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The September 11 Digital Archive

Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Behring Center Smithsonian “September 11:
Bearing Witness to History”

     Story of September 11
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Contributed by: Kevin J. Dabulis
Contributor's location on 9/11: Staten Island, NY
Contributed on: 12 October 2004

How did you witness history on September 11th?

Got to work around 8:15 am, put some coffee up and then toasted an English muffin. Back at my desk (We were on the 19th floor of 55 Broad Street, the back of our office had a great view of the towers from about a block away) at about 8:36 I heard what sounded like a large thunderclap. I thought to myself that it's beautiful outside when I came in, where did the thunder come from. I looked out my office window, which was on the opposite side of our building not facing the towers, and I saw what looked like ash and burning papers flying through the air along with a lot of smoke. I turned on my computer to and it said that a plane had just struck the trade center. I yelled it out in the middle of our office and no one believed me. So I ran to the back of our office where we had a door that led out to a balcony where folks smoked when the wanted to, it had a great close up view of both towers. When I open the door a lot of smoke and debris was in the air and when it cleared for a second I saw all the flames. I immediately tried to close the door but people in the office came to the back because they smelled all the smoke. We all went on the balcony and watched what was unfolding. Me and a few of the guys were discussing that it must have been a private plane and that since it was restricted air space to begin with, the pilot must have had a heart attack or something. We were watching as people began jumping out of the building, we saw a couple holding hands plunge 75 or so stories to their end. It was like it wasn't really happening, like a surreal movie. All of a sudden we began to hear what sounded like a freight train going over our building. It looked more like a missile until the last second when the plane banked on its side and we saw the two wings as it plunged right into the 2nd tower. The building swayed on impact and we felt the heat and the blast shock like it was a slap in the face. At that point everyone knew it was a terrorist attack. A few of us knew it was Bin Laden because we always talked about all the crap he did to us like the USS Cole and the embassies in Africa. We knew a TV news crew assassinated the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan with a bomb in the camera the day before. It was the prelude to this offensive attack. After standing frozen solid in disbelief at was unfolding in front of us for what felt like eternity, but really only a minute, we ran to our phones to call loved ones and the phones were dead. The Verizon infrastructure was located in the WTC. We then tried our cell phones. Some were lucky to get through; others like me had a hard time. (I ditched Omnipoint after that) We turned on the radio and heard that there were 7-10 planes still unaccounted for, and then one hit the Pentagon, then we heard of the one smashing into a field in Shanksville Pa. While this is going on a close friend of mine reached our office and was covered head to toe in blood. She looked as if she dipped herself in a blood pool. Her hair was matted in it. She was crying hysterically and shaking. I was a Paramedic in the Army, so I went to her and checked her for any wounds, she was totally uninjured... not a scratch... I asked her what had happened and she told me she just came out of 5WTC (she took the PATH train to work and it lets out under the WTC) and was crossing the street when the first plane struck, she saw all the falling debris coming down and ran to a nearby menís clothing store, Brooks Brothers. A lady who was running just behind her was hit with falling glass and was cut in half just a foot or so from my friend. The blood belonged to that lady. While I was talking to her the first building began to fall. Our building shook violently like an earthquake, tiles came falling down from the ceiling and lights flickered and glass doors smashed. We didn't know if that building was falling on ours, thank God for us, it just imploded and collapsed straight down on its axis. A half hour later it was a repeat as the 2nd building fell. It was at that point we knew that there must have been unprecedented carnage there. We thought at least 20-30 thousand dead. Thankfully we were wrong and not for the heroism of our fire fighters and policemen and emergency services it would have been a whole lot worse. After that we heard an announcement on the building PA that they were evacuating the building to the basement. Some went, a few friends and me refused. We had water, food, telephones here, it is nothing but a trap down there I said. If the building fell, being under it wouldn't help much anyway. At around 11:45 me and a friend Peter Mule who was a Sr. Account Manager with RCG decided we were going to get out of there and make our way home. We took towels and soaked them and made our way down 19 flights to the lobby and tried to go out the front way. A police officer ordered us to get back in the building. We then went out the service entrance and the coast was clear except that it was like nuclear winter. It was like a dust storm in the middle of the Sahara but the dust was a grayish pink with burning embers. Walking in it was like trying to walk through 6-8 inches of snow... As we made it to Water Street we can see cars, buses, trucks, with there doors open, engines still running and abandoned. There was a city bus lying on its side, which must have turned over after jumping a curb. At that point I saw a lady walking aimlessly saying that we are all breathing in the remains of the dead. (I said, that's more info than I need to know at this point, it was sickening) It was like a mass refugee exodus to and over the Brooklyn Bridge. (I had a co-worker who actually jumped into the east river andtried to swin across to Brooklyn, was picked up by a passing ferryboat)) As we walked across the bridge we saw 2 fighter jets coming from afar aimed right at the Bridge, from a distance we couldnít tell who's they were. It was obvious quickly that they were ours. I got over the bridge and walked through the courts area to a neighborhood, which is considered an Arab neighborhood. The Arabs were literally dancing in the streets, cars with flags were streaming down Atlantic and 4th Avenues yelling "Death to America" and lots of other crap. Women were clapping and making strange sounds with their mouths in the streets... There was a huge police presence but they just stood there with an anger you couldn't believe on their faces. They wanted to shoot them. You could see it in their eyes. I had ducked into a pizzeria to hide while my brother made his way there by car to pick me up. The subways were evacuated and not running. I lost 17 friends, some cops and firemen, some former colleagues, and my doctorís son. I went to 5-6 funeral/memorial services but couldn't do any more. It was just too excruciating. The office opened the following Monday. The air downtown was a putrid mix of burning plastic/fiberglass and rubber and the stench of death. I had a bad cough from the moment I got off the M-train Broad Street subway stop until I reached home every night for the first 3 months. It will only happen again if we again have an administration that believes that appeasement is the best form of diplomacy. I don't believe war is either. What a ridiculous world we are bringing up our children in.

Has your life changed because of September 11, 2001?

I was always very cognizant of my surroundings but now I live by the saying... "Constant Vigilance" As citizens we have to partner with our protective services in making sure that terrorist attacks never happen again on American soil. There will always be some who hate the American way of life so to say that the war on terror will be unconditionally won like say WW2 is very naive. I just hope the threat of terrorism subsides so my children will never have to face a day like September 11th 2001 in their lifetime.

What do you think should be remembered about September 11th?

I think what should be remembered is the the firemen and policemen who raced into those buildings while others were racing out. The supreme sacrifice they made to help to save thousands of lives should be forever remembered. Also, those who fought with the hijackers about flight 93 which fell in a field in Shanksville PA so that thousands today could live.

Did you fly an American flag after the events of September 11th?

I always had the American Flag somewhere... A small one on my desk. The one I proudly display on Veterans Day and July 4th every year. I've been all over the world, to many countries capitals and seeing their flags flapping in the breeze but none of them are as beautiful as the stars and stripes. I may travel on vacations throughout the world and appreciate and enjoy other countries cultures but when I get into Kennedy Airport and go through customs and the inspector asks me "what would you like to declare", I always say with a smile.. "It's great to be home"... May God continue to Bless America and our men and women in uniform around the globe defending the freedoms we enjoy today.

Cite as: Kevin J. Dabulis, Smithsonian Story #6853, The September 11 Digital Archive, 12 October 2004, <>.
Archival Information: 1421 words, 7375 characters

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