There comes a time in every great nation's history that requires people to become united in order to get through a monumental event of pain and loss.

Like many of you, I remember exactly what I was doing Sept. 11, 2001 when an act of unspeakable horror was unleashed by the terror group Al-Qaeda on American soil.

I was driving my car to the Nueces County Courthouse in order to handle a legal matter that was a first for me. To this day, I have never been in trouble with the law again, except for some traffic tickets that cost me a pretty penny to pay off.

On my way to the courthouse, I had my radio on C-101, which used to be my source for rock music before I was able to get my hands on an iPod years later. One of the station's disc jockeys then mentioned that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.

I found that announcement to be pretty suspicious, since I could not believe a trained pilot would make such a huge and fatal error. That did not stop me from hoping I was wrong.

The disc jockey came back on minutes later and said a second plane had crashed into the second tower of the World Trade Center. That announcement settled it for me, as well as for countless others who were listening to that broadcast.

By the time I made it into the courthouse, the buzz was already circulating with the speed of a wildfire. You could feel the fear as well as an almost shocking sense of disbelief in the air - something big was happening, and it was going to change lives.

I made my way into the designated room to fill out my paperwork, and a television was showing two large structures in New York City with smoke billowing out of the sides of each building. A replay kept showing the seemingly deliberate impact of both planes while newscasters struggled to explain what was going on.

Then a picture of the Pentagon appeared and the building was emitting smoke from within. The symbolic heart of our nation's defense had been attacked as well.

Many in the room I was in started to cry out or express their feelings with anger and hostility toward the unknown attackers.

I was digging around in my head for who could have been behind it all. I remembered an attack that had occurred years earlier on the World Trade Center by Al-Qaeda that had failed to do significant damage, and I was certain the group had a role in what I was witnessing.

By the time I got to work, which for me was as a cashier at a Coastal Maverick Market, the gas pumps were packed. Perfect strangers were inside speculating and talking to one another, some saying the draft would be coming back so the nation could go to war, others saying the attack was going to lead the nation into a recession.

As I stepped behind the counter to wait on my day's first customer, I realized that I had walked into a different reality. I had gone to bed the night before in a relatively normal world. After Sept. 11, nothing would ever be the same.

Tim Olmeda is the news editor for the Nueces County Record Star. Readers may contact him via e-mail at news@recordstar.com.