With the possible exception of Merrin, I'm probably going to say things here that you might not have heard me say before. This is my weblog and my space. Today, it is my place for trying to make sense of a lot of things. This isn't really intended for you, it's for me. I need this, so please try to understand. –Kev
Like everyone, I know exactly where I was on Sept. 11, 2001. The hotel hadn't opened yet, but all the management had to be there for orientation. All of our new employees were going to be there. I was really excited. For the first time, the hotel was going to have more than 2 dozen people in it.
When the first plane hit the WTC, I was in the car on the way to work. I was listening to Sports Radio 1310 AM – The Ticket, like always. They were just goofing off like any other Tuesday. Evidently they had a muted TV on in the studio or something. One of the guys kinda said something out of nowhere to the effect of, "Oh shit, something just happened at the WTC. I think a plane just hit the WTC. Is that a live picture?" I can remember thinking, "How in the hell do you fly a plane into the WTC?" My mind's eye pictured some Cessna smacking the side of a building and falling to the street. The radio was talking about the relative distance from the WTC and the NY airports. I wasn't familiar with the distances, but from their discussion the WTC was miles and miles away from an airport. A few seconds later, the talk turned from "Is that a live picture?" to Craig Miller (radio host) saying, "Oh my God, look at that."
My mind was now racing. The "hole" they were describing in the building sounded massive. I was scanning all the radio stations trying to find ABC or anyone who was broadcasting from New York. My mind, which had previously conceived the image of a crumpled Cessna, now spun on afterburners. And I think I realized within a matter of 10-12 seconds and said aloud, "You don't accidentally fly a big plane into a building."
When I got to work, I grabbed my computer and went to CNN's website. 15 minutes or so had passed since I first heard it on the radio and there were some images already online. I was shocked. There was this huge, black hole in the side of the building. I was also learning that it was believed that an commercial airliner had hit the building. I was amazed. Everyone in the office gathered around.
We had a few more minutes before our orientation with the staff and we all headed to the hotel bar to watch CNN on a freshly installed TV. We couldn't believe it. I think I called Merrin to tell her what was going on. She had no idea and was shocked. There weren't any more details available for a few minutes, and we left the bar to attend the orientation. It is 8:00am in Texas. 11 minutes have passed since I heard it on the radio.
Orientation was going…not well. Too many people were had seen the TV in the lobby bar and we're talking about the plane crash. But, we there to do a job and this had to be done. My GM is a fun loving guy, but even he had a serious time and we all knew it was time to focus. We had a lot of corporate employees from New York that had come to help open the hotel, and he wanted our opening to be memorable for them.
Fifteen minutes after the orientation started, Drew (hotel GM) was called outside. This wasn't unusual and I expected it would probably happen a dozen or more times during the class. When he came back in, he was a different man.
Drew interrupted the orientation and said he had some upsetting news to tell news. His voice, which was normally strong and upbeat, was noticably weak. I remember it this way, "Most of you saw the TV pictures this morning of a plane hitting the building in New York. They've come on the TV and said that they think it was an American Airlines plane and that it was hijacked. The damage is really bad." His voice was getting very shaky now and the happy guy we all had known seemed to be on the verge of breaking down into tears. "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center. They're pretty sure it's a terrorist attack. There are other planes that might have been hijacked, but no one knows right now. I know a lot of you are from the New York area. We're going to take an extended break and set some phones up for you to use if you need to call home. Just call whomever you need to call."
WHAT?! What was going on? A second plane? Hijacked? Both planes hit the WTC? What? We all ran back to the lobby bar. A lot of people were upset. I was more in a state of confusion. I had to know more.
I keep using the word "shocked". Looking back, I had no idea what it meant, and I still wouldn't until later that day.
And then it happened….
The TV replayed the scene of the second plane hitting the WTC. My whole life changed in that moment. Of all the images I have seen of every event in the history of the world, this one image changed my whole life.
My heart sank and some tears rolled down my face. "Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God." How could this be happening? What else was going to happen?
The news coverage was all over the map. No one knew anything for certain, but everyone was reporting everything. There was so much chaos. The news was reporting dozens of hijackings. All the plans were being ordered down. You heard everything and you had no idea what the hell was going on.
I called Merrin. I had to tell her. I didn't know what was happening, but I had to tell her in case there was something else happening. What if it was coming here? What if this was the last time I could talk to her? Merrin was shocked and upset. We've never really discussed how I "sounded" on the phone, but I was trying as hard as I could to be calm and just tell her what had happened so far. I told her I didn't know if we'd be staying at the hotel or if I was going to go home. We said "I love you" and she said to please keep calling her to tell her what was going on.
I went back to the TV and just stared at the images. It is 8:30am in Texas. 41 minutes have passed since I heard about the first plane on the radio. People in the top of the WTC towers are waiving shirts and jackets and trying to be rescued. The fire just a couple of floors below them is burning straight through the building. People begin jumping from the windows of the Trade Center.
About 20 minutes later, CNN breaks away from the New York coverage to report live from the Pentagon. Another plane has been hijacked and has hit the Pentagon. Live pictures from the Pentagon show flames and more chaos.
It's 8:48am in Texas. 58 minutes after hearing about the first plance, I am leaving the hotel and I'm headed home. I call Merrin to tell her about the Pentagon. She has lots of questions and I have no good answers. I tell her the TV said there are other planes that have been hijacked and that she should close her store. "Just close the store and come home."
I'm listening to the radio trying all the way home, trying to find out what is going on. I'm almost home. One of the towers of the WTC has just collapsed. The guy on the radio is frantic…and scared. Collapsed? What do you mean, collapsed? Oh my God.
By the time I get home, the radio has reported a fourth plane was hijacked and may have crashed on its way to Washington D.C. The roads are relatively empty. My drive takes me past the Naval Air Station. There is an F-18 taking off at full speed — much faster than I have seen from the NAS. I feel better, and worse.
The images on the TV were just as shocking as they had been before. And then, right before my eyes, the second tower of the WTC collapsed. There was a rumbling sound and a woosh. And then just a huge cloud of grey smoke and dust. No building. Both towers were gone. Just gone.
People were covered in dust. Police and firefighters were trying to rescue anyone they could find. Strangers and neighbors were hugging one another and crying. People just in shock – standing, swaying. Soldiers carrying people out of the Pentagon.
I don't remember when Merrin got home, but it was the biggest relief just to hold her. I remember being relieved that we were together. I don't remember thinking "we're safe", rather "thank God we're together." We spent the rest of the night watching TV. I watched the same replay images over and over. There weren't any commercials. They weren't any other shows on TV. Just the live coverage from the attacks.
Later that night, members of Congress walked out on the steps of the Capitol and sang, "God Bless America". I remember watching it and singing along very quitely, almost just mouthing the words. Then the President came on later and said that America would fight the war for freedom. And then, in closing, "Good night, and God bless America." I've heard it since I was old enough to remember President Carter on TV. But that night, it really meant something. It wasn't a prayer – it was almost a plea.
My memory takes two divergent paths from that point: one that is locked in the images and pain from September 11th, and a second set of memories of how proud we all were of the America we became. The images of families searching for loved ones, sons putting up posters for daughters, aid workers looking for homeless people who were now missing, dumptrucks full of debris being taken to be sorted, and little peices of paper everywhere. Papers that had been on someone's desk or in their drawers. Firefighters raising an American flag at the World Trade center. Rudy Guiliani speaking to families and just feeling and showing every ounce of their pain. Hundreds of New Yorkers lining the streets to hold signs and flags supporting the firefighters and police working at the Trade Center site.
But there are less painful memories, too: President Bush speaking to firefighters and workers at the WTC with a bullhorn – promising them that America hears them and the whole world hears them, the National Day of Prayer, thousands of candlelight vigils, the National Anthem being played at Buckingham Palace, the letters sent from all over the world, and the millions of people around the world who cried for America. I think closest of all for me, is the memory of the President's speech to Congress and the world just a few days after the attacks. (Listen) (Watch)
The events of September 11th still haunt me, too. I have a hard time watching the news coverage from that day without breaking down. The painful memories (both my own and those of other people relating their own) are just too powerful and too raw.
I'm not the man I was on September 10th. When I woke up on September 12th, I was definately a different person. I cry easily now and sometimes for no good reason at all. Sometimes I'm embarrased, but most of the time I just don't care what other people think. I'm incredibly protective of my wife and our time together – nothing means more to me. I'm much more likely to share my emotions with other people. I'm much more compassionate to other people when they are hurting. Their pain hurts me and I can feel it. I'm incredibly proud of our country. I have always been patriotic – I was brought up in a patriotic family. But I'm very proud of the country I live in. I always flew our flag for the holidays, but since September 11th, it's flown every day.
If I can't be the man I was on September 10th, I hope I can remain the caring man I became on September 12th.
The pain I feel is nothing in comparison to the pain of so many others, but it's there and it's my pain. It's like a scar in my heart. Well maybe not even a scar yet, because every time it's touched, it just hurts all over again. Maybe it will become a scar one day, maybe it never will.
This is still all very hard for me to talk about. I've written it here because — well, it's safe here. It's just me and my computer. I realize you're out there too, but I don't have to actually "speak" to talk about it. Just because my thoughts are here doesn't mean I want to talk about it with you. I hope you can understand and respect that. I really don't want to talk about it in too much detail with anyone right now, but I feel better by having gotten it out. –Kev
A lot of other people have September 11th memories or are trying to remember specific events. There's a lot of stuff out there on the web, but you have to look hard to find it. Here are some resources:
CNN.com Sept. 11th Pages Archived
Library of Web Content for September 11th
September 11th News (images, stories)
September 11th News Archives (Newspapers, magazines, Web)
September 11 Digital Archive
Screenshots from various websites on September 11th
Gary Suson's First Person Photos
Research Buzz Collection (photos, news, memorials, rescue info)