What Historic Moments Shaped Your Life?

Photograph: Judy Helderman. “Moon Over Manhattan.” the Twin Towers before  the shocking tragedy of 9/11. More stunning and artistic images of Judy Helderman can be found in the Art Section of Caleb and Linda Pirtle.

Days like yesterday come around every year, and we pause to remember what happened and where we were when it happened and why the moment has such a profound grip on our psyche and our lives.

They were days of drama.

And, most often, they were days of tragedy, rarely and thankfully interrupted by a moment of triumph.

Yesterday was September 11.

We know it as simply 9/11.

And it still rips a hole in our heart when we remember, and we always remember.

There are milestone moments in lives, those days that will linger forever. Every generation has its own.

These are the five moments that shaped my memories and may have even shaped my life, for good or bad, for better or worse.

The assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  I was in college at The University of Texas and had walked into my economics class shortly before one o’clock. My professor was sitting on the table beside his desk, absent-mindedly stretching a rubber band back and forth in his hands. His eyes had a hollow appearance to them. “The President has been shot,” he said.



“Is he alive?”

“I think so,” he said. “The news reports said he was shot in the head. If it was a .22, the bullet could have glanced off his skull. I’ve known that to happen.” He shrugged. He, like the rest of us, was hoping.

It wasn’t a .22.

The assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald. A President was dead from an assassin’s bullet, and the assassin, at least the alleged assassin, was in custody. Quickly found. Quickly apprehended in the darkness of an Oak Cliff theater south of downtown Dallas.

The questions swirled in our minds.

Were the Russians behind it?

We were in the midst of a Cold War.

Were the Cubans behind it?

We were quarreling with Cuba especially after the President had out-bluffed Fidel Castro on the Russian missiles being placed on Cuban soil.

Did the CIA pull the trigger?

The CIA was mad because Kennedy had backed out of the Bay of Pigs invasion at the last minute and left their men to die on a Cuban beach.

But now we would know the truth. The assassin would tell us the truth.

A bullet from the pistol of a strip club owner, Jack Ruby, would forever conceal the truth.

All we had left were tears and questions.

Men walked on the moon. John Kennedy said it would happen. We believed it would happen. But I will never forget those slow agonizing moment while I waited for the lunar module to touch down on the surface of the moon.

We held our breaths.

NASA was holding its breath.

The astronauts may have been nervous, but they didn’t sound like it.

“Houston,” the voice said, “the Eagle has landed.”

We looked around for someone to hug but wasn’t about to hug someone in public. And finally Neil Armstrong uttered his immortal words: “One small step for man. One giant leap for mankind.”

It was.

I felt as though he was walking on the moon for all of us who would never get there.

The explosion of the Challenger.  We had grown complacent about space. Rockets were going into the heavens on a regular basis. We were no longer worried about the astronauts. Going into space was like riding a bus to work.

We no longer sat in front of our televisions and held our breath. Mostly, we ignored the space flights.

I was at my desk in Waxahachie, Texas, working on some advertising copy, when my partner raced in and said, “They’re gone.”


“The astronauts.”

He had a TV in his office.

My phone rang. My wife said, “The space ship has exploded.”


“Right after take off.”

My heart sank. I watched those seventy-three seconds of footage over and over. The sky was a bright blue. The rocket was bathed in sunlight. Then it turned into a great Roman Candle and vanished in smoke and vapor.

They were all gone. And one was a teacher.

I never took space flight for granted again.

The World Trade Center Towers come down. I was on my way to Austin for the annual Discover Texas Convention. I was to make a presentation that afternoon. I drove south on I-35, listening to the radio, as I usually do, and I heard an early report that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

I wasn’t worried. From time to time, private planes had drifted off course, drifted into trouble, and drifted into a tall New York building.

It was hard on the plane. The building was seldom damaged.

The music came back on.

When the second plane hit, the music stopped. When the second plane hit, the music died. New York was in a state of panic. America was in shock.

I was in Austin watching on television when the twin towers came down on 9/11.

We had been attacked. America was at war.

And it was a war, I feared, that would never end.


Caleb Pirtle III is author of the Christian suspense thriller, Golgotha Connection.

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