Monday, September 11, 2017

Sixteen Years Ago

I wrote the following essay as a blog post four years ago.  Never forget the significance of today, nor those who lost their lives on that fateful day.


Today is one of those days where we remember.  We remember exactly what we were doing on September 11, 2001; we remember those who lost their lives tragically on that day, and we remember those first responders who tried to help and rescue so many.  It will always be a hard day for Americans, as seldom in our history, and particularly in our modern history, have we been attacked on our own soil.  And it changed the way we go about our daily lives.

This is my 9/11 story.  It is hardly a compelling story, nor is it surrounded in tragedy.  It is just the story of how my wife and I dealt with what transpired on that awful day.

It really was a nice Tuesday, kind of warm, and bright and sunny.  We had been having mechanical problems with our Jeep Cherokee, and it was in the shop being looked at.  Teresa, my wife, was going to ride with a co-worker to Mt. Hebron High School, where she worked as a 9th-grade English teacher.  I had gone to work as usual earlier that morning, arriving at 6:30 a.m.  I was a team lead in the central section of the VFR (Visual Flight Rules) Charting office within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in downtown Silver Spring, MD.  We worked on the 3rd floor of a 13-story building, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) complex next to the Silver Spring Metro, the fourth of four high-rises on the southwest side of the tracks along East West Highway.

My boss was out of the office that day, so I was in charge.  I was sitting at my desk talking to one of our IT guys when I received an email.  It was from one of the employees in our airports division, and it stated, "A plane just hit the World Trade Center."  It had been sent out to our entire office.  Almost everyone assumed it was a small plane that must have accidentally hit the building.  I pulled out the New York Terminal Area Chart, a 1:250,000 scale VFR aeronautical chart, to take a look at that area of NYC to see if there was anything wrong with the chart.  At about the same time, one of the guys on the other side of the office turned on a small black and white TV he had in his cubicle, just in time to see the second plane hit the other tower.  Word got around the office very quickly that this was no accident.  I quickly sent my wife an email explaining what was happening, that both towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by planes, and that we were trying to figure out what was going on.  She called me almost immediately after she got the message.  I could hear the worry in her voice.  They had a TV on in the 9th grade team teacher's office and were watching what was going on.  We both prayed, said we loved each other, and I tried to concentrate on work.

About that time we received word that something had hit the Pentagon, and mass pandemonium took over.  My boss's boss came rushing past my cubicle and said, "Evacuate the building, let's just get out of here.  Please account for all of your employees."  There were false rumors and stories of bombs going off all over downtown DC, and that government buildings all over the area might be targets for more jets.  I rushed around my office and made sure everyone had a way to get home.  Some offered to take other's home.  There was a great amount of cooperation despite the panic many were feeling.  One of my co-workers lived downtown, and I told her to be very careful.  Very few Metro trains were running into the city.  Most were heading out only.  Silver Spring, being right on the edge of northern DC, was a hot spot of employment in the DC area, but still considered the suburbs.  I called Teresa and told her we were evacuating.  She said that schools were going to release early, and then she would try to get home.  She was still dependent on her co-worker due to her not having a car.  I told her to be careful, and she said the same.  She was very scared.  I said I love you, and started to head for the exit.

Then I saw Greg.  Greg was concerned about how he was going to get home, since he took the train from the northeast Maryland suburbs to Union Station in downtown DC, then he took Metro from there to Silver Spring.  I told him that I doubted he be able to catch any trains running that day, and I offered him a ride.  He took me up on it, and we headed out.

I had parked on the G1 level, which meant I was only one level down from the exit.  NOAA employees had apparently decided at the same time as the FAA to go home, so there was a huge line of cars trying to get out of the garage, and it took us about 30 minutes to get out.  Once on the road, traffic moved fairly well.  Greg lived near and on the far side of Fort Meade, which is also home to the National Security Agency.  We figured that we might want to try to avoid that area since the NSA might be a hotbed of security given what was happening.  I kept the radio on WTOP, the local all-news station, to keep abreast of what was happening.  Greg agreed with my course of action, to take the Capital Beltway over to the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, then to Rt. 32 which would take us right to Greg's car, parked in the commuter rail parking lot near Fort Meade.

Traffic continued to move well all the way up the parkway. When we got to Rt. 32, though, it was closed with emergency personnel blocking the exits.  Apparently, we were right about Fort Meade being busy.  So we took the next exit, Route 175, which would skirt just north of the NSA and take us right to the train station.  However, we his our first traffic jam of the trip just after jumping on 175 and we crawled the rest of the way.

The news on the radio was all shock and panic, with both WTC buildings having collapsed.  There were still many bad rumors flying around about incidents in and around DC, which didn't help.  We finally got through the traffic and I was able to drop Greg off at his car.  I wished him well, and he offered me a few tips on alternate ways home.  I lived in Laurel, which was only about 10 to 15 minutes away, normally, but with the traffic around Fort Meade, I had to make a big circle north of Fort Meade, and had clear sailing all the way home.  I turned on the TV and watched countless replays of the towers collapsing, which filled me with awe, but horror as well.  Within the hour, Teresa arrived home, and we hugged for a long time.  We had only been living in our house for a little over a month, so we really didn't know any of our neighbors, and we felt like we only had each other at that moment.  We sat in front of the TV all afternoon watching what was happening in New York, finding out about the other planes, the available details regarding the Pentagon, and the crash in PA.  Teresa made us a light dinner, but neither of us was hungry.

I can't really put into words what we were feeling.  There was this fear that gripped us, and immense sadness about all who had died.  We hoped we wouldn't have to work the following day so we could just be with each other.  We prayed.  We hugged and sat close to each other.  This was an event neither of us had ever experienced.  We weren't old enough to remember when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  The only comparable was the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion, which occurred when we were in high school.

We went to bed that night knowing we would be working the next day, and it would be a challenge to try to attempt anything normal.  We didn't want to be apart, but we also knew we had to work.  We prayed for so many that night.  And then we tried to sleep.  I don't know what time it was when we finally fell asleep.  It was pretty late.  I just kept praying to God how thankful I was that my family was all accounted for and okay.  And I prayed that God would bless America.

Hug and kiss your loved ones tonight, everyone.  Make sure they know how much you love them.  You can't say it enough.