The way we were: September 11th, 2001I've stewed in recent days over how to remember the fifth aniversary of September 11th. Whatever your politics are, one thing I am sure we can all agree on is that 9/11/2001 changed the world for every one of us.
A few folks who are reading this may have lived and worked in the City of New York at that time five years ago. I have no doubt that for you, that day brings a real remembrance. Maybe you worked near the World Trade Center, perhaps you recall what you were doing when you heard the awful noise of the towers falling. A few of you might have even been close enough to see the terrible specter.
I remember where I was that morning. I was living in Dayton, Ohio at the time and I lived just a stone's throw from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. Like any other day, I got up early in the morning and went to work, and like many-a-day, I got to work earlier than I had to be there, operating under the assumption that usually proved true: "If I go in early, my boss will let me leave early so I can make a beer run if I like this afternoon." I had no idea just how early I would be let off the job.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary that morning as I went to work, but once I got to my office I remembered that I had been in such a hurry to leave my apartment that I left the television on. I had been watching Don Imus that morning on MSNBC and had left the TV tuned to MSNBC. I got to my office, I shut the door, but I left my cell phone on. Many times my cell would not ring in my isolated back office. At 9:05am, my cell phone beeped indicating that I had a message, but the phone never rang on my end. Since few people ever called my cell phone while they knew I was working, I decided the call must be very important and I decided to leave the office for a moment to check my voicemail. When I did so, I heard my long-time friend and then-attorney R. Jason Howard on a message.
"David, I assume you know what has happened...this is terrible. You need to go home immediately for your own safety." I kept thinking "what the..." so I returned his call immediately..."Can you put me through to Ja..." "Jesus son, it is awful. Two planes just crashed into the World Trade Center, it is an attack...downtown (Dayton) is crawling with the Law [federal agents] and the streets have all been closed. They'll shut down the [Colonel Glenn] Highway soon, you best get home." I went into my boss' office..."Donna, I just got off the phone with my lawyer, he says two planes just crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York, and that we are under attack." "What?" "Attack-we are at war, if this is to be believed."
My boss ran out of her office and toward the front desk to the radio. I rolled that direction and she turned around and said "David, head on home. If you want to come in tomorrow, that's fine. If not, don't worry about it." On the way home, I called my then-girlfriend and now wife, who was sleeping in, and was still to be found in bed. "Hi honey, we're at war." "What are you talking about?" "War-we are at war. Turn the television on..." "Oh my God..."
By the time I got back to my place, the TV was tuned to the news and I watched the collapse of the South tower of the World Trade Center with my own eyes. They also showed pictures of the suicide attack on the Pentagon. My phone rings. It was my roommate, who was a civilian employee at the Air Force Base. "Dude, the base is on full alert...all non-essential personnel have been ordered off. They are going to close the highway down, too. I am on my way home. Let me take care of lunch please, I'll get it on the way out of here and bring it home, yeah, it will take that long...I'm pissed, I want to shoot somebody...I hope these bastards burn in Hell."
When my roommate arrived, both twin towers had already collapsed. We reviewed where we were when we heard the news. A knock at the door. It is my neighbor from across the street, who had a cousin who was in the North Tower. Thankfully, his relative escaped unharmed and had survived. We talked about what we knew. Phone again. A friend of mine who is not particularly politically astute but knew that I kept up on that sort of thing was calling with the question "what happens now, what does all this mean.." I answered honestly "I'll be damned if I know, Jamie-the only thing that I can say with any certainty is that America as we know it has ended, nothing will ever be the same again."
Immediately after that call came another one. The phone got so busy that I answered it "Forest Lane news bureau" (that was the name of the street I lived on at the time.) It was my mother. "David, I was just calling to make sure you are alright." "Yes Mama, I'm fine-we're okay. Yes, they shut the highway down, but we don't need anything, we're fine."
The last call of the day I got was from an old friend of mine who was in a Special Forces unit who was on leave and I had visited the day before. "I leave for Fort Bragg in the morning-my unit just got activated..."
And nothing was ever the same again.