Op-Ed: When did the 9/11 healing start? With a soaring trumpet solo at the 2001 World Series
Jesse McGuire stands alone, surrounded by 50,000 silent spectators. It’s Game 7 of the 2001 World Series in Phoenix.
A former lead trumpeter for the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and now an ordained minister, McGuire licks his lips and makes the sign of the cross. His first notes descend a C Major chord, a simple introduction we all recognize.
But this national anthem is different. It is less than two months after Sept. 11. The Sept. 11.
When I lecture on the terrorist attacks in my American history classes, my students watch McGuire’s rendition of the national anthem on Nov. 4, 2001. I suggest that his performance — and the entire World Series — was one of the first times since that horrific day that the nation really came together.
To understand that moment, students first must feel the vulnerability that surprised us all that fateful morning. I tell them how I woke up to the phone ringing and my dad saying, “You’ve got to turn on the TV. It’s like we’re under attack.” His voice, always a steady source of support, suddenly warbles. Alone, I watch the towers collapse. I see the gray ash everywhere. And the jumpers. My god, the jumpers.
Students need to feel the warbling of American history. They need to experience the shock, the collapse, the searching, and only then the rise. After all, what is patriotism without having experienced vulnerability? What is history without critique?
As a former trumpet player, I feel the lift, the inspiration, that McGuire’s solo offers. Trumpets have heralded kings and toppled cities. In this national anthem, in Phoenix in 2001, the lone musician takes flight. He plays near the pitcher’s mound and points his bell toward center field. Something sparkles in the opening lines. It’s his tone: thick, pure, dizzy with vibrato. He delivers a melodic run o’er the ramparts.
In this game, the 2001 Diamondbacks, then a relatively new expansion team, face the Yankees, one of the most storied clubs in baseball history. At the end of the regular season, the Yanks had worn caps labeled “NYPD” and “NYFD.” Arizona fans cheer for the home team, but everyone, on some level, is rooting for New York.
Comparing that moment then to our pandemic reality now, I long for the unity. After 9/11, we were united in going after the culprits, however imperfectly. Today, more than 645,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19, more than the lives lost in the Civil War, more than 200 times the deaths on 9/11. We know the cause, yet we cannot unite.
Since 9-1-1, familiar phrases are being stretched as they are given fresh meaning.
What might have happened in 2001 if, having identified Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda as the perpetrators, half our country had refused to protect ourselves, to retaliate or to believe in the efficacy of bullets and bombs?
We need a moment like the one McGuire’s anthem inspires.
His trumpet bursts with power. Fireworks are launched over the outfield, and the specter of distant battles rises into the night. Explosions echo bombs of the past. Sensitive to sudden noises in crowded places, many wince at the sound.
Then cheers become audible. McGuire deviates from the traditional melody to take the anthem an octave higher. He is defiant: that our flag was still there! Sound waves shoot outward, like twin towers of light into the nighttime sky.
Until last year, the idea of an imminent national threat was lost on my students. Now, because of COVID, they can relate. They respond to artwork such as Eric Fischl’s “Tumbling Woman,” a sculptural ode to those who jumped, connecting it to the helplessness felt in the early days of the pandemic, when little was known.
But rallying behind a president feels foreign to them.
Knowing this, I play a clip of President George W. Bush’s “bullhorn speech” of Sept. 14, 2001, when he famously told rescue workers, “I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! … And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” In response, the workers chanted, “USA! USA! USA!”
COVID America has no such chant. Not yet. Voices here and there struggle to coalesce.
McGuire’s anthem started as silent reverie but now rumbles with emotion. As he plays, a B-2 bomber thunders past the stadium, imposing its power. Thousands of fans roar when he glides to a double-high G, soaring in the stratosphere o’er the land of the free.
Cries of delight erupt as McGuire concludes with the home of the brave. “Yes!” he yells, his chest thrust outward. He pumps a fist and his trumpet in the air. Nearly 50,000 in the stadium celebrate, some through tears. It is Game 7, and America is back.
In the classroom, whenever I play the national anthem video and speak of 9/11, many students seem genuinely moved by McGuire’s performance, by the notion of a vulnerable nation, by the unity of purpose. Some students faithfully wear their masks. Others refuse.
Andrew Offenburger is an associate professor of history at Miami University.
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