Jay reminded me:
23 years ago, Janurary 28th, 1986
I was in the lunchroom at Deerwood elementary school in East Orlando approximately 45 miles from the launch complex. Within seconds of the breakup, myself along with hundreds of other students were outside watching the debris falling to earth.
I can still remember crying and not knowing why... I still have an autographed 45 record of a song recorded the week of the disaster with a song named "Challenger."
Years later, I was on the playground at Union Park Elementary in Orlando, also about 40 miles from the launch complex, when the space shuttle missions resumed. I can still remember other children screaming "Blow up! Blow up!" and thinking how horrible and mean those kids were.
Several years later, I was able to visit Arlington National Cemetery and see the graves of the astronauts. Only the grave of Kennedy had more solemn meaning for me.
To this day, I can still hear the voice of Michael Smith saying "Uh oh"... And I remember the numerous local news stories of people finding debris washing up on Cocoa Beach.
Like you, I did not experience anything this monumentally life changing until 9/11/01... A year and a half later, I was again ripped apart when the Columbia disintegrated on reentry. The helplessness of being a bystander to tragic history is only drowned out when you realize that the event you are watching was not just an accident but was deliberate... Perhaps that is why Challenger and Columbia make me sad and 9/11 makes me seethe in anger.
The most emotional thing about the whole Challenger incident was the words of Reagan that night... It brings tears to my eyes every time:
"We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth' to 'touch the face of God."