rally. Won't you be there? The reserves are being called up. Is there a local angle?

The Sacramento Bee printed the American flag on two facing pages. Why didn't you?

What about the photo essay we had planned? Can't we get color on an inside page?

Can't we cover the national prayer session?

What if the U.S. strikes back? Don't we need a coverage plan for that?

Yes, we do. No, there is no one to do it.

In your head, for a moment, you step back, away from the tumult. You think of your son's idea.

It is noon and you drive to Target. You buy the last flag bracket in the place.

You find it there, in a corner. It is furled next to the ancient Time-Life books and a row of paint cans.

You attach the bracket and slip it in.

It is very quiet. The summer sky is cloudless.

As you drive back to the office, you think it looks lovely, waving in the afternoon breeze.

Richard Hanner is the Lodi News-Sentinel's editor. He can be reached at (209) 369-7035; at 125 N. Church St., or via e-mail.

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