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Long-time KC journalist remembers nephew lost on 9/11 with new book

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Posted at 6:37 AM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 08:05:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One Kansas City journalist was trying to write about what the world was watching on Sept. 11, 2001.

During that daunting assignment, he got the news that changed his job and his life.

Now, 20 years later, he's written a book. It tells the story of his family's loss, but it also confronts the extremism at the heart of the attack.

Bill Tammeus' job the morning of September 11th was to put into words the feelings we were all experiencing, with our eyes glued to the television.

"The editors decided to publish the very first extra edition of The Star that had been published since I arrived there in 1970,” Tammeus said.

He was told to write the lead commentary, a literal hold-all-my-calls assignment.

The only call he took that morning, was from his wife.

"I got on the phone, and she says, 'Have you read your sister's email?'” Tammeus remembered. “And I said no. She said, ‘Do it,’ and she was gone. It took me a long time to get to the damn email, and when I got there, the subject line said very bad news. 'It looks like our son Karleton is on one of the planes.'"

Karleton Fyfe was 31 years old and Tammeus' nephew.

“It shattered my heart,” Tammeus said. “He and I were very close. I said, 'Oh my God, can I even finish the damn piece?' And I said, 'I have to.' As a columnist, you have to open your heart up and bleed for people. Make yourself vulnerable, and tell the truth, so I did."

Tammeus typed, "As I was hurriedly writing this piece, I learned from one of my sisters that her only son may have been on the hijacked flight...."

"I said whether it was my nephew or someone else's nephew, we have to remember who we are as Americans, and we have to respond in a compassionate and knowledgeable way, to bring justice to whoever did this murder," he recounted. "But also to react in a way that brings honor to us, and not violence and more shame."

Karleton, his family later confirmed, was on American Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center in New York City. He left behind his wife Haven, their toddler Jackson and a son he would never meet.

"Haven told Karleton on Sunday, before he left on Tuesday, that she was pregnant again,” Tammeus said. "I knew I was obligated to save everything I could about Karleton, but exactly why, I wasn't sure."

Tammeus has written several books, but his latest turned out to be the reason he was saving all those emails and thoughts.

It's called Love, Loss and Endurance: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety.

"The 20th anniversary seemed to be a time when it was right to look back and say, what did this do to our family, and what did it do to the country?," Tammeus explained. "And not only that but, how do people get drawn into extremism? And is there anything that you and I can do about that to unplug that?"

The extremism that brought so much pain on 9/11, and many other less infamous days, can start small. Tammeus' goal in the book is to identify those roots and help people avoid them.

“We are split from one another, and I find it terribly sad. There is no faith tradition that is not guilty of extremism at some point, in some time," Tammeus said.

This week, Tammeus and his family mark the 20th anniversary differently than many others. They're looking forward, not back, and hoping that more people will do the same.

“Had Karleton died in a car crash on September 8th, it would have been very hard, but every year he would not be on TV, showing his car crash into whatever the hell it was. And that's what they deal with it every year,” Tammeus said. “Don't make 9/11 special. Do something redemptive on it, and continue doing it on the 12th and the 13th and November 11th."

Tammeus maintains a regular blog, mostly focusing on faith and religion. You can find that online.

His new book is available for purchase on Amazon.