Friday, September 11, 2009

8 years ago. . .

Well, today is September 11th, 2009. It’s been 8 years since our country was brutally attacked by terrorists. I could go off on a political tangent, but I won’t. I want to share my experiences with you.

Early in the morning of September 11th 2001, my wife Marie and I got up, put our suitcases into the car and headed off for a weeklong trip to the Boston area, followed by a week of vacation. We had fun plans. If memory serves, we left the house between 5:30 and 6:00 AM. We had to get an early start to get to the hotel in time to check in so I could be rested for the next day. The day before, I had talked with my coworkers who were going to the same conference. We were all looking forward to it.

The drive up Interstate 95 to the New Jersey Turnpike was quiet and uneventful. I had been surfing the radio trying to find a Christian station. It’s always hard on a long trip, especially if you don’t bring your own music. Then I heard a news flash. Someone had flown a small plane into one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. (A few years later, I would find out that a friend of mine would be awakened by a phone call from the Air Force base he worked at, being told that someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center. His comment was simple, not completely understanding the gravity of the entire situation: “Moron. I could miss that!”). At first, I thought it was one of those radio pranks, but the reports kept coming. As the reports continued, the description of the plane got bigger. As we got closer to New York City, the description got even more grim.

During the 9:00 AM news cast on whatever radio station we were listening to, they broke in when another plane crash, this time in the south tower, then, the Pentagon. That’s when I knew this was a big deal, and I was expecting more.

As we got closer to NYC, we could see the smoke rising up from the WTC. It was as if Manhattan Island was a steamboat, trying to go out to sea. The sight was ominous. We had heard all the bridges were closed going in to NYC, so we stopped at a rest stop to get a map. We decided that I-287 was our best choice, and started planning our route to get up to Boston. I-287 to I-87 to I-84. I tried to call my boss in DC, but couldn’t even get a line out. We started back out on the highway. Trucks were parked on the breakdown lane everywhere. As we were driving, my wife looked and said “One of the towers just fell!” That was the next thing reported on the radio.

I was far from calm. If I remember right, we stopped again so we could switch drivers. I navigate better than my wife does. I was following the map, and nervously checking anything that looked suspicious; cars, trucks, anything that could possibly cause problems. I was thinking of all the other things that could be going on. Was there some sort of chemical agent in the plane that was activated by heat that was being dispersed? Biological agents? Were other cities around the world being attacked, too? I kept trying to call my boss. By the time we got to the Hudson River, I finally got in touch with him. He said the conference was obviously canceled since I was the only one who was going to make it to Boston. He also said to just go and take that week of leave and come back next week. Nothing was going to happen anyway, with all the confusion. So we continued up to Boston.

I friend and coworker told me about the ride home that day from Arlington, VA. She would often “slug” in to work. Slugging is organized hitch-hiking so that drivers can use the car-pool lanes. She had slugged in to work that day. When word finally came down for people to go home (I think it was around noon), people were talking together, comparing notes, trying to get all the slugs home. She ended up in a 4 passenger car with 5 other people (that makes six if you’re counting), riding dangerously close to the stick shift. But she was thankful for the ride.

When we got to the hotel, it was very quiet. CNN was on in the lobby, showing the replays of the WTC collapsing, the Pentagon burning, and the smoking hole in Pennsylvania. I think we canceled our reservation, and then we went to look up some old friends from college. When we got there, Diane opened the front door and ran to hug us, yelling “God sent us the Air Force!” I was a little bit embarrassed. We went to a prayer meeting with Steve and Diane that night. The mood was very somber and somewhat fearful. It felt like everyone there was expecting me to have some sort of answer as to what would happen next, because I was in the military. I was just as clueless as everyone else.

Flash back to a few months prior, say about May or June. I was sitting in my office and got a call from some woman in Texas whose relative had just moved to the Arlington VA area. It was a wrong number. My number had two numbers reversed from her relatives number. She called me three or four times before she got it right finally. When I got back to my desk after my leave after 9/11, there was a voice message on my phone. It was that woman, calling to see if I was OK. For the next few months, that was the general feeling that I got across the US. People were genuinely concerned with others and were there to help out. I think weve lost a lot of that in the past eight years. Yes, a lot has happened since then. The Pentagon has been rebuilt (but the WTC has not). Weve invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Weve ensured the people could put democratic governments in place. There have been two elections in Afghanistan and one in Iraq. But the support of the American people has drifted off.

Its been eight years. My life has changed many times over. Yours probably has too. I ask that you do one thing. Dont forget what happened on that terrible day. Dont trivialize it by calling it a Manmade disaster. Dont talk to me about your conspiracy theories about demolition charges and cruise missiles. I had friends at the Pentagon who SAW the plane fly over their heads on Route 110, seconds before crashing into it. That was no cruise missile. Dont speak poorly about this country that I gave 21 years of my life for. Just keep it to yourself. Remember what really happened. Dont let anyone forget.


Greg said...

Well written words my friend.

cml626 said...


cml626 said...


I was working at Finance and Accounting Travel Section.
One of the other customer service reps was checking the news just as the air plane was about to collide with the first tower.
Needless to say she kept it on CNN the rest of our day.
We still answered our customers concerns and completed the auditing given to us. Both men and women cried as the shock hit them. We gathered and prayed for the dead, injured and the families
In the carpool trip home all 4 ladies were truly upset as to what's next!! I watched the television to get any up dates for days. In November we went visit Aaron and Kristy in Connecticut were Aaron was Stationed.
We could still see smoke coming up from ground zero.

cml626 said...

Phil, Thank you for sharing this story. It is well written.