Carry On: A Reflection on 9/11

admin | September 11, 2011 in Music,WordSmatter | Comments (10)

On September 11, 2001, I was preparing to fly to New York for a television performance with country superstar Tim McGraw and his band, the Dancehall Doctors; that appearance was cancelled as a result of the attacks on the World Trade Center Towers – what we now have come to refer to simply as “9/11.”

In 2002, I did travel to New York City for that postponed performance with McGraw. While there, a collection of his band and crew went to “Ground Zero,” the site of the tragedy, to gain some personal perspective on the events that had changed the nation so dramatically just one year earlier.

In recognition of the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, I share my personal account of that experience as it was originally published in the “From the Road” column of Tim McGraw’s official website in 2002.


With so many looking back on the past year and the effects of the events in New York City, I thought it perhaps appropriate to include some of our experiences as we visited Ground Zero earlier this year. At the time of the attack, the DHDs (Dancehall Doctors) were preparing to leave for New York for a television appearance which was subsequently cancelled. All of the DHDs were in Nashville at the time, with the exception of Denny Hemingson, who was in Boston.

“I was on vacation in Boston with my wife,” said Denny. “We were supposed to fly home to Nashville from Boston on September 11. We were packing in the hotel, watching the news, preparing for our flight on American Airlines. We were ready to head to the airport, and we saw the planes fly into the towers on television. I knew when the second plane hit that this was some kind terrorist thing or something. At that point, everyone was calling my cell phone to see if we were still alive. We stayed an extra day, scrambled around and found a rental car, and drove home to Nashville from there. Everyone around us was trying to get home, but it wasn’t like they were headed home to take care of business.”

Denny continued. “That day…how quiet. Boston was so…quiet. We went to a store and they had grounded all the planes…just military jets in the air. Nothing else. Cops checking buildings out everywhere…but other than that, the streets were empty.”

Tim and the DHDs did later make a trip to New York for a rescheduled performance months later. While in the city, the DHDs made the journey to Ground Zero. We wanted to see for ourselves the impact on the geographical and emotional landscapes of New York City and the world.

Taking the subway, we were immediately struck by the amount of people that were NOT on our train. Only a few locals shared our train with us; instead of being caught up in the bustle of New York City life, we essentially had the car to ourselves. In the past, the trains running to the financial district were always busy.

But not this time. Now things were much quieter. We could not help but reflect upon what had caused this shift in the lives of so many.

We arrived at our stop and made our way to Ground Zero. Much of the area was barricaded and zoned to protect citizens from intruding upon the cleanup efforts. We were led along wooden walkways toward a viewing platform, and we could not help but notice the messages and drawings that others had left along the walls, chronicling their love and support for those lost.

From the platform, the cleanup and construction was in full view. We could better understand the expansive nature of the event, seeing for ourselves how big the void was. It also became much clearer how this could affect so much in the surrounding area.

“Man, we could have been there,” said DHD Dave Dunkley. ” We were flying in for ‘The Rosie O’Donnell Show’ the next day. We would have been only a few blocks away.”

“When you looked across the area where the buildings had been, the reality was so much bigger than I expected,” shared DHD Denny Hemingson. “But even more amazing to me was the impact some blocks away. There was a clothing store that, months later, still had clothes in it covered with a thick layer of dust. They had just put a sheet of plexiglass over them and left them. As much as I had seen on television, I understood even more how immense this really was.”

Some of our boys had visited the Trade Center towers in earlier years, long before the attacks.  “In 1977, I participated in a ‘Battle of the Bands’ on the roof of the Trade Towers,” said DHD John Marcus. “Our rock band at the time performed on the helipad overlooking the city…and now it looks like a parking lot. I was particularly saddened as I remembered looking over New York City from the roof…and now it’s gone.”

Adjacent to the cleanup site was St. Paul’s Chapel. Built in 1766, this church miraculously escaped damage on September 11, while many of the surrounding buildings suffered significantly. For the following eight months, this church would be instrumental in supporting the crews and workers of the relief efforts.

The fence and surrounding walls of the chapel had become a home for the tributes and memories for all of those left to suffer as a result of this tragedy. In contrast to the actual clearing and construction, the gifts and notes left here brought home the passion and love inspired by this event. Photographs, banners, flowers, a child’s doll…all of these decorated the sidewalks. Messages and poetry adorned the walls from all different countries and in all different languages.

“What really got me was realizing the magnitude of how many people were really involved in what happened,” said DHD Darran Smith. “When I looked at the site, I saw the trucks, the machinery, the construction. I didn’t think about the people. But when you look at the wall…it was…wow.”

For everything we witnessed on that day, one moment stood out for many of us. While we filed along the walkway of the viewing platform, we saw two local firefighters standing along the barricade. Just watching. They had their backs to us, and we couldn’t even see their faces. We didn’t have to.

Our drum tech, Joey Supak, caught this poignant moment on camera and told us the story. “I didn’t know who they were. I just grabbed the shot. I just thought it was so amazing to see how intent they were on what had happened.”

Later in the day, Joey spoke with the two men. “They told me that they came there every day. A lot of guys they knew had gone into those buildings. They came every day to just watch and remember…kind of a tribute to their friends that had perished when the towers came down.”

DHD Darran Smith also took notice. “Those two firefighters looking over the site…by themselves…that really got me…gave me chills,” he remembered. “It makes you realize that all that stuff you hear about ‘the brotherhood’…I mean, who knows how personally they were involved in the tragedy?  But you could see the loss…just watching them.”

As we approach the anniversary of last September’s tragic attacks, we recall those happenings and how they have affected each of us. In some ways, we have moved on from the tragedy of that day. In other ways, we should never let go of what those events have taught us to treasure.

I am glad that we have come to celebrate our firefighters, policemen, and emergency workers. American flags are still flying, not because of a holiday, but because of the inspiration to express our patriotism. There is a greater respect for the military that serve this country. We have a greater appreciation for those we love and a greater understanding of what is important.

These are things to celebrate, and as we remember those that still suffer from the events of that day, my hope is that we continue to celebrate them.

Nobody ever said that life was gonna be fair

You’re never gonna get nowhere by running scared

If you look down deep inside you’ll find the faith to make you strong

Carry on

(From the song “Carry On,” written by Mark Collie, Even Stevens, and Hillary Kanter, and recorded by Tim McGraw)

10 Responses to “Carry On: A Reflection on 9/11”

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  1. Comment by Brenda Holmes — September 12, 2011 at 9:43 am  

    Your insight and empathy are clear here and made me cry all over again with how wrong these deaths were. So many people hurt by acts of unreasoning hatred; even now, ten years later, the emotional wounds left aren’t truly healed.

  2. Comment by bobbie — September 12, 2011 at 9:56 am  

    Thank you. Being prior military and losing close friends at the Pentagon, reading stories like this always helps. Ten years have gone by, but it feels like it happened yesterday.

  3. Comment by Theresa Hauger Kankus — September 12, 2011 at 10:10 am  

    Thank you for sharing your life experience and account of this fateful day in our history. Faith in God, faith in ourselves and faith in each other will continue our struggle against and triumph over evil, tyranny and injustice.

  4. Comment by Tammy Tompkins — September 12, 2011 at 10:14 am  

    What an incredible story! There are no words that can describe the emotions that your story and all of the others we have heard but, your final remark could not have been said in any better words. Sept. 11th will forever be burned in all Americans’ hearts. My prayers, respect and admiration goes out to those who were lost, their families and friends and to all Americans, military and non-military. The words “United We Stand” are more true than ever. GOD BLESS AMERICA!

    Sincerely, Love Always,


  5. Comment by Lauren Barton — September 12, 2011 at 10:24 am  

    Man, there’s not a day that doesn’t go by that I don’t think about where I was when this tragic attack happened. My stories not as great as yours, for choice of a better word, but that day will be imprinted on my heart forever. In your story you state how quiet Boston was, but St. Louis and Scott Airforce base were in panic. They thought they were gonna get hit next. People were rushing to get water; you would’ve thought the world was ending. But in reality, no one thought it would be the cause of great unity. As the day progressed, people became quieter as if reality set in. As for me, I knew that we’re a powerful country and that we would rise together. But I just thought that, at the time, I was living a fairy tale.

    But I was right, people joined together, joined the military, helped the best way they knew how, sang about it so we would never forget. But that’s what Americans are about….in words of the Beatles….we, ” Come Together.” And people held us in their arms so they could feel our disease; this day will never be forgotten and we’ll always remember the ones who died supporting the country they love so much.

  6. Comment by Samantha Mosher — September 12, 2011 at 12:11 pm  

    This story is one that will forever be burned into my heart, as with my children’s story of that day. To all that have been lost or have been affected by those terrible things, my heart goes out to all of you. Thank you for sharing your story; it does give a new perspective on someone else’s experience of that awful and heart wrenching day.

    “Together We Stand, Together We Fight” – IN GOD WE TRUST.

  7. Comment by BRIDGET — September 12, 2011 at 4:52 pm  

    Thank you for sharing that with us. This tragedy was definitely closer to home for many of us then most realize. And when it’s all added together, we recognize how closely stitched this country really is.

  8. Comment by Christine — September 12, 2011 at 6:41 pm  

    Thanks Jeff, for sharing your personal account of this experience, and of the other DHD’s at “Ground Zero.” It’s so different seeing it “in person” than on a news clip on TV.

    I too, visited this hallowed ground four years ago in 2007. At that time, a huge construction fence surrounded the entire area, as work was beginning on the present National Memorial to 9/11. And construction of the new tower.

    As I stood there emotion just came over me; my body felt weak, my heart ached with pain, and tears rolled down my cheeks. All I could do was say a simple prayer for all of the innocent people who lost their lives on that fateful Tuesday. It’s not much, but afterwards I felt peace.

    This National Memorial serves as a place of reflection and remembrance to everyone who died on 9/11. If your travels take you to New York City, I would encourage you to take the time to pay hommage at this National Memorial. It may just heal the hurt you feel inside.

  9. Comment by Jaycee Dugard — September 12, 2011 at 7:41 pm  

    Dear Mr. McMahon,

    I have been eagerly waiting your next blog. It has been so many months since your last blog, I wondered if you were okay and how things are going in your world. Your new blog broke my heart and made me cry. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences of that day with us. That day affected so many people in many ways that most of us do not realize. You have such a beautiful soul. I am glad you are still here to share with us. 🙂

    While waiting on your new blog, I read some of your old blogs. I was cracking up when I read the one about “Cook What You Catch!” I laughed so hard I cried!! I have recently had to learn to cook. I had no clue how or where to get started. The cookbook experience…what fun! I needed the “Dummies” guide to the “Dummies” guide to cooking! Then I found a great cookbook for all of us “late bloomers” in the kitchen! I bought an extra copy of the book in hopes of being able to give it to you. Could you please let me know of a way I can send this to you to insure that you get it? Thanks again for sharing your new blog with all of us!

    Happy Fall,

    Jaycee Dugard

  10. Comment by Ginny Anziani — September 13, 2011 at 11:51 am  

    My husband is from Long Island, and in 2001 we made the trip to see “Ground Zero.” The number of posters that people left with pictures of missing loved ones broke my heart. We saw the store you mentioned, but the owner was still there, trying to figure out what to do–still dazed, I think, by the magnitude of the “storm” that had hit his store. He was very nice and spoke to us for quite a while. EVERYONE spoke to us–not something that normally happens to NYC. Thank you for sharing your story, We all should do the same. We are one big family.

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