Sunday, September 11, 2011


Everyone has a 9/11 story, and everyone remembers where they were when they heard about it. The sight of first one tower, then the other, falling down in some parody of a planned demolition is seared in my memory.

I lived and worked in New Jersey and New York City until 1990, when I moved to Florida. On September 11, 2001, I was at work in Vero Beach when my sister called to see if I had heard that a plane hit one of the World Trade Center buildings. She worked from home and saw it on the television. Cable was available on the television in the break room of our building and I immediately went down to see what happened.

It was horrifying enough to see the first building burn; that first strike was the beginning of the end of our innocence, or maybe naiveté, about terrorism. The first strike was thought initially to be perhaps some random, tragic accident. The second airplane hitting into the second tower let us know we were under attack. The news that a plane had hit the Pentagon removed any doubt, and then there was the report about a fourth plane. Was it heading for another target in DC, perhaps the White House? Was it going somewhere else? Did the plane crash? Were people on that downed plane responsible for foiling would-be hijackers? Yes. No. Yes. Yes.

The technology of the day, specifically cell phones and email, were the bearers of bad news almost as it happened. On that fourth plane, as passengers heard about the three buildings already damaged by planes, they realized their plane was intended to become another such weapon. Taking control, realizing they were going to die anyway, several of the passengers overwhelmed the hijackers and forced the plane down into a field where no other people would be harmed. But that all came out later.

The initial news was sketchy and anecdotal, from people on the ground or in buildings with an eye-line to the burning World Trade Towers. My cousin worked for Morgan Stanley in Connecticut; since Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant in the World Trade Towers at that time, I called his office to make sure he wasn't in a meeting in Manhattan. He wasn’t, although he had been the previous Thursday and Friday.

My uncle worked in lower Manhattan, and I called his office. His secretary answered, and she said my uncle was on the phone. I told her she didn’t need to interrupt him, I was just checking to make sure that he was safe and she could let him know I called. She said they all were safe; later, talking to my uncle, he said the impact of the planes hitting the towers felt like an earthquake. At some point, the buildings in lower Manhattan were put on lockdown until authorities could determine if there was further danger and from what quarter. Later in the day, they were released from the lockdown and allowed to make their way home as best they could. Public transportation was not available in that area; my uncle walked up the FDR Drive to his condo on the Upper East Side. My aunt was safely out of town visiting her sister in the Midwest.

Reassured that family members who might have been in that area were safe, I called my sister to let her know. From that point she was fielding calls from various family members. She talked to my cousin and was able to tell him that while I hadn’t talked to my uncle, I had talked to his secretary and she said they were all right. My cousin could not get through to my uncle’s office because by the time he called the phone lines were jammed and all circuits were busy.

My father and stepmother were driving from Michigan back home to North Carolina after taking care of my stepmother’s parent’s estate. Her father had died several years before, but her mother died in August. They spent several weeks in Michigan wrapping things up and getting the house ready to sell, and told my sister they would be coming home that Tuesday. Following form, they got an early start. My father did not embrace technology: they had a cell phone for emergencies only, none of us had that number, and they kept it turned off in the trunk of the car. They stopped somewhere along the way for gas and food, which is when they heard about the attacks. At that point my father did not know whether his brother, my uncle, was safe. The ensuing long hours of travel were filled with fear and uncertainty. My father called my sister when they arrived home, and my sister called me. I asked if he knew his brother was safe, and she called him back to make sure he did know.

While still at work that morning, someone in another office looked up the FAA website that showed the airplanes in the air. It was eerie, and somehow chilling, to see the air traffic diminish and then end. We knew by then all airplanes were being grounded at whatever airport was closest. Vero Beach has a small airport, and the noise from the planes taking off and landing was always in the background. The quiet as that traffic stopped was noticeable; what shocked was the sound of a lone jet flying low in the area during what was supposed to be a flight lockdown. The only one making what until then had been a normal, benign sound, everyone who heard it looked to see where and what it was. I don’t know if we knew at that point some of the hijackers had trained at Flight Safety here in Vero. If we didn’t, we still were jumpy about any unusual flight activity.

There were many stories of heroism and loss that day and in the days that followed. 2,977 people died, but the impact and ramifications stretched out to everyone within reach of a radio or television set.

When I think of 9/11, the lingering memory I have is about someone I didn’t know but was told about. There is a train station in Branchburg, New Jersey, close to where my family lived at one time. On the morning of 9/11, the parking lot held the usual collection of cars left by commuters taking the train into New York City. As the week wore on one car remained in the parking lot, gradually gathering dust as it became evident the owner was never coming back.

1 comment:

  1. As I prepare to lay my head down tonight I think of all of those that have given me the privilege of doing so in freedom. To my father and brothers who served our country in the military, to my friends in my community that are our "First Responders" that keep us safe. Thank You, Be Safe and Good Night. I Love You Linda.