It’s become something of a cliche to share your memories of 9/11. However, I realize that I’ve never written mine down, and maybe there is something worthwhile there for my own archiving purposes. After all, we all have our own experiences, and just because mine are not particularly dramatic, nor close to the events of September 11, 2001, they are real all the same.
Did You Hear…
My 9-11 story begins at Founders Mutual Funds. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist anymore, and if it does, it’s as a subsidiary of something. At the time, I was a Senior Microsoft Administrator (or whatever title you prefer. Basically, I ran an office network that used Windows Server and Windows computers with a handful of other IT folks.)
This was in Denver, Colorado, so all of our times were two hours earlier than they are on the East Coast. (Mountain Time, if you want to be specific.) I worked the 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift. I was already in the office, but far from the only one. As an investment company, more than a few folks were in because their jobs revolved around what was happening on the New York Stock Exchange.
I don’t remember much about the day itself. I’d have to look it up to find out what day of the week it was. It was wholly unremarkable until the corporate attorney walked into my cubical, across the hall from his, where he had a real office, and importantly, a TV.
He said, “Did you hear a plane hit the World Trade Center?”
I turned around, and said, “No.” — The first odd bit of the day happened here. I assumed this was the beginning of a joke. “Did ya hear…” Instead, he motioned toward his office and walked back.
Flummoxed, I followed him to see a few people had gathered and were watching the TV. There on the screen smoke was coming out of one of the buildings of the World Trade Center. Yes, ONE of them.
There were some news people talking, and some murmurs among those of us gathered there. It seemed like just another tragedy. They happen from time to time, plane crashes, train crashes, a bridge collapse. Just one of those things.
I assumed there must have been a mechanical issue with the plane. There simply seemed to be no possible way that an airline pilot could accidentally fly into the World Trade Center. I mean, sure, they put those red lights on the top, but there’s just no way anyone flying into any of the New York area airports would be that low over Manhattan of all places.
If I had stood there for a year coming up with scenarios of what might have happened, it still would have never occurred to me that someone would have flown an airplane into a tower on purpose.
While we were watching, they showed a replay of the plane crashing into the tower.
It crashed into the wrong tower, and the other one was smoking.
It took several seconds, but…
It wasn’t a replay.
I watched live on TV, like many other Americans, as the second plane crashed into the second tower.
In that second, everything changed.
The only thing less likely than someone purposely crashing an airplane into a tower in Manhattan was TWO airplanes accidentally crashing into two different towers. Someone really was doing this on purpose.
We stayed in that room watching. I don’t know how long it was, but I do know every one of us had the same thought.
Would there be more?
As the day went on, there were more. There was one at the Pentagon, and one crashed into a field. We didn’t know at the time that the passengers of that flight had found out what was going on and fought back. I like to think that they won, even for a few minutes before the plane smashed down. Whatever happened, they almost certainly saved a lot of lives.
The attacks affected me as an American. I mean, this sort of thing just doesn’t happen. Other than that, however, I wasn’t that close to the attack or its effects. I didn’t know anyone in the towers, I don’t think I even knew anyone in New York or Washington D.C.
Like everyone else after the attacks I wanted more information. What happened? Who did it? Why? What would we do back?
The answers were much slower coming than it seems now. No one knew right away what would happen. No one knew if this was the start of a wave of attacks. No one really knew anything.
They shut down the stock market for a few days. It was to prevent panic. Nobody wanted to see terrorists triggering some sort of financial meltdown.
Eventually, we got answers, and they weren’t very satisfying. A bunch of zealots, just 20 to be exact, decided they would do something for reasons they thought were justified. It turns out that was it. The entire attack capability of a worldwide terrorist network blown all at once in a dramatic, but futile attack.
In the end, they got nothing. In fact, they lost their safe haven in Afghanistan and most of their leadership got hunted down and killed. These days, your average terrorist is lucky if he can get a bomb into a police station in a country far away from here.
As Sam Seaborn would later say on the West Wing, terrorism has a zero-percent success rate. There are still troops in the Middle East (more of them, in fact), and the U.S. is still America. We just have a few more flags. I’ve always wondered how little imagination one must have to decide that the best use of one’s life is to give it away.
So, today, 17 years later, we remember. So do I.