Employee reflects on 9/11
One Wapakoneta Daily News employee witnessed the Sept. 11 attacks from an entirely different point of view — from a city in southern France.
Reflecting on the events of that day, she says her faith in God helped her through those events. She was an American in a foreign land.
While flipping through the pages of her journal she kept while overseas, the 32-year-old tucks her short brown hair behind her ears as she looks back through her handwriting as she remembers the vivid, life changing time in American history.
Advertising designer Diana Blackford remembers 9/11 as a time when she was huddled in an apartment living room with five friends watching the attacks as they unfolded in Aix en Provence, France.
“I was worried about my safety a little bit, by being out of a comfortable environment in a different culture,” Blackford said. “I was trusting God to protect me.”
In August of that year, just weeks before the attacks, Blackford and five other students from Ohio University traveled to France for one year to be missionaries at a college in France.
She was there through the Campus Crusade for Christ student ministry through Ohio University. She was 22-years-old and a recent Ohio University graduate and was on a journey to a different country to build relationships with French students and share the gospel with them — but little did she know that the 9/11 attacks would have a huge impact on her trip.
While in France, Blackford took language classes during the day. On Sept. 11, she decided to check her e-mail after class, in which she received a very important and alarming message from a college friend at home.
“I had just gotten done with classes for the day and I got an e-mail from a college friend that said you need to start praying because a plane just hit the World Trade Center,” Blackford said. “I went to a news website that said the same thing.”
After a trip to the computer lab, she began walking back to her apartment and saw a crowd of people huddled around a television at a local cafe.
Blackford said that many people were crowded around the televisions and shouting.
“I got this worse and worse feeling in my stomach on my walk back,” Blackford said, as she continued to walk to her living quarters.
When she arrived to the apartment she was staying in at Aix en Provence, France, she tried to watch television, but she was unable to get signal.
With France being six hours ahead of the United States, Blackford heard about the news in the afternoon, as it was happening in the morning in the United States.
She had plans with the other members of her Campus Crusade STINT (Short Term International) team to have dinner that night, but instead, the group ended up watching CNN in one of the other teammate’s room, who was able to acquire signal.
“I went to one of the guy’s room, and he had CNN on, and we all sat around and watched it on TV all night,” the Sidney resident said.
Blackford was watching the live coverage all evening, as Americans were watching it during the afternoon.
Blackford said the 9/11 events were very shocking and that she felt removed from it since she was in another country.
“That night we called our parents to let them know we were OK,” Blackford said.
Blackford’s family is from Fleetwood, Pa., but the plane crash near Shanksville, Pa. was on the other side of the state, and she said she knew that they would be safe since the attack was very far from her hometown.
In her Sept. 11, 2001 journal entry, Blackford said she had written that one of the guys on her team said that he was scared of what may happen next, with the repercussions.
“We talked about it as a team that Americans overseas could be targets,” Blackford said. “It made me feel vulnerable.”
Blackford mentioned that she is a worrier by nature and that day she was worried about what may happen next.
“I felt disbelief and shock and I was wondering what’s going to happen next,” Blackford said.
On Sept. 12 the group was scheduled to fly to Germany for a conference, but did not end up going.
“Instead, we went back to our language classes,” Blackford said.
Blackford had purchased a French newspaper on Sept. 12, 2001, and said it was all printed in French, but there was a photo that struck her attention, which was of the people who were jumping out of the buildings in New York City.
“It made me feel sick,” Blackford said.
On that Saturday, four days after the 9/11 attacks, Blackford and her team were invited to participate in a memorial service in France.
“It was a beautiful service, and the church was full,” Blackford said, remembering the day.
Blackford and her team were invited to lead the singing of two of the songs that were sung during the service.
The language school, in which Blackford attended in France, was taught by French teachers and they issued a statement after the 9/11 attacks to their American students.
“It said how sorry they were it happened, that they are standing by Americans and that it was a tragedy to the whole Western world,” Blackford said. “They were very supportive.”
Shortly after the attacks, Blackford and her team moved to a college campus in Marseille, where they would stay the rest of their duration.
“It was right on the Southern border, and there was a big population of Northern African Muslims that lived there,” Blackford said.
Blackford and her team went into the city to continue their lessons, but on Oct. 8 classes were canceled.
“We still went into the city to take French lessons, but on Oct. 8, classes were canceled because Muslims were rioting in the city, and it would be obvious to people that we were Americans,” Blackford said.
This happened shortly after the U.S. bombed Afghanistan.
Blackford noted that she was scared when this happened.
Just a few days later, Blackford was scheduled to fly home for her sister’s wedding on Oct. 11.
“I was a little scared flying,” Blackford said. “When our plane landed, everyone on the plane applauded.”
With this being the first time back in the United States after 9/11, Blackford made an observation during the drive back to her house.
“I couldn’t believe how many American flags there were all over the place,” Blackford said.
While at home, Blackford caught up on news coverage on the event since she did not have access to a television when her team made the move to the college campus on Oct. 1.
“It was weird to me that they were still having new conferences and had a color coded threat level in place,” Blackford said. “I remember feeling unsettled at home with the news conferences and threat level, because it wasn’t like that before I left.”
Blackford noted that in France, news coverage on the event was not as prominent as it was in the United States, and since her team no longer had access to televisions, it was harder to keep up with the aftermath of the attacks.
“When I went home I noticed how much coverage there is,” Blackford said. “I would have liked to stay up to date with it during the stay. I felt disconnected not knowing what was going on.”
During the time of the attacks and after, Blackford said she depended on God to get her through this time.
“I read a Psalm during that time for comfort and to remember that God is in control,” Blackford said.
Blackford returned home in July 2002, after her year-long stay in France.
“I was happy to be home,” Blackford said. “It was a hard year being away from everything I knew.”