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Where were you seven years ago?

That was the question asked in the subject line of an e-mail I opened this morning.

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I was sitting on the loading dock of the clothing issue point at Fort Dix along with sixty other members of the 29th ID. We'd just signed for our winter clothing issue -- the last block in the to-do list before we were to deploy on our Peacekeeper tour in Bosnia the following day.

There was a small cluster of Marylanders gathered around an E-5 holding a radio. They'd been talking and pointing off to the north, but now they were hushed. The E-5 walked over to me and asked, "Why would an airplane fly into a building?" I answered, "Could be any number of reasons. Bad weather -- lousy visibility, flying in the clouds and being too low or off-course, or an ATC screwup, or an engine failure...that kind of accident is really rare, though. Why do you ask?"

I was thinking of the B-25 that hit the Empire State Building. Or a bugsmasher flying when he shouldn't have been flying.

"An airplane just hit the World Trade Center."

I automatically turned to look north toward New York. The sky was clear.

"What kind of airplane?"

"They didn't say what kind, but they're talking like it was a big one. An airliner."

I ran through all the scenarios I could think of, and the only one that would account for an airliner hitting a skyscraper in clear weather was mechanical failure -- busted hydraulics to the flight controls plus underspeeding engines and...and it didn't make sense. Too many failures happening all at once.

"The radio just said another airplane hit the World Trade Center! Both towers are on fire!"

I looked at him and said, "Kamikazes. We're being attacked."

"Can't be. It doesn't make any sense..."

"Has to be. That's the *only* thing that makes any sense."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Towers fell. We looked north and could see the smoke and the dust, a smudge on the horizon, slowly drifting east. We watched all day, wondering when we'd be loaded on trucks and sent to assist.

And watched, and waited.

And wondered.

* * * * * * * * * * * 

At the evening formation, the CG addressed us. "Today, we were attacked. Tomorrow's flight is cancelled, but we're still going. Be ready. I just got out of a briefing, and I can't tell you much, but I *can* tell you the President of the United States is gonna open a can of whupass and when he shakes it, we're the first thing that's gonna get shaken out. Be ready for it. Be ready..."

* * * * * * * * * * *

We got shaken out of the can at an abandoned airfield northwest of Sarajevo. Someday I'll tell you what we found at Visoko, but for now -- just spend a few quiet moments and remember where you were, seven years ago...

--Bill

10 Comments

At the time I was working at the Broome County Airport in Johnson City NY. We had a flight crew from either american or United (my memory escapes me at the moment) turning in cars and I had the radio going.

We all stopped what we were doing and then moved to the lounge where there was a big screen TV and we watched the second plane fly into the towers.
I looked at my boss and told him I needed to use the phone, called a recruiter friend and told him I wanted back in. My boss looked at me, asked why, and I said something along the lines of if he had to ask, he wouldn't get it.

Went to Syracuse that Saturday, reenlisted and went back to the MP corps.
 
My remembrances on the seventh anniversary are here. Like you, as soon as the second plane hit the WTC I immediately knew what was happening. I turned to the chaplain next to me and said, "We're at war. I just don't know who with." 
 
I was on a machine gun range at Ft. Benning with my IOBC company.  Not much training got done that day we mostly sat around cleaning 240's and listening to the radio.  I am fairly certain that I did my rotation on the firing line but I cannot rember it.  I do remeber it rained buckets on us that night before we went back to main post. 
 
It was late Sept 11th here in Aussieland , had finished dinner with my parents and was talking with my mother.  My wife at the time called me into the lounge, the first airplane had hit already and the normal show had been changed to this disaster feed from CNN I think it was.

I'm an engineer and habitually speculate about things but I couldn't follow the probablities of an airliner hitting the building.  I wondered if the building would hold.  Just before we went to go home the second one hit and *deliberate* flashed in my mind.

I remember those awful images of people jumping.
 
My immediate response is on John's post, above.
But... your experience reminded me of what I wanted to do on 9/12:  Leave for New York, along with a few of my Red Cross buddies.

Our Disaster Director served as the NYC 9/11 Response Job Director for the first month or so.  A paramedic friend of mine also went out with Gary, and spent countless days and nights at the Family Resource Center, where all of the family members went, hoping against hope to find some trace of a loved one.  Remember all of those "have you seen me?" posters?  He was there, watching each and every one get taped up.  Another friend went with them also.  He helped out with the Mass Care response, feeding the weary.  Of the three, one has since retired but is still a volunteer; one is just as active in Red Cross assignments as he was 7 years ago (and yes, I'm jealous!), and one has sadly passed away.  As for me, I'm still waiting for the day that I can once again resume disaster response duty.  Until then, I donate money and time as I'm able, and pray for those who respond in person.

 
I missed my usual train on that morning and the next one got diverted instead of Battery Tunnel onto Manhattan Bridge, so we were standing on the bridge when the second plane hit.  I remember the large subway car window filled with bright blue sky and a black thick smoke coming across it from the right to the left.  It got my attention and stood from my seat and cross the car to look into the window and that's when I saw the Towers... From that moment on the entire day was like a living nightmare.  My train was the last train into Manhattan, I walked from the Canal street station down the Broadway to the 1 Police Plaza to bring a 13 yo kid who just started going to school there and was lost due to the train diversion.  I took him there because based on my Soviet experience the schools were the collecting point for kids evacuation in case of a disaster or war.  Well, not here.  We were told by the crazy looking police officers to get the f%%k out of here and away from all federal and government buildings.  So I took him to my office which was several blocks North so he can call his mother and let her know that he was ok and find out where he should go.  I did not realize that the black little objects dropping from the buildings were not just another set of papers that were already blowing in the sky like snow.  If I knew what they were, I would have taken him to my office the other way... As it was we had a horrible opportunity to see people jump and fall... And there were street vendors selling the disposable cameras like hot dogs to a crowd of people who were snatching them to take the pictures of the fire and jumping people.  On the streets, people were gathering around the parked vans listening to the car radios (it reminded me of the pictures we had about the begining on the Great Patriotic War in June 1941 when people would gather around street radios to learn the news) and standing in the long lines to the street phones because the cell service was gone. When we got to my office, the kid called his mom and got instructions to go to the relatives' store at the Canal street and left; I got to call my mom and tell her to turn on the TV and that I was ok; and then the building shook and the lights went out and the phone died and there was an utter silence and then a hissing sound that the dust made coming down and into the streets... At that time, our building was ordered to evacuate.  I went outside and saw one of my students and bummed a cigaret from her and we started our slow treck uptown because the police on the street did not let us go to the Brooklyn bridge... As I was looking at the lonely burning tower, I kept thinking that it cannot be real, I must be dreaming, those towers were something that we in the Soviet Union knew was "America" and I was so happy to work next to them and take my subway train there and at winter night look up and see all those lit up windows towering over me as I was leaving my office...And then there were no towers... As we were making out way uptown, on every street intersection you could see people going in the same direction up the avenues to your left and to your right - there was no traffic on either avenues or streets... We finally got to my student's future in-laws Greek restaurant on the 52nd so we were able to sit down, have some water, use the bathroom and call my mom to let her know that I am alive.  The radio was blasting and that's when I learned that those were not small planes but airliners with people on board... a couple of office workers were bitching to the waiter that they had to wait too long for their order, raising their voices to make sure that he heard them above the radio saying about people on the airliners and in the towers when they went down... This was the day when it hit me: Manhattan is really an island! There was no way off it.  I finally made to my co-worker's apartment on the 81st and sat there watching TV coverage until the first train off the island took off around 5pm.  My co-worker went to pick up her kids, one of whom was at Stuyveasant School right across from the Towers; thankfully they all got out safely.  I finally made it home to Bensonhurst around 7pm, all dirty, tired and in a daze... We were off for the next 2 weeks and when I finally came back to Downtown, the smell of death and smoke was very bad and very strong,and there were huge packs of rat poison laying down along the sidewalks...  I did not go down to the pit until a year later and only because I did not have a choice... Sometimes I hope the memory would fade a little but it hasn't...
 

I've been working for my current employer for 11 years.  We are a network outsourcer; we run your networks for you.  That morning, for the only time ever in working for this employer, I had called in sick because I felt lousy, unaccountably so.  I was lying in bed, then, when my wife called upstairs and said "Are you awake?  Turn on the TV!"  I turned it on, watched for a while, and then got up and went into work.  I had never really felt like calling in sick before, and I haven't since.  Something wierd there.

 
I was at home.  I had been traveling so I planned to go into the office late.  I took a leisurely shower.  The first unrushed one in almost two weeks.  I came out to the living room.  The TV was on CNN like I always had it.  Down low so I could just read the ticker at the bottom if I wanted info or take in some of the pictures.  I would use that time to plan my day.

I sat down in the big easy chair, drying my hair with a towel.  I saw Aaron Brown with a picture of the two towers.  One was burning.  I thought, "Wow!  There's a fire at the twin towers!"  It was taking me a minute to find the remote while I kept trying to read the ticker at the bottom.  I saw the ticker say "small plane hits the tower."  Finally clicked on the sound to hear Aaron Brown talking about the different reports about the size of the plane hitting the building.  He said something about the distance causing the perspective to be off about the actual size of the hole in the side of the building.  It must be a bigger plane than being report.

Right then, over his left shoulder, I saw a plane fly in from the side of the screen, behind the building and it didn't come out from the other side.  Unless you count the pieces of building, airplane and people that shattered out the other side.  Brown said something like, "OMG!  Another plane just hit the twin towers!"

Like probably fifty million people in the US that morning, I thought, "Wait.  What channel am I watching?  Is this a movie?"  So I clicked over to MSNBC and then channel 5.  They were all playing the same images.

I knew we'd been attacked, but my mind kept thinking, "Wait.  This can't be real.  Just wait a damn minute!"

Then I got really frustrated because nobody was telling us anything more than I could see on the TV.  But, I knew, we were going to war.  My mind kept rushing around ticking off names: my brother, he's going to war.  My second cousin.  Damn it, what unit is he in?  Ken.  Ken just got out of the marines.  He's a reservist. 

I saw the burning towers and wondered about the people getting out.  1993.  They got out.  Get them out.  Then they showed the distant shot of people hanging out the windows.  And, jumping.  Oh, Jesus.  I was screaming in my head, "get them out!  Get them out!" 

Some camera crew showed the people running away from there while fire fighters and police ran forward.  I felt some relief.  They were going to get them out.  It would be okay. 

Aaron Brown said he was just going to stop talking for a minute.  that's when I knew how really terrible it was.  When a talking head has nothing left to say.  Then he came back and said that the Pentagon had been struck.  All they had was far away footage of smoke rising from the area. 

Honestly, the terribleness of the day was already way beyond my ken.  Way more death than anything I had ever experienced except in reading books.  But those had never been real.  I couldn't fathom how many people were dying.  I just hoped we were saving more. 

They were missing planes.  When they said they were missing planes, I started to get really worried.  I called my parents.  they were on vacation.  Not in a plane.  I just wanted to know where they were if something happend.  Where was everybody? 

I was still in my robe.  I was standing there in my robe with a phone in my hand when I watched the first tower come down.  It was like slow motion.  People were running by the cameras already covered in dust and starting to look like ghosts who were going to be consumed by the ash.

I kept thinking:  I just watched thousands of people die on national television.  Just. like. that.

I couldn't reach anyone.  None of my friends on the coasts.  Not my parents on vacation.  I kept getting "all circuits are busy".  Then my very low level emergency training kicked in and I hung up.  People are going to need those phone lines.  Everybody I know is safe until I hear otherwise. 

The second tower came down and it was like nothing.  How many people?  How many people just died?  Then that incessent chirping sound of the fallen fire fighters' alarms that was going off forever as the ash and smoke lingered.

I watched people walking out of the smoke and ash like ghosts.  They were all ghosts.  The buildings.  The cars.  The fire trucks.  Ghosts. 

I saw a man helping a lady limp down the street.  Finally, my brain kicked in.  I got dressed and went to the office.  We were a medical supply company.  They might need us to organize supplies or get our disaster preparedness manuals out.  Where were our sister companies in NY and DC?  What would they need?  Oxygen tanks.  Bandages.  tape.  tubing.  Needles.  Syringes.  I had a whole list in my head as I drove down.

About half way there I realized that the sky was a perfect, cloudless blue.  Perfect.  Not even an airplane flying into the air port or contrail in the sky.  Traffic was practically dead.

When I got down to the office, I was expecting a frenzy of activity.  It was literally like a church.  I asked each of the managers I met on the way to my office if we were were taking inventory.  Were we preparing to send anything.  Did we have any requests come in yet?  Everybody kept shaking their heads "no".  They were like mourners at a funeral.

I wanted to jump up and down.  The more they said no, the more I was getting angry.  We're supposed to be doing something, damn it!  We're supposed to be doing more than walking around this damn office with our heads down or congregating in the conference room watching endless loops of the same pictures!  Or planning some freaking hand holding prayer session and singing on our front lawn!

I was sure there were people who were still alive who would need all the help that could be brought in.  There had to be hundreds, if not thousands, that were injured.  Or eldesly caught in their homes without enough supplies.  Home care nurses who couldn't get where they needed to get supplies for their patients.  People would be going down to the site. 

There were a thousand scenarios and we weren't spinning up for any of them.  The only thing I got from my regional director was a call saying my flight the next week was cancelled until further notice.  I asked if we were supposed to do anything.  He said that they had checked and no one was asking for anything.  No one knew anything yet.  We had to wait.

So, we waited.  All day.  We were told to go home.  I watched the news all night to see how big it was; how many injured.  What were we going to need?  The news was reporting that there were very few injured being taken to the hospitals.  I could barely sleep.  When I woke up in the morning and turned on CNN, they were showing that giant smoking hole.  They were showing the hundreds and thousands of people gathered at different collection points, silently holding up their signs, their pictures, asking if anyone had seen their brother, their mother, their husband or wife.  Call this number.

And still hardly any injured.  I knew that was both something to rejoice and something to dread.  Whoever had been in those buildings were all gone.  No one needed anything from us.  Sadly, they had it all under control.  I felt terrible and fierce and numb all at the same time.  The only thing that we could do now was exactly what we had planned.  Join together and pray.  Renew our pledge of allegiance to our nation.  Sing the national anthem.  And never let me hear Amazing Grace again.  

Late May 2002, I was sitting in my home office.  It was a beautiful night.  I had the windows open.  I heard a kind of chirping noise start up out of no where.  Up and down.  High and low.  My heart stopped for a minute.  I felt the hair on my head start to tingle.  I wanted to look outside my window to see what it was, but I didn't want to look.  Then I realized it was just the cicadas.  I tried to go back to work, but those damn cicadas wouldn't shut up.  So I got up, closed all the windows and turned the air conditioner on.   

Yeah, it took a long time before I could listen to the cicadas again.



 
Better late then never!

This is me from last year

"8:46 AM"

This is the Fishmugger

"From the Fishmugger"
 
I was on day-shift in 2001, at work, on the 747 line in everett.  I'd just gotten into an argument with a guy who would, later that day,  try to get me fired. (He failed.) 

They interrupted the radio stations.  All of them, when it was announced.  The factory floor in those days you had a cacophony of competing music stations-some guys listened to rock, some to the R&B stations, some to Country, and the way that place echoes (especially inside the aircraft), well, sometimes it seemed to drown out the rivetting.

I tried to refuse to believe it.  I thought it was some morning dee-jay's joke that had gone too far, but then I realized that it wasn't just the rock station, or the R&B, or the Pop music station, or the Country station.  it was ALL of them.

About lunch time, the rumours were all over the place.  Someone scrounged up a teevee from some place they stashed 'em to watch football games on the weekends and Mariners games when they're supposed to be working.  We crowded around, and watched the recording as the anchors and the reporters on the screen talked about it.

There's a funny thing about shock.  My first thought was how nice it would be to turn the entire middle east into a glass-lined parking lot.

The second one, was "The fuckers read Tom Clancy."  Isn't that sick?  I'd read Debt of Honor the week before,  and the scene with the airliner hitting Washington stuck in my head.

Apparently I wasn't the only one.

I don't remember what I did the rest of that day.  I really don't.  I think I was just in a haze the rest of the day.    The next day, i was informed by a meeting in HR with Security and my Union Steward present that the guy I'd been arguing with on the eleventh lodged the most peculiar complaint-he'd claimed I'd threatened to kill him.

I'm pretty sure I hadn't, but it took the company (at the Union's prodding) three weeks to figure out that he was full of shit.  I commenced for the next eight months to not speak a single, solitary word to that turd-which is somewhat difficult when you're in a shop that has five guys responsible for systems all over the aircraft. and a work-package that was designed for ten.

I didn't want a repeat trip to Security and another suspension.

I failed medical four times trying to get back into uniform in the following eight months.  There were plenty of recruits, and getting a waiver was pretty much impossible.