"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, September 9, 2011

My 9/11 Story

September 11, 2001 was an awful day for America and all Americans, myself included. I don't need to remind anyone of that. Thousands died that day and many more have perished since then during the two wars we have waged in the aftermath. For an entire generation, this has become the 'Where were you when...?' moment in their lives.

I am old enough to remember where I was when I heard Elvis Presley had died, when President Reagan and John Lennon were shot and when the space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff. All were moments in time that will forever be burned into my memory. None compared to the horrific events of 9/11.

And yet, my memories of that day are dim at best.

I remember having to go into work early that day. I was living in Las Vegas and had a crappy call center job to pay the bills while I pursued a career as a TV producer. It was just before 6AM local time when the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Shortly afterwards, word made it to the call center floor that there was some kind of explosion in NYC. I had a pocket radio (remember those?) with me and I tuned it to the local NPR station to hear the coverage. I remember listening intently at the news coverage, both as an interested party and as a former journalist.  

You see, I spent 1991-1997 as a news writer/producer at KTNV-TV 13, the ABC affiliate in Las Vegas. For three of those years, I was producing the morning newscast; Good Morning Las Vegas. I was a news junkie. I loved the immediacy of it, the rush of experiencing information as soon as it happened. I felt part of the action, even though I was in a control booth wearing oversized headsets and trying (with limited success) to get the news anchors to stick to their scripts. I'd seen raw video of some truly awful things...things that could never be shown on the air.   

So, I had learned through the years to look at terrible events with a certain detachment. That's how I felt just after hearing the initial report.

It wasn't until the second plane hit a few minutes later that people started to realize that this wasn't an accident. That's when my detached curiosity quickly turned to fear and confusion. This was deliberate? Who could do such a thing with impunity? Who was capable of an act? What were they going to do next? As additional reports came in, it was clear that the worst of it was yet to come. There was word of evacuations in Washington D.C.  The White House and Capitol Building were being evacuated. Were they also being targeted? It was like something out of a Hollywood hugh-concept action movie.

Less than a half-hour later, the Pentagon was hit. My heart sank. I felt physically sick to my stomach. From that moment forward, I could only think about one thing...where is my brother?*

My older brother Michael was a colorful guy, to say the least. He joined the Navy to avoid some potentially serious legal trouble and wound up making the military a career. After leaving the service he became a computer security specialist. Not long before September 2001, Michael and his wife moved to Arlington, VA because he had a new job as part of a government contract. 

On September 11, 2001 my brother was moving into his new office space. At the Pentagon. 

I spent the rest of that day trying to find out if my brother was dead or alive. The phones there were not working, obviously, and those days (I say those days like it was a long time ago. Oh wait, it was.) not as many people carried cell phones. It wasn't until later that evening that my brother was finally able to reach me. As it turns out, he was in an adjacent building when the main structure was hit. 

Sadly, my brother's life would be cut short by failing health eight years later. I wonder how he would've commemorated this anniversary. I wish I had the chance to find out.

As I said, my memories of the day itself are fuzzy at best. Yes, September 11, 2001 was a terrible day to be sure.

For me, however, the following day was much, much worse. 

To be continued...

*My future wife was in NYC that day, with her Mom and sister. They had tickets to see a taping of The Rosie O'Donnell Show. They never made it to that taping. They endured a terrifying ordeal while scrambling to leave a city in total chaos. Amazingly, they managed to drive out of NYC before it was locked down. I forgot they were going to the city for the day. In a strange way, I'm glad I forgot.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your story, Tom. Amazing that your wife made it out of the city during such chaos. And very sorry that your brother isn't here to reflect on this day with you.

    I don't have much of a story to tell, just that I was running late for a conference in north Jersey. I heard the news on the radio, and the DJ was freaking out. When the second plane hit, he started yelling that it was a terrorist attack. I called my sup, who was already at the conference, to tell her I wasn't coming. Traffic had slowed to a halt, and as I approached the Raritan River Bridge, I saw why: I could see the towers burning across the Hudson. I turned around and went home, stopping at the first rest area that I could. I watched, with hundreds of others crowded around the rest-area TV, as the first tower collapsed. The woman standing next to me broke down--her husband worked in Tower One. I had to go. I got home to an empty house, a peaceful, beautiful day, with perfect, blue, silent skies. It was the so lovely out that it was eerie. The events unfolded around me. Even today, whenever we have a perfect autumn day, I think of those beautiful, empty blue skies.