Terror Unleashed by Poison Gas Attack in Tokyo (March 20, 1995)

Tokyo_terrotistsTokyo_sarin_attackI was starting a new job on March 20, 1995 at ad agency Foote Cone & Belding where I was hired as media research director of its New York office.  When my clock radio went off that Monday morning is when I first heard the news about the gas attacks on Tokyo's metro system during the morning rush hour.  Members of a Japanese religious cult known as "Supreme Truth" carried out the attacks by puncturing small packages containing a liquid form of the lethal gas, sarin.  They did this on three train lines; once leaked, the liquid turned into a vapor which felled thousands of passengers and killed twelve.   


Of course, this was especially chilling for the millions of us who used New York's subway system to commute to work every day. 




OklahomacityOne month later homegrown terrorism visited our own shores when a truck bomb laden with explosives tore apart the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing168.  Unlike the Japanese terrorists, one of those charged in the U.S. attack, Timothy McVeigh, was executed.


Now_and_again_tv_showThen five years later an episode of a new show on CBS, Now and Again, brought to mind the Tokyo attacks.  A villain known as the Eggman (played by Chinese actor Kim Chan) cracked open eggs filled with noxious gas on a New York subway.  All of the passengers died, but in a somewhat more gruesome fashion than those who died in Tokyo.   



World Trade Center Attacked for First Time (February 26, 1993)




It was lunchtime on a gray and unseasonably cold Friday, with a touch of snow in the air.  Our winter intern, Sherida, and I were heading to a business lunch with an account executive from the Fox TV network at Pietrasanta, a nearby restaurant at the corner of 9th Ave./46th St.  As we walked the four blocks from our office at Worldwide Plaza (we worked at ad agency NWAyer) we noticed a plume of smoke rising in the distance from lower Manhattan.  There was also a lot of noise from the blaring horns and sirens of fire trucks racing down the street.


Time magazine - first wtc bombing


After we returned from lunch I heard the news about a truck bomb exploding in the underground parking garage of the North tower of the World Trade Center and realized that was where the smoke was coming from.  It was chilling to hear speculation that the goal of the bomb was to collapse the North tower and have it fall into the South tower.  Unfortunately, as bad as this attack was (six died, more than 1,000 were injured), it was just a prelude to the horrors of the attacks on 9-11.







Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






9-11 Attacks Stun the World (September 11, 2001)



On the morning of Sep. 11, 2001 I left my apartment 15-20 minutes earlier than usual because I wanted to vote in New York's primary election for mayor before going to work.  It was about 8:40 when I left my apartment in the West Village.  A few minutes later as I was walking along Christopher St. I took notice of the roar of an extremely low-flying plane overhead; however, I couldn't see it because of the trees lining the street.  Perhaps 15 seconds later I heard a loud "boom" in the distance, but didn't think anything of it, and certainly didn't connect it with the plane.  I figured it came from a construction site.


As I approached the corner of 6th Avenue and West 9th Street I saw a number of people looking intently southward so I turned to see what they were looking at and was stunned to see a large gaping black hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center with plumes of black smoke billowing out of it.  My first thought was, "how did a plane crash into the building on such a crystal clear morning?"  After 30 seconds or so of incredulous staring I continued on my way to the polling place a few blocks away (walking north).  Traffic on 6th Avenue had mostly stopped as drivers and passengers got out of their vehicles to get a look.  It was like a scene from a movie.




I voted, got on the subway and made my way to work at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, which was on East 42nd St.  (At this point this was still just a terrible accident so there was no reason not to go into the office.)  On the train I heard a woman tell someone that it was a passenger jet that had gone into the tower and not a wayward private plane.  At the office I was walking to the other side of the floor for our weekly directors meeting but found everyone crowded into the media director's office watching the TV.  A second plane had just crashed into the other tower and it was witnessed live on TV by millions (however, I didn't see it.)





This was no longer a horrible accident but something frighteningly more sinister.  I watched a few replays of the plane going into the south tower and then walked back to my office.  I called my mother in Pittsburgh who had seen the second plane on TV.  Then I reviewed a few e-mails from friends living outside of New York checking to see if I was OK.  A number of people in the office were frantically trying to get in touch with family members who worked in the Trade Center or in that neighborhood.  It seemed like every 15 minutes something unimaginably horrible was happening, i.e. the Pentagon was hit, then the plane in Pennsylvania went down.  I was listening to a live radio report from the WTC site when the south tower fell.  Shortly thereafter the office closed, largely because we were considered at risk since our office was across the street from the landmark Chrysler Building, which made it a prime target. 





I left my office and walked along 42nd Street to the New York Public Library at the corner of 42nd St./5th Ave. to meet my friend Nina.  Nina lived on Long Island and couldn't get home since rail traffic had been suspended, so she stayed with me until travel restrictions were lifted.  Not surprisingly, the streets were abuzz and crowded with people spilling out onto the streets, but it was a controlled panic.  There were long lines at every pay phone.  I think the day's bright sunshine helped to keep me calm.  




Nina and I casually walked the 40 blocks down to my apartment against a wall of mostly disheveled office workers heading north from lower Manhattan.  We stopped into a Starbucks near Penn Station to use the lavatory and while standing in line I overheard a man behind us telling someone that his sister in Chicago had called to say the Sears Tower had been hit.  Because of all that was happening it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility.  It wasn't until we got to my apartment and listened to news reports that we realized that he was just a crazy guy.




As we neared the block on which I lived we passed St. Vincent's Hospital which had set up chairs and gurneys on 7th Avenue covered in white bed sheets in anticipation of hundreds of injured who would need to be attended to - but none would be delivered.  A strong odor similar to that given off by an electrical fire pervaded the air and the southern horizon was obscured by a thick wall of black, gray and white smoke (the north tower had collapsed by then as well).  Fortunately for my neighborhood, the smoke was being blown out to Brooklyn by a northwesterly wind. 




Later that afternoon the first "Have You Seen ...?" posters of missing office workers began appearing on lamp poles and walls.  Rail service resumed later that afternoon and I walked Nina up to Penn Station (there was still no subway service).  It was eerie because there were so few people on the streets and no vehicular traffic.  The sheet-covered chairs and gurneys in front of St. Vincent's were now gone.  Before going home I stopped into the supermarket across the street from my apartment (I was surprised it was still open) and while waiting in the checkout line I heard on the radio that the 50-story World Trade Center 7 had just collapsed.




For the next few months the odor from the fires lingered and was especially noticeable on days when the wind came out of the south.  We were advised that dust in the air and collecting on surfaces in our apartments likely contained trace particles of pulverized bones from victims of the collapsed towers.  The catastrophe turned out to be the impetus for me to finally get a cell phone.  And to this day anytime the sky is clear and the temperature pleasantly warm I think back to the terrors of the morning of 9/11. 




(The 9/11 Commission Report makes for riveting reading as it goes into great detail about the missed opportunities to thwart the 9-11 attacks as well as the events of that day as they unfolded.)








Israeli Team Massacred at 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich (September 5, 1972)




Up until today the 1972 Summer Olympics had been about the sterling performances of U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz and Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut.  Sept. 5 was the day after Labor Day, and the first day of the new school year for me, where I was starting the 10th grade at Sto-Rox High School.  When I returned home from classes that afternoon is when I first heard word that terrorist guerillas from the Palestinian Black September movement had taken athletes from the Israeli team hostage. 






Later that night at a little past 10:00 I was getting ready for bed.  My father was dozing in the living room in front of the TV and my mom was out bowling in her Tuesday night league.  I had my bedroom door open so I could listen to the Olympics coverage when I heard ABC Sports anchor Jim McKay give a brief update on the situation that ended with the words "they're all gone".  Nine of the hostages and five of the eight terrorists had been killed at the airport in a bungled rescue attempt (two other Israeli athletes had been killed at the beginning of the ordeal at the Olympic Village).  It was very distressing news to hear before going to bed.






Although I was aware of earlier acts of terrorism in the Middle East this one was by far the most audacious.  And distressing news from the Olympics continued later in the week, but in a very different vein, when the US Men's basketball team was upset by the archrival Soviet team after a very controversial call in the closing three seconds (a play that was replayed repeatedly).  It was the first time the US team failed to win the gold medal in that event.




(An in-depth account of the guerilla incident is provided in the book One Day in September: The Full Story of the Munich Olympics Massacre & the Israeli "Wrath of God" Revenge Operation.)  


Americans Target Their Own: Oklahoma City Bombing (April 19, 1995)





When a bomb tore apart the Alfred P. Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995 I had been at my new job as media research director at New York ad agency Foote Cone & Belding for just a month.  It was a sunny Wednesday afternoon and I was at my desk in my office in the GM Building.  In the background I had the "oldies" radio station WCBS playing (the radio was in the style of one from the 1930s, a send-off gift from my old staff).  It was from that radio that I first heard the shocking news about the explosion that occurred earlier in the morning.


The front of the building had been completely blown off and the death toll slowly mounted as the days went by (the final toll was 168 with nearly 700 injured).  I found it curious when initial reports mentioned children being among the many casualties.  I thought that perhaps a group of students had been on a field trip there.  Later when I got home is when I heard that a daycare center for workers' children was in the building. 




At first many jumped to the conclusion that this was the act of Muslim terrorists, so it was surprising when the FBI showed sketches the next day of two suspects who were Caucasian.  Indications were that the attack was carried out by US citizens who were part of a burgeoning anti-government "militia" movement.  It annoyed me that reporters regularly remarked how awful it was that such an attack happened in "the heartland" as if it would have been less of a tragedy if it occurred in a big city on the East or West Coast.




Six years later the driver of the bomb-laden truck, Timothy McVeigh, was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001, three months before the attacks on 9-11 - which would surpass the Oklahoma City bombing as the worst terrorist attack on the US mainland.