My son was home on his first leave after joining the Air Force. I’d been planning to take a few days off with him later in the week, but on that day I’d gone to work. One of my workmates stopped by my desk and told me an airplane had flown into the World Trade Center.
We went to the conference room on the west side of our office just in time to watch the second plane hit – the moment we realized that it was an intentional strike. While we all watched in silence, assembling our thoughts and taking in the gravity of the moment, from our conference room window, we saw a plume of smoke rise in the western sky and it continued to rise until it dominated the skyline. We learned from the television that it was the Pentagon, about two miles from our downtown DC office.
Between the images on the television and the ominous cloud on the horizon, it seemed that the whole world was on fire.
Terrorism was nothing new to me…I’d been in Panama in 1976 when terrorists car bombed the Main PX at Corozal and they’d thrown fire bombs off of the Thatcher Ferry Bridge into the military housing area in Fort Amador below. I’d been in Germany near Frankfurt when Bader Meinhoff murdered an American serviceman and used his ID to drive a car bomb onto Rhein Mein Airbase.
But this was in our own fortress, our own country. Our office shut down early and we all headed to Union Station to catch our rides home. The crowds there were backed up out the door of the huge station and the faces of the thousands of commuters were of confusion and disbelief.
Rumors swirled through the station and whispered from ear-to-ear. One rumor said the Capitol Building was attacked (even though the Building was in sight of Union Station and it was obviously fine). Another said the National Mall was burning (why someone would catch a big grassy field on fire is ridiculous). I got tired of the rumors and walked the three miles home.
Phones were jammed, cell towers were overloaded and only the internet worked. After I accounted for all four of my kids, I settled down to watch Brett Bair’s live reports from the Pentagon.
I remember one clip more than any – a sea of green shirted soldiers pouring from the building being directed by military policemen, until a call went up for volunteers to help with the evacuation. The sea tide changed at once and swept back into the burning Pentagon. To me that became the enduring symbol for this war. Me and my fellow civilians running away from the danger while the military got it’s bearings and rushed back into the flames.
Of course, my son was called back from his leave, but since he’d come home on an airplane and all of the airports in the area were closed, he had to take a bus all the way back to Nebraska. After we dropped him off at the bus station two days after the attack, we decided to walk around the city which was eerily deserted. The normal frequent siren wails were absent and many of the restaurants were closed.
Passing by the White House, we noticed that the line for the tour was understandably short. I asked one of the security guards if we could get in line (even though we’d been there two years, we’d never been in the White House). He said that we could and that President Bush had ordered that the White House tours continue…that everyone continue business as usual. So we got in line and finally got a tour of the White House – my small act of defiance in the face of terrorism.
Feel free to leave your memories of that day.