It was an abrupt departure from blissful complacency.
I recall noticing how beautiful the morning was when I stepped outside the house to leave for work on September 11, 2001 … less than an hour before all hell went down.
As I did every day, I sat down with a cup of coffee at my desk, poring over my favorite news Web sites.
The first “breaking news” images I saw were of one of the Twin Towers with black smoke billowing out of it. Confused, I clicked through the up-to-the-minute reports.
The more shots I saw, the more frightened I felt. American Airlines Flight 11 had just met its demise upon crashing into the north Tower. Initially, I thought, “Accident … how awful!”
The increasingly tense atmosphere in the office was palpable. People were standing, looking around, flabbergasted, amid stunned commotion that a second airliner, United Airlines Flight 175 had struck the south Tower.
Still others huddled around computer monitors as they scrolled through online news reports that indicated the first tower had fallen.
Upon learning this, my gut clenched with terror as I informed my colleague in the next cubicle, “The tower went down” to her wide-eyed astonishment.
A mass email from Dow Jones Corporate announced that our World Financial Center facility had been evacuated. It had sustained some damage but all employees were ushered out quickly and to safety.
Our Director dismissed us from work at the South Brunswick campus soon after that.
This was huge.
And it was no accident.
The Pentagon in Washington, DC was struck by a third plane, American Airlines Flight 77. At that moment no one knew that a fourth, United Airlines Flight 93 bound for San Francisco was about to plunge into a Pennsylvania field.
I drove home in disillusionment, noticing the dazed looks on the faces of other drivers. All radio stations were inundated with the news.
Alone in the house, I tuned our stereo to NJ 101.5. Only military aircraft roared overhead in an otherwise deserted sky.
I was chilled with despair. The major networks were off the air, their huge antenna apparatus now part of the rubble amidst the pandemonium and destruction that was now lower Manhattan.
That day, Vice President Cheney authorized the military to bring down any aircraft that was unresponsive to air control communication attempts.
As Dad was retired and probably still asleep, I called to warn him about the TV images he would be viewing. His outrage and shock were expected and appropriate.
I then left a message for John’s mother (her house was just miles from Shanksville, PA). I assumed that if the answering machine was in good working order, then the rest of the house, and her, were unharmed.
John, en route to an I.T. client, was on the road that day and saw the smoke from across the river. We spoke when his cell phone was able to make a connection. I implored him to just get home as soon as he could.
We embraced in the driveway when he returned around 4:00 that afternoon.
We checked on families of two friends who worked at the Port Authority—miraculously, they were OK. Unfortunately, someone they knew and loved was killed at the World Trade Center that morning.
Later in the afternoon, I watched TV with helpless chagrin as the World Trade Center Seven collapsed on itself, yet another chapter in an evolving day of hell. By that time, all occupants had been evacuated.
Numerous volunteers from far and away descended upon the stricken city to help in any way they could at “ground zero.” One such angel was my friend Suzan Vitti. John’s fire department was on standby for assistance to the FDNY, who lost 343 members that day.
That night, the eyes of millions of horrified Americans (and I’m quite sure, the world) were fixed upon a somber and resolute President George W. Bush on TV as he addressed the country: “Today … our nation saw evil.”
Candles were lit and placed in windows in a show of solidarity. A fierce patriotism ensued.
There was a powerful sense of bewilderment that there were actually people out there in the world who felt no remorse in exterminating thousands of innocent human beings, whether from America or elsewhere.
Of course, the world has always been a dangerous place; however, never before had there been such a swift, gruesome attack on so large a scale, and certainly not within America’s shores.
The beautiful iconic buildings once symbolized a national pride and prosperity, and had been filled with hundreds of good souls who worked there. They, along with two jetliners of people from all over the world, were now dust.
The Pentagon was left with a gaping, smoldering hole; many perished there as well.
The doomed plane that went down in western Pennsylvania was remembered for its fearless passengers who rallied “Let’s Roll” in a plan to take out the hijackers.
The devoted first responders who dashed into the wreckage laden with rescue gear as others fled are no more.
All gone. And for what?
I was not born in time to remember the Pearl Harbor attack or when President Kennedy was shot. However, by this event I am forever altered, as were countless others who will always recall the terror of that day.
However—our flag is still there.
Wall Street Journal: Events of 9/11
Editors at The Wall Street Journal recount how the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 affected the newsroom