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2nd Quarter | 2021

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Remembering 9/11

By David Wismer

I cannot imagine writing about any other topic this week than the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

Other than the tragic deaths of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy in the 1960s, I don’t think there is another “event” that has had so profound an impact on me. I am sure most Americans who witnessed it firsthand—or saw the news unfold on September 11, 2001, and the following days—feel the same way.

There will be nonstop coverage of 9/11 this week. On Sunday night, I caught some of “CNN Films Presents: 9/11,” an updated version of the award-winning documentary by Gédéon and Jules Naudet. The film provides a unique perspective, and, according to CNN’s news release, “is a minute-by-minute portrayal of the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, from the perspective of the first responders who answered the call on that fateful day.”

Virtually all of the major broadcast and cable networks will offer 9/11 programming, including live coverage of events in New York City; Pennsylvania; and Washington, D.C.

I cannot add anything to the historical record of the events of 9/11. I can contribute my thoughts and prayers for those who perished that day and their families, joining many people around the globe. And I can, once again, give thanks to the first responders, government officials and agencies, and so many others who worked tirelessly in the recovery effort almost 20 years ago.

One story of 9/11 leads to many others

Back on September 11, 2012, I was a freelance contributor for Forbes.com and wrote a piece titled, “A Very Personal Remembrance From 9/11.” This article shared a brief look at my experiences and reactions to the day’s events.

I refer in the article to a colleague who was in a meeting with our clients at the American Stock Exchange (Amex) at the time of the attacks, not more than three blocks from the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I called my friend and former colleague this past Monday, just to catch up and to share our thoughts about that day. It turns out I had some details of what transpired wrong, but the essential story line was accurate. He and our clients were near the epicenter of the attack, were first evacuated to the floor of the Amex, and then fled to a more secure location at another financial institution. We had no idea of what happened to them until much later that day—which led to some truly worrisome moments.

Quite remarkably, he ended up that day finding his wife, Allison Gilbert, a prominent author and journalist, in Bellevue Hospital recovering from smoke inhalation. She had been covering the disaster at the towers.

Prompted by her experience, Allison later spearheaded an oral history project. Along with several co-editors, she produced and edited the book “Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11.”

According to an interview with Allison, “Covering Catastrophe chronicles the events of September 11 through the first-hand accounts of the broadcast journalists who covered them. These recollections are raw and compelling and provide a historically accurate look into what professionals in radio and television experienced that day.”

She notes that all royalties from the book have been contributed to 9/11-related causes, and all publishing rights to the book have been transferred to the National September 11 Memorial Museum, where they will support the museum’s programs and exhibitions in perpetuity.

Allison writes in the preface to the book,

“For nearly two weeks after the September 11 attacks, the Q-tips I used after every shower came out of my ears covered in gritty, black dirt. It was a daily reminder that I had responded to, and been part of, the most horrific news story of my lifetime.

“In the days after the attacks, a friend advised me to write down everything that had happened to me. I did. I wrote about my fear of suffocating in an avalanche of debris. I wrote about being taken to the hospital and reporting on live television from my hospital bed. I wrote it all down, and it helped. It also gave me the idea for this book. I wanted to offer other journalists the same opportunity—to document their September 11 experiences and share their feelings about them.

“As journalists, we move purposefully, and often frenetically, from one horrible news event to another. … That works most of the time. September 11 was different. …”

Passing the story of 9/11 to the next generation

I also refer in the Forbes article to going down to Sherwood Island State Park in Connecticut in the late afternoon of 9/11.

The park, which has beautiful beaches, trails, and picnic areas, is about 50 miles from downtown Manhattan. On that perfectly bright, sunny day almost 20 years ago, you could easily see the smoke rising from the site of the former World Trade Center. This lasted for several days.

On the July Fourth weekend of this year, I took my two children down to Sherwood Island for a walk and to view Connecticut’s 9-11 Living Memorial, which was finished and dedicated in 2002. My children were 9 and 13 years old at the time of 9/11 and certainly were aware of the events that day—watching TV late into the night with my wife, sister, and me. But we had never really spoken about it again and they had never seen the memorial site. I shared my perspective on 9/11, told them about my experiences that day, and how I came to stand pretty much exactly where the memorial is now located.

The site of the memorial contains a “contemplative memorial space,” 153 memorial names on embedded stone markers, and a 9-foot long granite memorial stone with the following inscription:

“The citizens of Connecticut dedicate this living memorial to the thousands of innocent lives lost on September 11, 2001 and to the families who loved them.”

 

The market’s response to 9/11

Financial markets did not open for trading after the attacks on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. They remained closed until September 17.

I lived through some of the chaos of those days, as the American Stock Exchange and many Wall Street firms and institutions grappled with the impairment or destruction of facilities, security and safety concerns for the entire area, and the loss of many employees for some firms.

When the markets did reopen, according to statistics from Investopedia

• “On the first day of NYSE trading after Sept. 11, the Dow Jones fell 684 points, a 7.1% decline, setting a record at the time for the biggest loss in the exchange's history for one trading day.

• “The close of trading that Friday ended a week that saw the biggest losses in NYSE history.

• “The Dow Jones Average was down more than 14%, the S&P 500 Index plunged 11.6%, and the Nasdaq dropped 16%. An estimated $1.4 trillion in value was lost during this period. …

• “Gold prices leapt nearly 6% to $287 per ounce, reflecting the uncertainty and flight to safety of nervous investors.”

Overall, the markets recovered most of those losses by December, Barron’s pointed out in this week’s edition, thanks, in part, to the Federal Reserve’s response. However, some industries, including airlines and insurance companies, suffered massive longer-term losses.

From an investment perspective, however, it should also be remembered that 9/11 occurred in the middle of a fierce bear market, with the S&P 500 seeing a drawdown of over 49% from March 2000 to October 2002—with a further downturn coming from November 2002 to March 2003.

9/11 was really, then, a black swan event in an already structurally weak market environment. In many ways, it reinforced for investors—after the largely idyllic 1990s—the importance of risk management at all times.

***

The financial-services industry was hit disproportionately hard by the events of 9/11, both in terms of lives lost and economic and physical damage.

Of course, the loss of life is what is most tragic. According to statistics from New York Magazine, a startlingly high 20% of Americans knew someone who was hurt or killed in the attacks.

It is little wonder that the feelings of grief and unity ran so high in the days and months that followed.

Although, to paraphrase a quote from Barron’s, a sense of complacency and invulnerability was perhaps forever punctured that day, Americans again demonstrated a spirit of undeniable resiliency during this unforgettable time in our nation’s history.



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