The question on the front page of our newspaper today was bold, yet simple.
"Where Were You?" it asked, with a picture of Space Shuttle Challenger exploding in the sky.
I remember where I was. I was in 7th grade sitting in class. I can't remember what class, but I want to say science for some reason. A teacher came to the door and told my teacher something about the shuttle. I don't remember if she said it had blown up or just that something had gone wrong.
They immediately moved us all to the library, where we sat in chairs and watched the coverage. I didn't really understand what was happening. Did the shuttle just explode? What happened to all of those astronauts on board? My 12-year-old mind knew it was bad, but couldn't come to grips with what it meant. It seemed surreal.
Then I turned around, and all of the teachers were at the back of the room crying. And I didn't really understand why.
I eventually would. A teacher was on board. Christa McAuliffe. A real ordinary person. Just like each of my teachers. She represented the best of what teaching had to offer. And she was gone - just like that.
When my mother picked me up, I learned there had also been a tragic shooting in my small town that day. The mother of one of my friends had been shot and killed. That just didn't happen where I grew up.
I remember going to bed that night with such a heavy sadness, and a lot of fear. It was probably the first time in my life I had been faced with so much sadness, so much tragedy, so much death really, in one day. My perfect world didn't seem so perfect anymore.
They call events like the Challenger explosion "flashbulb moments." Each generation has them. They are those experiences that had such a profound impact on you that years later, you remembered where you were when you found out. For my parents, it was the Kennedy assasination. They can tell you vividly where they were that day. For their parents, it was Pearl Harbor.
For my generation, it was the Challenger explosion. For the younger generation, it was no doubt 9/11.
I can also remember where I was when President Reagan was shot (Mrs. Mitchell's second-grade classroom. We watched the coverage on TV as soon as it happened). I remember where I was when Bear Bryant died (I was getting my books out of my locker after school when Mrs. Ray walked down the hall and said, "Bear Bryant just died.") There are those moments that you just don't forget.
9/11 was, by far, the scariest. Chris and I had just returned from the beach the night before and were tired so we slept in. Channel 19 employees were building a playground for a local daycare that morning and I didn't have to be there until 10 am. When I woke up, I didn't bother turning on the TV. As I showered, Chris came running in. His mother had called and told him what was happening.
I immediately got dressed and got into work. Jerry and I were on the air until the wee hours of the morning. Even though it was certainly a national story, we had so many local angles since we were home to Redstone Arsenal. There were rumors that we could be attacked. Every hour, we would do 15 minute local updates.
I remember in the middle of the night when Jerry and I left the set - the morning crew came in to relieve us - our news director called us all into the conference room and told us to go home and pack enough clothes for a week.
Why? Because at that time, we didn't know if another round of attacks was coming. I remember being so scared of what was going to come the next day.
Luckily, gratefully, that didn't happen. And just as my parents have told me about the Kennedy assasination, living in Birmingham during the Civil Rights movement and the turbulence of the 60s follwed by Watergate, I will tell my children these stories.
We pass down history to those who come after us. We may forget little details here and there, but we never forget the emotions we felt on those fateful days.
I kept my scripts from 9/11. I remember that night thinking, 'there is no way I can throw these away.' One day I'll show them to my children as proof of what we went through that day. That's what history is all about.
God rest the souls of the Challenger crew, as we remember them 25 years later.