Certain momentous events “shock” the American public. They were generally unexpected, sudden, and had a significant impact on the country. In three earlier posts I explore some of those shocks that have happened during my 60+ years of life. I’d now like to share my recollection of the biggest shock of my lifetime, the attacks on 9/11/01.
On September 11, 2001, I arrived at work around 8:30 at my office on the fourth floor of 100 Manhattanville Road, Purchase, New York. The building is on a small hill in Westchester County and from our windows we could see the skyscrapers of Manhattan in the distance. At around 8:45 or 8:50, somebody in the office said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. Since we could see the towers in the distance from our office windows, I went to the window to look. On the horizon I saw black smoke coming from one of the towers. The smoke wasn’t rising up but was blowing sideways parallel to the ground in an easterly direction. It was not an enormous amount of smoke, but it was clearly visible from even 40+ miles away. Looking down towards the towers, I was surprised to see that the weather was clear with no fog or haze. I wondered how a plane could have hit the building in such clear weather. It didn’t make any sense. At that time we didn’t know whether it was a small plane or a large one, although I suspected it was a small plane that had veered off course.
One of my co-workers (Cheryl) called our offices on the 93rd floor of Two World Trade Center to find out what was going on and if it was their building that had been hit. Cheryl reached one of the employees and learned that their building had not been hit: it was One World Trade Center that was hit. We were relieved to hear that. The employee told Cheryl that the announcement through the PA system was telling everybody not to evacuate the building, but to stay put. Our employees remained in the building.
I tried to get some information from the Internet but couldn’t connect with any of the news sites that I could think of. AOL only had a headline that a plane had hit the WTC but no details. I tried to call my wife, Sue, at home, but her line was busy.
A few minutes after hanging up with our employees at the World Trade Center, we heard that the other tower had been hit by an airplane. All of a sudden it became very clear: this was a terrorist attack and not some terrible accident. We also realized that our employees were probably doomed. Since they were so high up in the building and the plane had hit just below them, we believed that if they hadn’t been killed almost immediately by the impact and resulting fire, they were trapped with no way to escape the heat and smoke. I went to the window and saw much more black smoke pouring from the buildings.
Somebody said there was a television in the offices of a neighboring company on our floor, so I went over there and watched the smoking towers for a few minutes. When I went back to our office, nobody was working. Everybody was distracted by these momentous events taking place.
At some point, and I can’t remember exactly when, word came to us that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. I was shocked, since I believed that the World Trade Center had been the only target. It was clear to me that we were under a coordinated attack, and I wondered when this was going to end. What other landmarks had been targeted? How many more were going to die? What could our armed forces do to stop this? Were they going to start shooting down civilian planes?