9/11: Remembering the day

The world changed 10 years ago, but the memories and images of the attacks are burned into our minds. For those of us who saw the violence and its aftermath on TV, the memories are vivid enough. For those who were on the scene for some part of the events of Sept. 11, 2001, they can be gut-punch painful.

We asked Federal Computer Week readers to share their memories of the day. Here are some of their responses, which have been edited for length, clarity and style.

'...Most of us openly wept...'

I was on my way from Union Station to travel to the Pentagon for a meeting in the section that was struck by the airplane. I was running late because the ticket machines in the Metro Center [subway station] were being repaired and I had to wait for a ticket. Upon arrival at Union Station, I checked my baggage, and no sooner had I done that than a male voice came over the public loudspeaker and announced, "Evacuate Union Station immediately. Do not panic. Walk to the nearest exit and clear the building in an orderly manner. You will be notified when it is safe to return to the building."

From the park outside, we could see the smoke from the Pentagon but had no idea what it was or where it was located at the time. A large group of people were huddled around a construction site, where one of the workmen had brought his battery-powered radio and was listening to the news. When we all discovered what had happened, most of us — men and women alike — openly wept, and I thought to myself, "The world we lived in no longer exists. It will never be the same."

I still have the Metro pass from that day, stamped 0911, and carry it in my wallet every day as a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have escaped what most certainly would have been unthinkable had I not been running late for my meeting.

'...My nephew was in the North Tower...'

I was at work in upstate New York when the first plane struck. A co-worker tried to tell everyone that it probably got lost in fog. I knew better because he had never been to New York City or knew where the [World Trade Center] towers stood. Being a pilot, he began to lecture us all on how it could possibly have happened.

Then the second plane hit. I called my wife to find out if [all our loved ones were] accounted for in New York City. By the time I got home that evening, the TV networks were still showing people in suits and dresses jumping or falling from windows to avoid the flames and fires that broke out from the plane fuel.

We found out the next day that my nephew was in the North Tower. His co-workers who survived told us that he was one of those who went back into the towers multiple times to help others get out. He worked on the 50th floor and was working his way down the stairs when the North Tower collapsed.

'...It consumed my day after that...'

I was at the Starbucks in Springfield, Va., waiting for my tall caramel macchiato. As I waited by the bar for my drink to be made, I remember looking out the window of the coffee shop and thinking what a beautiful, cool day it was, not a cloud in the sky. It was a gorgeous day. Just then another customer came in and said, "a plane just crashed into one of the twin towers in NY". All the customers just kind of listened and then continued on with their morning routines, reading the paper, chatting. Then another comment from someone else, about another plane crashing into the towers. I started to think at that point, this is too coincidental, this can't be just an accident. When I arrived to work, my suspicions were confirmed. It consumed my day after that.

'...The silence was deafening...'

When we heard about the second plane, I remember thinking that there must be a serious malfunction of the air traffic control system. I couldn't conceive of anyone performing such a suicide mission. We crowded around a single TV all morning, and when we heard about the Pentagon, we looked out the windows to the southeast and saw the black smoke. When the first tower collapsed, my boss insisted we all go home to be with our families. Later at home, I remember thinking that I had never noticed the sound of planes overhead, but with all of them grounded, the silence was deafening.

'...I knew we were under attack...'

I was on my way to work [on the West Coast], listening to the radio. When I heard that a second plane had hit, I knew we were under attack. Ten minutes later, I drove onto the military base and was amazed that the gate guards were acting like it was business as usual. It took some time before the system reacted, and coming onto the base was never the same carefree way again.

'...Everyone went home to be with their families...'

I was home that morning because I had a doctor’s appointment before work. While drinking my coffee and watching the news, I saw the report about a plane hitting the World Trade Center. As I watched the TV, I saw the second plane hit. I was shocked, angry, scared and upset.

Then as I watched more, I saw the first tower come crashing down. By the time I made it to my appointment that day, the third plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I was in a daze. All I could think about was New York and what was next. When they grounded all the planes and then discovered there were four planes unaccounted for, we knew it wasn't over. I found myself looking up at the sky on my drive home from the doctor’s, afraid of what I might see.

I didn't know what to do. I went to work, but the office was empty except for a few people. Everyone went home to be with their families. I didn't stay long either. I was angry and thought how cowardly the perpetrators were to target unarmed, innocent people the way they did. I was very angry for the first few weeks after that. Now I cry every time I think about it and relive it, like I am now.

'...We could see plumes of black smoke...'

I was working at the Housing and Urban Development Department’s Real Estate Assessment Center on the 4th floor, just across the Potomac [from the Pentagon] in D.C. A manager had a small TV on his desk that was showing the first plane that had hit the World Trade Center. We thought it was an accident until we saw the second plane hit. About 15 minutes later, we could see plumes of black smoke coming from the Pentagon. Being a former soldier, I decided we were under attack. I left a phone message for my supervisor that I was leaving, came outside and just started walking toward 14th Street while trying to call my wife.

I was fueled by anger until it turned to fear when I got home and could not reach my wife and daughter. They later arrived there safe and sound. Then I was back in anger mode for seeing so many innocent lives lost.

Read more of Remembering Sept. 11: Disaster and response.


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