Remembering the Tragedy of 9/11

Today is the 10th Anniversary of 9/11.  Like most other Americans, like the Kennedy assassination so many years ago, the memories are indelibly burned into my soul.

On September 11, I was flying to a conference in Chicago, so I got up at 5 am to catch the 7:45 plane from BWI to Pittsburgh.  I was on the next plane to Chicago and it boarded at 9:35 and pushed out onto the runway.  I was waiting for it to take off when my cell phone rang and it was my son, Michael, who said, “They flew a plane into the Twins Towers in NYC”.   As a security professional, I knew what that meant.

After a confusing 15 minutes, the plane went back to the gate, and they told us the flight would be delayed for 6 hours, but as we walked off the plane, the man next to me got a call on his cell and said, “They hit the Pentagon”.

There was a hotel at the Pittsburgh Airport so I immediately ran over there and checked in because I knew there would be no planes leaving today, I noticed the huge crowd at the bar, watching the TV.   My brother worked in NYC, my sons and friends were in DC, so the phone lines weren’t working, but I signed on to AOL and was able to connect with them to say I was all right.  

They evacuated the airport, but I was up in my mini command center by then.  I must have gotten 400 emails that day and I was watching the coverage on TV and crying, and then I heard about United Flight 93.

It took me about 2 days to get home.  A friend DROVE from the conference in Chicago to Pittsburgh and picked me up at midnight on 9/11.  We drove together through the Appalachian mountains to her home south of Philadelphia.  She had small children and wanted to get home fast.

We arrived at about 9 am on 9/12, after driving all night.  I slept for 4 hours on her son’s bed, and then her husband took me to the Amtrak station at Wilmington and I took the train back to BWI. It felt like I was moving through a bad dream.

Next, I tried to get my car, which was in the parking structure by the terminal, but it was blocked and they said I wouldn’t be able to get my cars for several more days, so I took a cab back home.

I remember driving up my street and seeing the American flags on houses, and I remember thinking about why I didn’t know all these neighbors and how I would change that in the future.  I remember how blue the sky was, not a cloud, not a plane.  It was surrealistically quiet.

I know several people who were killed in the Pentagon, and many in NYC who were dramatically affected, including the children in the NY suburbs who got called out of class one by one, to hear that their father, or mother was gone.

My theory is that people who lived on the west coast didn’t feel the impact quite as much as we did – who had been to the Pentagon every week, and been in the Twin Towers.

A friend of mine in San Diego who was proud of not having a TV, and who got up early that morning to order a sheet set on QVC.  She was in the middle of her order when the operator started crying and could not continue – she kept telling Kathy, “please turn on the TV and call back tomorrow”.

Just for me, I think I am permanently damaged by what happened on 9/11, and I think the whole country shares a continuing sorrow and grief from this event. 

We won’t let it happen again.