[This is the title of a moving and perceptive article published today on the website of The Daily Orange, the newspaper of Syracuse University, thirty-five of whose students died aboard Pan Am 103. It consists in part of the memories of the disaster and its aftermath of a young police officer whose son is this year one of Syracuse’s Lockerbie Scholars. The following are brief extracts:]
For Colin Dorrance, Dec 21, 1988, was supposed to be a night off. Then 18 years old, he had recently joined the police force and was driving to a Christmas party at home in Lockerbie. (...)
Then he saw the explosion. It burst behind a line of trees, silhouetting them in the darkness.
He thought a truck with a chemical load had crashed. Others thought it might have been a low-flying military plane, practicing a drill that went wrong. Yet he and other the Lockerbie residents soon realized this was no ordinary explosion. (...)
In the 29 years since the disaster, Lockerbie residents like Dorrance and neighbors rebuilt and repaired the damage from the plane crash that catapulted their town into the international spotlight. The bomb wasn’t meant to explode over Lockerbie, said John Gair, a long-time Lockerbie resident and chairman of the Dryfesdale Lodge Visitors’ Centre Trust, differentiating it from the sites of other deadly attacks, like 9/11 and the recent Las Vegas concert shooting.
Other than the five memorials around town, there are few reminders of the tragedy. No plaques or signs mark many of the wreckage locations, like the grassy fields at Tundergarth Church, where the plane’s nose cone landed.
The destruction varied. In Sherwood Crescent, where all the Lockerbie residents were killed, wreckage blasted a 26-foot deep crater in the ground. It destroyed some bungalows and set fire to others, yet some buildings suffered as little as one cracked window. The parents of one man whom Dorrance went to high school with still live in the same, unchanged bungalow today, Dorrance said.
Only different brickwork, an updated main road and a memorial for the Sherwood Crescent victims hint at more.
Residents say people from the United States and Scotland grieve differently: those from the U.S. do so publicly and the Scottish more privately.
“We don’t talk about things like that. The town … I have to warn people that come here, it’s not a disaster theme park. It’s not as if everyone is in on the plot, and we all know it, inside out,” Dorrance said.
For the month following the crash, Dorrance worked night shifts in Lockerbie. He left in January 1989 to go back to his regular duties in another town. He separated himself from his memories of the plane crash and only began to revisit them when his daughter, Claire, was chosen to study at Syracuse University as a Lockerbie Scholar. His son, Andrew, is a current Lockerbie Scholar.
“The sheer scale of it was new to everybody. The guys who were nearly retired had never seen anything like it, never mind someone who was just fresh to it, and in a way there was a bit of an advantage of being an 18-year-old because you’re young, free and single,” Dorrance said. “If I was to go into the same situation now, as a married father with two kids who had been the same age as many of the students, I think I would find it harder to deal with emotionally.”
Much of the physical landscape untouched by damage remains virtually unchanged. The High Street is still mostly the same as it was in the 1980s, Dorrance said. Lockerbie’s agricultural industry is still prolific. Buildings like the town hall and ice rink, which were temporarily used as mortuaries, were quietly converted back into their original purposes. (...)
David Wilson, treasurer of the Dryfesdale Lodge Visitors’ Center Trust and resident of Lockerbie since 1966, said people aren’t necessarily passing down their memories of the crash.
“There is something in the Scottish culture, that you dust yourself down and you know the sun is going to rise whether you want it to or not, so you might as well get on with it,” Wilson said. “I think there was a general sort of stiffening of the spine.” (...)
Some of Lockerbie’s finest hours were after the plane crash, Dorrance said. For weeks, people rallied together in the early mornings, providing soup and coffee for workers and washing the luggage and clothes of victims to return to families for free.
Today, the plane crash is no longer current affairs, but part of the town’s history. Often, Lockerbie residents share jokes or laugh when discussing Pan Am Flight 103, but it’s not out of disrespect, Dorrance insists, which can be hard for outsiders to understand. For a town forced to live with the aftermath forever, it’s a way to move on.
“It’s life unfortunately. It’s something you have to get on with. It’s not disrespectful to those who died — they wouldn’t want that either,” Dorrance said. “But it just leads to these really surreal, weird kind of situations. And you do, you look back at it and laugh, because it’s either that or you cry.”
[RB: My own recollections of the disaster and its aftermath, which match surprisingly closely Colin Dorrance’s, can be found in the foreword that I wrote to Jill Haldane’s An’ Then the World Came Tae Oor Doorstep: Lockerbie Lives and Stories.]