They’ve all come to look for America

By on September 12, 2018

I remember like it was yesterday watching David Bowie on the floor opening the show sitting alone cross-legged on stage playing a tiny keyboard in a slow intro to a soaring cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America.”

If you had a pulse, you also had goosebumps and watery eyes as Bowie sang, “Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike…They’ve all come to look for America.”

It was the perfect song considering the occasion and fittingly broadcast live Oct. 20, 2001 across a truly UNITED States of America.

Bowie is gone though never forgotten. Nor will the others who played Madison Square Garden that night where “The Concert for New York City” also showcased Paul McCartney, Billy Joel, The Who, and Mick Jagger.

However, I wonder if the reason why they and Bowie were there — and why his next song, “Heroes,” was so pertinent 17 years ago — appears to be waning in the minds of Americans.

The Concert for New York City was only six weeks after the horrific terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The show was dedicated to the thousands of firefighters, police officers, survivors, their families and of course, America.

Sure, the New Yorkers who were around at the time will never forget what happened to their city and they will no doubt constantly remind those younger New Yorkers who don’t have actual memories of what happened.

But what about other places? What about here?

It seems each year there are less stories written and fewer events to commemorate 9-11. I suppose, due to the political landscape, it’s almost a fairytale to imaging a truly united nation.

That said, it’s our job to educate younger people who should never forget what happened.

I realized the other day that my daughter Maggie and the rest of the high school graduating class of 2019 will be the last 12th graders to have been alive when 9/11 happened.

Over the years, I did my part to engrain the event in her head and her younger brother’s, who as a freshman doesn’t seem as interested.

I tell her how crazy it was post 9/11 when no planes were allowed in the sky and how I met people stuck in Lancaster — from those doing business at the Manheim Auto Auction and other who flew in to work at Case New Holland and the nearby animal auction.

A former colleague, who was supposed to fly in from to England on 9/11, was stranded there for days with his new wife following their honeymoon.

Of course I constantly remind Maggie where she was on that gorgeous, clear, sunny late summer day when the first plane hit the North Tower. Maggie, then six months old, was in my car when Al Qaeda terrorists hijacked three passenger planes and carried out coordinated suicide attacks.

I had just dropped Maggie off at daycare when I heard KYW radio discuss something about the World Trade Center. My first thought was it must be the anniversary of the 1993 bombing of the WTC parking garage, and then thought it must be a Piper Cub or some other small plane that hit.

However, the horrific truth soon filtered in as I began my 20-mile drive to work in the Reading Eagle newsroom. It was a surreal day where things kept getting worse and the feeling of dread, anxiety, and depression filled everyone — especially my distraught co-worker Mark Nemirow from New York, who also had a young daughter.

“How will we ever explain this day, this kind of evil, to our children?” he asked.

That is a question I still cannot answer — but I’ll keep trying.

I asked Maggie on Monday what comes to her mind about that day.

“Obviously I have no direct memory of it but I learned from you and in school about 9-11,” she said. “My sophomore history teacher put it best when he said ‘when it happened we were all united in a way; there was a subtle peace’.”

I’ve found there is a way to recapture that moment. I again got goosebumps and watery eyes when I watched the late, great David Bowie’s performance of “America” at The Concert for New York on Monday afternoon. View it here:

Patrick Burns is news editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at or at (717) 721-4455.

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