September 11 Digital Archive

nmah5658.xml

Title

nmah5658.xml

Source

born-digital

Media Type

story

Created by Author

yes

Described by Author

no

Date Entered

2003-09-07

NMAH Story: Story

I moved into my new apartment in the Pentagon City district of Arlington, Virginia in late July of 2001, enviably close to Washington and a quarter-mile from the Pentagon. I have lived in and around Washington, D.C since 1997, arriving to attend college, staying to work in a small national security policy think-tank.

The morning started much like any other, it was a clear and moderately-cool late-summer day. I was running a little late, rushing to board a city-bound metro train by 8:30am.

I arrived in my office, located three blocks from the White House, at the corner of Connecticut Avenue and K Street, at 8:50, one of two staffers to make it in before 9am. I had recently been promoted to a salaried position, after three years as an intern and was nervously anticipating my first day of overseeing interns of my own, who were due to start that day. I lazily grabbed a mug of water in the kitchen and logged into my computer.

Suddenly, the phone rang at 8:59. I answered it -- it was the Communications Director, my boss and a good friend. He asked if I had heard about "the crash." I asked what he meant. He told me that a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. At first I thought he was joking - he had a penchant for playing upon gullibility - then I heard the TV in the background describing smoke rising from a hole in the tower.

"Wait - a plane - you mean... like a Cessna or an airliner?"

"I don't know. I didn't see it, but there's a huge hole in the side of the tower. There's a fire... Turn on the news."

I sat down at my computer, logging into the BBC World video stream - our only source of television news, as the office did not have cable TV. It was 9:02am EDT As the stream began, showing a live camera view from a rooftop north of Tower 1, the second airliner entered from the left of the screen and disappeared behind Tower 2, reemerging as a fireball. I, and my coworker, still on the phone both gasped simultaneously. After what seemed like an eternity of silence, I mumbled, "...an attack. It's an attack. They hit it again." We both agreed that a decision needed to be made - was it safe to keep the office open? I needed to make some calls and determine that, so we hung up.

Everyone I called in D.C. was too busy or too distracted or too overwhelmed to give a clear indication of what was going on, both in New York, and in D.C. During what seemed like an eternity, but only took 15 minutes, two interns and another staffer arrived and were informed of what had happened. I was still the senior staffer in the office, it was my decision to stay and assess the situation. I told everyone else to go home. They didn't. It didn't matter, no one I could reach knew anything, and those that did were not available.

The phone was ringing off the hook, mostly with associates and colleagues asking the same questions we were. Then, at 9:47, a different phone call came - the Pentagon had just been hit and was on fire. Another plane was expected to hit the White House or the Capitol, or both.

That was it, everyone was going home. I ushered the staff out, most of them still staring in shock at the news feed, protesting, unaware that the city was now a target.

Walking out the fire exit onto K street, it was eerie - fear, sorrow and concern showed on the face of everyone. Strangers were calling to each other for news, as they struggled to figure out their way home through a city struggling with fear and confusion. Everyone was trying to use their cellular phones, only to discover that the service was overloaded, or temporarily shut-off.

I began walking up Connecticut Avenue, consciously moving away from the White House, realizing that my best bet was to grab a taxi, as the bridges and the Metro lines closest to the Pentagon were closed.

As I reached the point halfway between K and L Street, the shrill whine of jet engines at full throttle echoed between the buildings, growing ominously loud.

Everyone stopped.

All around, people, cautiously looked skyward, steeling themselves, scanning the narrow sliver of sky for an airliner-turned-weapon.

The sound died away and people redoubled their pace, feeling irreconcilably vulnerable.

After about 20 minutes of trying to hail a cab at the corner of 18th and L, I succeeded, offering to share it with a young woman who was headed in roughly the same direction. The cab driver turned on the radio and it was then that all three of us learned that the towers had fallen. It was then that the enormity of the attack really hit me. The three of us talked about the attack for another twenty minutes as we crawled through the city traffic.

By the time we got to the Sousa bridge, we had fallen into an uncomfortable silence after realizing that I worked with the military and they young woman worked for a Quaker organization that advocated a significantly reduced Department of Defense. In any other situation, the odd-couple pairing would have been comical.

As we crossed the bridge into Maryland, we all had our first view of the Pentagon and the thick column of black smoke rising from it, as two fighter jets circled overhead. The uncomfortable silence became quiet reflection.

After another three hours of inching our way towards my apartment building, from Maryland into Virginia, I decided that the cab couldn't get me any closer. I paid the massive, but "reduced" fare - every last cent I had on me - and left the cab to turn around and drive the young woman home, as I walked the mile and a half home.

Ironically, the thick column of smoke, a sign of the reason why I was winding my way through unfamiliar streets, guided me home. My cell phone rang - my parents we finally able to make it through to me. We talked as I walked most of the way to my apartment. Near my apartment, the streets were empty and eerily silent. People were huddled around a TV in the lobby of my building, watching CNN, seeking strength and reassurance from each other.

The rest of the day was spent watching news, calling, emailing, and IM-ing friends who lived around the country, including Manhattan. That evening, a group of friends, many of them stranded in northern Virginia by the attacks, gathered at my best friend's apartment, located in the building next to mine, slightly further from the Pentagon, to watch the rescue efforts from her living room and find comfort in each other's company. It turned out that another friend, who lived in the building on the opposite side of mine - closest to the Pentagon - had watched Flight 77 streak past her window and strike the Pentagon.

The Pentagon burned for another two days, and Washington was somber and quiet, the silence punctuated by the roar of fighter jets flying air combat patrols and almost-nightly vigils on the National Mall.

NMAH Story: Life Changed

My life has changed in a number of ways because of September 11, 2001.

Professionally, working in issues of national security, specifically focusing on counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation and the rise of radical islam and its effect on regional stability in southern Asia, my work has become much more hectic, but also much more rewarding.

I have become more spiritual as a result of September 11th, specifically as a result of the coincidences and unusual circumstances that saved the lives of many colleagues, friends and their loved ones. They decided to eat breakfast and arrive late, they called in sick for the first time in years, they had flat tires, or ran into unexpected traffic. The father of a good friend left his office on the 95th floor of Tower 1 at 8:30am for a meeting in mid-town Manhattan, a meeting he hadn't originally planned to attend. I believe that there are just too many coincidences to write it off as pure happenstance.

I have also become much more aware of my mortality and of the privileges enjoyed by simply being an American - not in the sense of being morbid or disdainful, but more thankful for each day, and the opportunity to live the life that I do.

I also find that I am much more aware of my surroundings and the people around me. Not to say that I have a siege mentality, just a heightened awareness.

NMAH Story: Remembered

This is a hard question to answer. My knee-jerk reaction is to say "Everything."

I think what most needs to be preserved is the individuality, the personal nature of the attacks and the life stories of those who died. Being in New York a month after the attacks, I was touched to my core by the 'missing' posters throughout the city, the subway, and on just about every flat surface. The September 11th snapshot project also created unforgettable memories, being able to see the attacks not just from the view point of one or two people, or the national networks, but from thousands of individuals.

As much as it has been repeated over and over in the press, I do think it is incredibly important to remember the hard-work and sacrifices made by firefighters, emergency response and law enforcement personnel on that Tuesday and the weeks and months to follow.

I hope that people also remember, and hold onto the sense of national unity, of national community that was forged after September 11th, and the outpouring of support from people around the world. Seeing tape of "The Star Spangled Banner" being played in Buckingham Palace still brings a tear to my eye.

I fear that the goodwill and togetherness is being slowly forgotten.

NMAH Story: Flag

I flew the First Navy Jack - a field of 13 red and white stripes with a sea snake and the phrase "Don't Tread On Me," a flag first flown in 1775 by the vessels of the American Revolutionary Navy - for six months.

Since the attacks, I've been much more reverential towards the American flag, regarding it as a symbol of pride and honor, displaying it as much as possible.

Citation

“nmah5658.xml,” September 11 Digital Archive, accessed September 16, 2019, http://911digitalarchive.org/items/show/41615.