On 9-11-01 I was sitting in my office in Washington, D.C. when the HR director came running down the stairs saying a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. My secretary pulled out her 2-inch TV and the three of us started watching the burning north tower – just as the second plane hit the south tower. Staring in disbelief, we eventually moved to a conference room and a full size TV to watch the coverage.
Soon after the WTC was hit I started making calls to people I knew, including a woman from New York whose mother worked in manhattan and my parents to tell them of the NYC attack. Within minutes after hanging up with my father I found out about the plane hitting the pentagon. The rest of the day was a frustrating, anxious time where cell phones didn’t work and uncertainty was predominant. Because the pentagon was hit and lots of potential targets abound in DC, the city quickly became a ghost town as people left to collect their children and make sure their families were accounted for. I was lucky. Even though I grew up outside of Boston, lived for years near NYC, have lived for years in northern Virginia and DC, and have flown many times from all three (four including National) airports involved (Dulles, Logan, Newark), people I directly interact with were all spared. However, there were some connections:
1) Barbara Olsen, the writer and political activist who died on Flight 77 when it hit the pentagon, was the wife of Ted Olsen, the lawyer who won Bush the election in the Supreme Court. Ted worked for the law firm in DC that my girlfriend at the time worked at. I knew about Barbara being on the plane before I found out about the plane crashing into the pentagon. I was on the phone with my girlfriend talking about the WTC and she told me that Barbara had just called Ted twice saying “you’re not going to believe this, but we’ve been hijacked”. Ted told her about the WTC and they spent her last few minutes alive talking on the phone until the line disconnected as it hit the building.
2) My coworker’s husband worked at the pentagon. When we heard of the plane hitting the pentagon there was 45-60 minutes of complete terror as she tried desperately to contact him. Because the cell phone lines were overloaded she couldn’t get through but finally he was able to get to a phone to call her. His office was right in the center of the crash site until just two weeks before the attack – he had just moved to a section not far outside the area of destruction because of ongoing renovations. Renovations that in the end helped save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives at the pentagon.
3) A family friend and neighbor of my uncle Bill was on Flight 11, the first to hit the WTC. Each year on this date we mourn his loss.
4) Ironically, two of my cousins, sons of that same uncle Bill, were near the WTC when the planes hit. One worked in a building so close it was damaged and later had to be demolished. The other worked further uptown but was making a delivery downtown and was a block from the first tower when the first plane hit. Like everyone, he was in shock that it could happen and was watching when the second plane hit. Both managed to get away from the area and were unhurt.
5) A friend, Mary Ellen, was working in a building not far from the area of destruction at the WTC. Other friends (and my friends mother) had been far enough away or had not gone in to work that day.
Still up to this year I have periodic nightmares in which burning planes fly along a line into the distance, where a building burns. One plane after another…all on fire…all heading into the flames ahead. I sit watching them pass over the water, knowing that there is nothing I can do to stop them.