Our eyes opened: Buck O'Neil writes about being a citizen after Sept. 11, 2001

You know how you watch television. With one eye. That's how I was watching television that day. I was doing this and that, glancing at the TV every so often, and that's when I saw a plane flying along. I saw it hit a building.

And I said, "Oh, my God."I have seen that plane hit that building many times since that day. And every time I have had that same thought. "Oh, my God." This was something so terrible that even now, a year later, I can't believe my eyes. I've seen terrible things. I've seen the worst kind of racism. I've seen people I love die. I've seen kids kill kids in schools. I fought in World War II.But this is something else. A soldier shoots at soldiers. That's war. But a man who is willing to fly a plane into a building, all so he can kill thousands of innocent people ... well, I'm 90 years old. I never believed I would live long enough to see that kind of evil.America was asleep. We were all sleeping. We had seen these kinds of men before with bombs tied to their bodies, killing people in Israel and Ireland and other places. These men were heroes to their people. They were martyrs to their families. Their mothers and fathers were proud of them for killing, you understand? We all knew what was happening over there.But that was over there. We thought it would always be over there. We were fast asleep. And what happened? We took these murderers in. We taught them how to fly. We are such a trusting country. Yes, you can see how it happened.It's a little different now. Our eyes are open. You go to the airport, they do those body searches. I was in Dallas a couple of weeks ago, and the guard made me take off my shoes. I was just glad I didn't have any holes in my socks. A few minutes later we were boarding the plane, and the guard was the same man. And he asked me to take off my shoes again.I said to him, "I don't know what it is you think I could have put in my shoes in the last 10 minutes."He laughed. He said he was just doing his job.New York is different. There is no place like New York. The man next to you is from England, he sounds like the Duke of York, you know what I mean? And the woman next to him is speaking Italian. The man next to her is talking Swahili. And the child next to him is talking Japanese. You know what I'm saying? The whole world is there. One place.That's why I always loved going to New York. You can get anything you want in New York. But you better have money, right? The city's always jumping. There are so many different people. So many different sounds and smells. Restaurants open all night. Lights flashing. People walk fast in New York, you know, because they got places to go. I heard Billie Holiday sing in Harlem. I walked in Times Square at midnight. I stood under the Empire State Building. Yeah. You're in New York, you know you're somewhere, man.They got Paris.They got London.They got Tokyo.But we've got New York. Our city.And from every part of New York City, you could see those two towers. You could see them flying into New Jersey. You could see them from across the river. Those towers meant something. Those towers stood for New York, our city, our melting pot. That's why the terrorists hit them. They knew what they were doing. It was a punch to our stomach. It was like they grabbed our heart.I haven't been to New York since the September 11. I don't know if I'll go back. I hope so. And when I go, I just don't know what it will feel like to fly into New York, look through the window and see that terrible void where the towers used to stand. Empty, I suppose.One thing about it is, the attacks brought us together. For a little while there after September 11, it didn't matter if you were a Democrat or a Republican. Yeah. It didn't matter if you were white or black. Yeah. We were Americans. We gave blood. We gave money. We cried. We all cried.That's the America we can be. This is a wonderful country. That's why some people hate us. They hate us because we're wonderful. They hate us because we're strong. When the Egyptians were powerful, people hated them. When the Romans conquered the world, people hated them. It's our time now.These terrorists, they have a powerful hate. They don't drop bombs. No, they strap those bombs to their bodies. How are you going to stop that? They want to die if they can take a few of us with them. That's how much they want to kill. How are you going to stop that?The only way to stop it is to come together. That's what happened after September 11. People started to watch out for each other. Like brothers and sisters. I remember after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, how this whole country was united. But this was even stronger. You could feel it every day in every city. You saw American flags waving. You saw people willing to help. People remembered why they love this country.Now, it's gone back. You have Democrats and Republicans again. Some people want to go to war. Some don't. We're fighting with each other again. When I was a young man, I used to see the way hate ripped this country apart. A man would hate me just for the color of my skin. I didn't feel angry. I felt sorry for that man. I wanted to say to him "Don't you know how great America would be if we could all get along?"That's what I saw after September 11. We all got along.I wish we could hold on to that feeling.I don't really believe in an eye for an eye. But I do believe that we have to wipe out these organizations that teach hate. We must bring the murderers to justice. Otherwise, they will kill again. Murder is in their souls.Listen: They claim to kill in the name of God.That's not Christianity. That's not Judaism. That's not Islam. That's a religion of desperate, hungry and angry people. They figure they have nothing. So, they have nothing to lose.We do have to fight back. We owe that to our country. There is a lot of hate in this world. I wish we could fight hate with love all the time. I do. I love Martin Luther King Jr. I love Mahatma Gandhi. They fought hate with love. They changed the world peacefully. They were God's blessings.Then, both of them were killed.But I won't think about fighting this September 11. I won't think about revenge. I will think about all those people who were in those towers. They were not soldiers. They were innocent people at work. I will think about all those people in the Pentagon. I will think about all those people in the airplanes. So many people died. So many families were broken.And I will think about the everyday heroes. The firefighters climbing the buildings. The police officers pulling people from the rubble. The nurses taking blood. The doctors saving lives. Heroes were everywhere after September 11. They are everywhere now.A few weeks ago, I flew home with a couple of firefighters from New Jersey. We were talking about how little kids looked up to them. Back when I was young, every little boy wanted to be a ballplayer or a fireman. That was it. Ballplayer or fireman. Then that changed. Everybody forgot the firemen."Well," I said, "at least people look up to you again.""Yeah," one of them said back to me, "but I wish it had been under different circumstances."I wish so, too. Different circumstances. I have prayed many times about September 11. Some people ask, "How could God have let something like that happen." I don't know the answer to that. I may be 90, but God still doesn't let me in on his plans. All any of us can do is pray for the people who died and pray for the people left behind. I do believe God cried on September 11.Buck O'Neil was born John Jordan O'Neil in Carabelle, Fla., in 1911. He lives in Kansas City, where he is chairman of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.He began playing professional baseball in 1934 with a traveling black team called the Miami Giants. Four years later, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Leagues. He spent the next 18 years as a successful player and manager with the Monarchs.O'Neil then became a Major League scout, signing, among others, Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. In 1962 he joined the Chicago Cubs as the first black coach in Major League Baseball history. He has spent most of the years since then scouting for the Kansas City Royals and commemorating the many Negro Leagues players he feels have been forgotten.O'Neil received national acclaim for his turn in Ken Burns' "Baseball" documentary and for his autobiography "I Was Right On Time."