Sunday is September 11, 2011. The ten-year anniversary of 9/11.
My prayers go out to all the surviving family members, friends, colleagues and associates of the 9/11 citizens who were viciously killed that day. A special prayer of thanksgiving goes to the families of passengers of Flight 93. These passengers are the people who took the first steps in fighting back extremism.
An equally heartfelt prayer of thanks goes out to the families of the first responders who willingly gave their lives so that many others would live.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 was a beautiful cloudless early Fall day. I went to work at one of the “big four” banks at an office near Wilmington, DE. A co-worker and I had made plans to go up to Philadelphia after work that day, to have some drinks with our former colleagues at a Center City brokerage firm.
I got an email from my co-worker – “a plane hit the World Trade Center”. I immediately thought “Piper Cub. Some amateur pilot got completely off-course, or had a heart attack. Boy, I hope nobody else got seriously hurt.” Then another email – “No, it was a jumbo jet. A big passenger jet.”
Hmm. That didn’t make any sense. No one can fly a jet that big anywhere NEAR lower Manhattan, or even over the city – it’s restricted air space. We walked out to the hallway where there were TV monitors so you could catch the news while getting a cup of coffee. On the news, the TV was showing the World Trade Center burning, but BOTH towers were on fire. Then we heard a second plane had hit the South Tower. Then we heard a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Then we heard another plane had crashed in Pennsylvania, a few hours west of us.
That’s when it began to dawn on all of us that we weren’t going to Philadelphia that day.
We were sent home, and my wife and I were glued to CNN the rest of the day. It was hard to watch, of course. My wife is from New York, and my youngest daughter was born there. My wife’s family was still there, and her brother worked in Manhattan at the time. My family is mostly from Washington, DC, and my mother worked in various places around the city. So we were very concerned about them.
The kids were let out of school at the regular time, and I walked across the street to meet them. I told them that something bad had happened today, and my wife and I tried to explain the best we could to 12, 9 and six-year old kids what Islamic extremists were, and why someone would fly passenger jets into buildings.
I had an enormous American flag that a friend had given me many years earlier. This flag was silk, and at one time was one of the 50 flags that fly continuously around the base of the Washington Monument in DC. I hung that flag up in my picture window in my family room, and left it up until I could get a new flag to fly in the front of the house, with a light on it so it could fly 24 hours a day, rain or shine.
I remember that it was so quiet outside. We live 50 miles from Philadelphia, so westbound jets fly overheard, but they’re pretty high up once they get near us. For days afterward, of course, no planes were flying.
In October 2001, I attended a class in NYC for work. The class was held in Brooklyn, so one day after class I took the subway over to my old neighborhood. I used to work at 120 Broadway, almost directly across the street from the plaza at World Trade Center. I used to shop at Century 21 in the WTC mall. The city still smelled very much like dust and ash, one month later. I walked past St. Paul’s, and the number of Missing posters made me cry. The tributes and memorials were overwhelming. The really sad part was seeing the parking lots at the Long Island Railroad train stations – there were a few cars that had been parked there on September 11, and they hadn’t moved since. Still waiting for owners who would never return.
I hung up my American flag, and once I put the flag out front, I prayed for the troops in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. I promised myself I would not take the flag down until the last American troop has come home from Afghanistan and Iraq. Many flags later, it still flies 24/7, and I still pray for the troops and their families. All the old, faded flags are folded neatly into triangles, blue field of stars on the outside. Waiting, respectfully, for the last troop to come home. It’s my own personal 9/11 tribute, and I’ve never mentioned it to anyone before this post. I thought maybe the tenth anniversary might be a good time to talk about it.
I have shaken a lot of hands, and thanked many service members for their service. They are, without question, the next Greatest Generation. They stood up when we needed them, and they answered the call over and over again. We owe them.
I will try to get out to Shanksville this year. It’s only a few hours’ drive from here, and I really should go to see it. See where it all began, 10 years ago this Sunday.
America, let’s roll.