September 11, 2003

A day after the events of 9/11/2001, I recounted the event and wrote down my thoughts, as not to forget:

Amazing, the sense of perspective that you get when something so universally deplorable happens. What the heck were we bickering about a couple of days ago, a few accounting practices that might tap into the Social Security fund? Just 24 short hours ago, a little economic slump was the most horrible thing that we could imagine. What this country wouldn't give to have those comparatively petty problems this morning.

Around 9:00 AM yesterday, I was reading my e-mail at my desk when Forrest McDonald said that some plane had hit the World Trade Center. It wasn't said with any grand sense of tragedy, so I imagined a small passenger craft and an inexperienced pilot. A few minutes later, Melissa called me and said that a second plane had hit the other tower, and that they were hijacked commercial airliners. Everything was changed in my mind at that moment. No mere mechanical failure or simple airline crash now. And one crashed in each tower within fifteen minutes of each other! There was no doubt, it was an organized terrorist attack on the United States.

I hung up with Melissa to run to the cafeteria, where there was a television that was kept to CNN all the time. Half of the company was there already. I saw the video of the second plane coming into view of the already-burning North Tower, then swoop behind and crash headlong into the South Tower. It was a scene that Jerry Bruckheimer couldn't hope to produce in a dozen lifetimes. The horrible speed, the sight of a commercial airliner that had become the world's largest cruise missile crashing into the building, and almost out the other side. The silence in the room was only broken by hushed voices saying "Oh my God," and speaking hushed details into their cell phones. CNN played the tape over and over, and it got worse each time.

I returned to my cube, intent on getting some other information from the Internet. A few minutes later, Melissa called back and told me that there was an explosion at the Pentagon. I shut down my computer and returned to the cafeteria to watch. Then, around 10:00, the South Tower crumbled and disappeared in an all-engulfing cloud of dust and debris. No warning, the top just fell straight down and everything in between that and the ground was reduced to a cloud of concrete dust that covered most of Manhattan. They repeated the video again and again. Confirmed: The explosion at the Pentagon was another hijacked passenger jet, flown kamikaze into the main building. The plane penetrated the whole building, to the inner ring. We'd later find out that around 800 Military and civilian personnel were killed in the impact.

As I sat there in disbelief with the rest of the company, CNN was looping the tape of the collapsing South Tower. Then, suddenly, the North Tower followed suit, falling into itself and collapsing to the ground. Two of the world's tallest buildings, symbols of capitalism that had been there just 90 minutes ago, were no more. A haze of dust and debris settled over Manhattan Island.

There was no bomb, no device. Just terrorists that knew that two flights from Boston to L.A. would have enough fuel left, if hijacked in the first hour, to create an explosion that could take down a large building. Reports came in that there was a fourth plane that had just crashed near Pittsburgh, PA. Rumors began to spread. Melissa said that one news agency reported that an Islamic Extremist group was taking responsibility, and they said that it was not over. Some reports came in that there was a suspicious plane that was spotted over the White House (REALLY illegal airspace). The FAA, in a historic move, grounded all air traffic and closed all airports nationwide. All Incoming domestic flights were redirected to Canada. No one was going anywhere, but that was just fine with the nation, if it meant that another plane wasn't going to be hijacked. For some unexplained reason, the National Mall was on fire, but that was the last of the attacks.

I kept in constant contact with Melissa over my cell phone. When I heard about the plane crash near Pittsburgh, I instructed her to check the Caller ID and call My parents' Cell. My folks were on their annual Whirlwind tour of L.A., Pennsylvania and Georgia to visit Rob, Grandma and me. They didn't answer, so she called Grandma directly. They had no idea what was going on, they were quietly eating breakfast without the TV on. They were safe, nowhere near the plane crash. It was still up in the air if they'd be able to make the last leg of their trip to Georgia, with the country-wide Airport closings.

There was little time for relief when the news stopped coming and it seemed to be over. The silence just gave us time to fully absorb what had just happened. This was a coordinated terrorist attack on the United States, on a scale that we'd never imagined. There was an estimated 20,000 people that work and visit the World Trade center every day around 9:00. There was some time to evacuate the buildings, but not much. So as many as 1,500 may have been killed in the buildings themselves, not counting the people on the street or nearby buildings that were crushed by falling debris or suffocated in the concrete dust. To add insult to injury, nearly 230 Paramedics and Police Officers were in the towers, trying to save the victims of the impact, when the towers collapsed on themselves.

Also, these planes must have been flown by the hijackers themselves, because no pilot would willingly kill not only his passengers, but thousands of others, by flying into the World Trade Center. This meant that the hijackers were skilled pilots. These were Boeing 767's we're talking about, not just any old Piper Saratoga that any Tom Dick & Harry could learn to fly. And these pilots were very good. The plane that struck the Pentagon flew in low along the roadway, keeping a level altitude of no more than 50 feet, snapping light posts on the wings as it went. To have that much control over a hulking plane like that takes years of training.

Steve, my current manager, gave us the word that we could go home if we wished. Melissa was in really bad shape, and I felt horrible. There was going to be no work done today. As I passed over the Buford Dam, Park Rangers had sealed off all guest areas and there were eight Ranger and police vehicles protecting the Hydroelectric plant on the Dam. I got home, had a brief lunch, and was glued to CNN.

Later that night, reports came over the Internet that gas prices were quickly rising, even doubling in some areas. I had to retire to the computer for some solace. I just had to escape the scenes that played on continuous loops on the television. There was no new news, thankfully. I returned, briefly, to CNN in time to see some new tapes. I saw thousands of New York citizens silently, calmly evacuating the island of Manhattan. The walkways of the bridges teeming with human traffic. No words from the commentators on this scene, it spoke for itself. Then came an image that was equally as moving. They showed the lines around the block in front of the Red Cross offices in New York. Untold thousands were waiting up to five hours in line to give blood. Shortly after that, the whole of Congress met on the steps of the Capitol Building to announce their sympathies, their outrage, and their unanimous support of George W. Bush, whatever actions that he might take. At the end of the statement, the whole of Congress started an impromptu rendition of "God Bless America."

I don't think that I've ever had such a strong sense of national pride as I did after seeing these three scenes play out. And for the first time all day, I got the feeling that although we had endured the world's most horrific terrorist attack in history and the death toll would be in the thousands, that life would go on. The situation would be dealt with. Our nation would recover. America was still great. Though evil people may kill us by the thousands, thousands more will stand in their place and defend our country. There will be retribution. This evil will not go unpunished.

In hindsight, we were all mistaken in thinking that this would just be another war, one with a country and a person that we could easily target and remove. And no one could foresee that this, possibly the greatest tragedy to befall the American people, would be so blatantly used for personal gains by those in power. Dubya is no better than the Islamic fundamentalists that he hates so much, by using it to rally the people to a cause that was his own. I'll cut the political commentary short, but it just sickens me how the current administration has exploited this horrific event.

To the thousands who lost their lives in the events of 9/11/2001 in New York and The Pentagon:
We remember you, we continue in our attempts to right the wrong done to you, and we hope to prevent such a tragedy in the future. God Bless you.

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