DECATUR — It can be difficult for people born too late to remember the events of Sept. 11, 2001 to picture how very different life was before that day 17 years ago.

For the freshmen in Michael Londos' geography class at LSA High School, and even for the teacher himself, who was in fourth grade in 2001, tight airport security, a cellphone in every pocket, and the potential for danger in their own backyard has always been there.

“We believed we were safe, because all the world's problems were on the other sides of the oceans,” Londos told students on Monday during the first half of a two-day lesson on 9/11.

Police and military presence at airports, train stations, landmarks and large events was minimal or absent. Airports let families walk each other right up to the gate and say goodbye. People had cell phones, but not everyone, and the phones really only made calls. They didn't access the internet. You couldn't take video with them.

9/11 changed how we view the world and the world's problems,” Londos said.

One realization that changed American life after 9/11, he said, is that standing armies and government backing are not necessary to mount an attack. The 19 terrorists learned to fly in American flight schools and blended in well enough not to arouse suspicions. 

Teacher Mike Londos begins a lesson on 9/11 in his geography class at LSA Monday. JIM BOWLING, HERALD & REVIEW

In August 2001, 65.4 million Americans flew on commercial flights — the highest number ever recorded, Londos said. After Sept. 11, people were fearful of flying and of being in skyscrapers, and commercial air travel dropped by about 20 percent.

At 9:08 a.m. Eastern time Sept. 11, all aircraft were routed away from New York City, and at 9:21 a.m., all tunnels and bridges in New York City were closed to vehicle traffic with only foot traffic allowed. At 9:42, for the first time in American history, all planes were grounded. The only plane allowed to fly was one delivering antivenin for a man in Florida who had been bitten by a venomous snake, and that plane was escorted by two fighter jets.

Freshman Alicia Elliott remembers seeing a film called “102 Minutes That Changed America” in a class last year, she said. It's stitched-together snippets from individuals' videos and news footage produced by the History Channel that shows the events of that day as they unfolded. The part that impressed her most, she said, was the video shot by people with their own cameras, from apartment windows or from the street.

Students Brandon Blakeman and Amari Lee take notes while studying 9/11 events in their geography class at LSA Monday. JIM BOWLING, HERALD & REVIEW

“You can hear their reactions,” she said.

It's important to remember that day, said fellow student Collin Mercado.

“I think everyone should learn about 9/11,” Collin said. “It's an awful experience that the United States had. We should all be aware of what happened.”

Londos said he is teaching all his classes, no matter the subject, about the events of 9/11. For the geography students, he's emphasizing how a country's location can affect its success.

“The United States, being where we're at, almost isolated from the other parts of the world, Asia and Europe, we've had somewhat of an advantage being away from all that,” he said. “9/11 changed how we view that. You realize someone can attack us anyway.”


From the Herald & Review archives: Sept. 11, 2001

Contact Valerie Wells at (217) 421-7982. Follow her on Twitter: @modgirlreporter