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September 09, 2006

911: Where were you?

And what did you think was happening?

Over the next few days until the 911 anniversary, I will be remembering where I was, what I felt and what I did during the attack on America dealt to us by the hands of 19 Islamic terrorists. I don't think I have ever relayed my 911 experience, but I hope that it becomes part (as I do yours) of the oral fabric of American history. No matter who you were or where you were, 911, as it is now known, is a marker of some sort. I encourage all bloggers to be as personal as you can when describing the day to your readers. Thanks, and despite our differences and because of our commonalities, I'm proud to be an American alongside you.

We all know that September 11, 2001 will forever be a dark day in American history. It was America's new dawning, the realization that the elements existing in the world around us had truly changed for the worst. And we were its target.

Crash and Burn
The day is particularly poignant for me. I was a ten year American Airlines employee and on September 11 I was scheduled to see my supervisor about a pay raise I knew I deserved but hadn't got. I was a little angry because I knew I did a good job. At the time I was a gate agent working the Dallas 757s and Chicago "super 80s". It was a pressure cooker job with exacting deadlines, demanding people and attention to details. From there I volunteered to work in the baggage service office which was even more demanding than the gates. Yet, I loved doing it.

I'd traded my normal late night shift to work the morning shift. Out of the ordinary for me because I was a typical "night owl". Getting up early never appealed to me, but to help a coworker out, I did it. Since I was up early for the 9am shift start, I didn't even turn the news on. To be honest,I was a little nervous about being late so I didn't want to get involved with the news like I usually did.

I arrived at Hartsfield-Jackson employee parking around 8:40 am. That began the eventful day for me and millions of other people around the country. When I pulled up to the guardhouse, I took out my ID to show, but instead heard a woman scream inside, "The plane hit the building! Oh God!" She glanced quickly at my ID and went back inside. I thought there must have been a "regular" plane crash. Working in the airline industry, you can become a little desensitized to such things so I tucked it in knowing I could find out more when I got to my office.

On the bus, everyone was eerily silent as we rode the three minutes to T terminal. A short time later, I walked into the office and John my tall, lanky coworker from Connecticut who'd been with American for almost 20 years stood transfixed on the TV, his face ashen white. What's going on John?, I asked.
He said nothing.
Then..."Oh God, no. No."
I looked at the TV just in time to see the second plane (United 175) violently crash into the World Trade Center's South Tower. It was a little after nine in the morning. John and I both stood motionless. Not knowing what to think, but both of us believeing what we were seeing was real. I didn't know that the first plane was one of ours. I felt hot tears well up in my eyes. Was this war? Who was it? Are all these people dead? It was a surreal moment assaulting every one of our senses.

We both continued to watch. Others had joined us in the office backroom. Nobody said anything but gasps and quick breaths. By the time we realized this was something diabolical --not accidental-- it was too late. Too late to stop anything. Too late to say anything. Too late to do anything except continue to stand and stare shocked and amazed. Some people had started to cry openly by that time.

We heard from the AA Atlanta station manager that Hartsfield was about to ground all inbound and outbound flights. Nothing would move. Everything would be frozen in place. Any plane moving would be diverted to the nearest airport. Not only that, but everyone in the airport --thousands of people-- would have to immediately vacate the premises. Only employees and law enforcement would be allowed inside.

That's when bedlam broke out. I have never seen such raw fear, such a scene of confusion. It was everywhere. Passengers were trying to ask us all types of questions, but all we could say is you have to get out of the airport immediately. One woman wanted to know when could I rebook her to get to Detroit. I guess everyone was still in a state of unbelief.
Then, I thought about my wife, a government employee who was working in a downtown Atlanta highrise. My thoughts panicked as I nervously dialed and redialed her work number.

I invite you to link here or trackback if you'd like to share your experience on that day.
Part Two of 911: Where were you? tomorrow.

  • CNN's "Chronology of Terror"
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