Tuesday, November 26, 2013

September 11th from my point of view

     This week was the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination and it made me think, that while I wasn't around for that day in our history, I was for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and thought I would share my story of that day.

     I wasn't traveling that day, I had a trip planned for later that week but I was already up and working in my home office, at my desk when it all went down.  It was an atypical Tuesday morning for me.  I kept a small black and white TV with rabbit ears on the left side credenza of my desk, behind me, and I'd turn on the Today show in the mornings while I worked and if something peaked my interest, I'd swivel my chair around to watch the segment.  We hadn't built the Garaj-Mahal yet,
How I started to watch the coverage that day
so my office was in an upper room of our house where my son Nolan now sleeps.  I normally turned the TV off after the first half hour, but strangely, that morning I hadn't gotten around to it yet.  The Today Show was getting close to the finish, when Katie Couric got the initial word of a fire or some event at the World Trade Center, and I swiveled my chair around to watch.  The information was spotty at first, in fact the first eyewitness that called the Today show had identified the fire and explosion in the North Tower, but had no idea it was a plane strike, as she was on the side opposite of where the plane hit.  I had a sense of the enormity of the moment, so I walked downstairs to turn the regular TV on and called for my wife to join me.  She worked from home at that time. We watched together as the 2nd plane hit the South Tower, it was a little after 9, and we wouldn't leave our positions in front of the TV for hours after that.  I've never been one to worry about terrorism, because if you understand it, to have a fear of something like this happening, gives
Katie and Matt that morning
the power to the terrorists, so even after the 2nd plane hit, I was thinking that it must be a computer malfunction that may have been affecting the flight computers, I never once thought of a hijacking.  Call it naive of me, but it had never happened prior to that point, and when my wife asked me later about being afraid of flying, I told her that I'd be far safer from that point on,  that we would never be caught that unaware again.  It's been 12 years since that day, and no matter what I'm doing on a plane, whenever anyone now gets up to use the bathroom, or to stretch their legs, I pay attention to what they are doing.

     After the 2nd plane struck, Matt Lauer and then Al Roker started to piece together the unlikelihood of 2 planes striking the adjacent towers within minutes of each other, Matt used the word "deliberate" and Al questioned the odds of two separate strikes from 2 planes on different towers.  I was still wrapping my head around the idea of this happening, much less who would want to do something like this, hours and then even days later.  My wife and I watched the coverage, glued
Just prior to the 2nd strike
to the set like never before in our lives.  I answered a few calls on my office line, one from my secretary in Georgia, who knew that I traveled frequently to NYC and was checking on my well being, but I barely left that room that morning.   I worked for Mrs. Smith's Bakeries at that time.  We were still watching when the initial report of the Pentagon strike happened and once again, it was first described and thought to be a bomb detonation by the on-air correspondent for NBC.  It was not long after that when the first tower fell.  It took several minutes for the anchors to realize the tower had fallen and just prior to that happening Tom Brokaw had speculated that the damage that the buildings had suffered would likely mean that they would have to be taken down.  He couldn't have know that within 20 minutes of making that statement, both towers would collapse.  They were concentrating on reports of another plane heading towards the Pentagon when we saw the collapse of the 2nd tower live.  We were praying that the first responders that were sure to have been
A first responder that morning
on site, had gotten out, but as we now know, many hadn't, in fact nearly 400 firemen, police officers, port authority and EMT's would perish in those collapses.  I was an active volunteer fireman then, so I could relate, if only a little, with the actions of those who rushed in, while others rushed out.  The rest of that day remains fuzzy to me and I recall kind of sleepwalking through it, and then capping it with the President's address that evening.   We both went to bed that night realizing that our world would never be the same again.  The following morning we tried to get back into our routines and over time we did manage to do just that.

     I had booked my company into a frozen food show in NJ for the end of that week, and for days I awaited word of whether it was going to be held or not.  They decided not to cancel, so within a few days of the attack, I found myself getting on a plane and headed towards NYC.  My flight was booked into Newark airport.  I honestly don't remember the security procedures that I went through when I arrived at the airport, but I was struck by how empty it was.  There were only 3 of us on the
The monorail at Newark Airport
plane out.  We all took window seats so that we could observe the devastation and when we approached we could see the piles still burning and smoldering.  When we landed, the side of the tarmac was littered by planes, some still grounded and I think a lot were international flights.  You never really realize how many planes are up in the air at any given moment, that is, until you see them sitting at an airport like I saw that morning.   There is a study out that there suggests that the US saw a 2 degree rise in average temperatures on the 3 days following 9/11 that flights were grounded due to the lack of jet contrails.  Contrails provide a mirror like effect and reflect the sun's heat, and there were none over the US during that period.  When I got my bag and got on the monorail at Newark, I was literally the only person on it.  There was a miniseries that had aired about 5 years prior that was based on Stephen King's "The Langoliers".  The premise was that 10 passengers on a plane get a little
A wall of Missing posters
out of sync with the current timeline and return to world void of people.  That's what Newark Airport looked like, to me, that morning.  I made my way to the show and spent my day tossing a roll of paper towels back and forth down and empty aisle with a paper sales rep because virtually no one showed up for it.  I stayed in Hoboken NJ that evening and as I took my walk around that town,  I was struck by all the homemade posters and handbills that identified people's missing loved ones that were plastered to every bit of available fence, post, or wall space.  I was saddened by the desperation that those people were feeling, truly not knowing if their loved ones were lost, missing, injured or deceased, and for some of those people, answers were months in coming.  I was the sole passenger on my return flight home.

     Now 12 years later, I cannot say that I'm reminded of 9/11 daily, however, I am reminded every time I book or take a trip.  I smile as I go through security at the airports and remember to thank the TSA agents for helping to keep me safe.  It's weird how often the subject of 9/11 and traveling comes up and I've heard a lot of stranger's stories of traveling that day, and they have heard mine.  My peers at my current job were in Dallas that day attending a corporate meeting and like a lot of business travelers were forced to rent cars and drive back to their homes that week.  Those vans and cars full of people crisscrossed the country in the days following 9/11 on serpentine paths dropping salespeople off as they went along.  Many people
were afraid to fly in the months following 9/11, and in a truly ironic twist of fate, auto fatalities increased by about 1,600 people that year due largely to the increase in auto travel.  My family had planned a Disney World vacation that December and we decided to keep our plans.  We were able to see as much as we wanted to during our 3 days there that year since the parks had record lows for attendance.    I vowed simply to never let terrorists win by making me afraid of living my life.  I understand that there is risk in riding on buses and trains and going to malls and stadiums and people in some countries have experienced issues with these for a long time now.  I'm no longer naive enough to believe that we are insulated from these possibilities, but it won't stop me from going on them or in them.  I'll close with this last thought on 9/11, it was historically the most significant day in my lifetime and I pray every day that it remains just that.   



Anne Mascal said...


Paul Yarger said...

As you remember we lived in Howell NJ at the time. I was up and getting ready to head into NYC for an interview with John Hewitt, president of Jackson Hewitt tax service, but checked my computers before I left and saw the initial reports, then turned on the TV in time to watch the 2nd tower hit. Needless to say I never made that interview. We lived close enough that ash drifted to our area, and several of our neighbors and friends had loved ones that perished that day. I have been back to ground zero a number of times to see the progress on the new tower and always pause a moment in the busy city to remember those who were lost on 9/11.

Anonymous said...

I second Anne's comment of Amen.
I know of people who were supposed to have been in one of the towers and on one of the planes, but were not do to certain "stange reasons". They now see those reasons as Gods intervention.

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