9-11 Remembered by a New Yorker

I hadn’t planned on writing a post about 9-11 today. After 13 years the events of that day are still etched in my memory. But it’s a day I don’t want to forget and the world should not forget.

I visited the National September 11 Memorial Museum a couple of weeks ago and everything came back to me.

That Day

I had arrived at my PR agency that morning around 8:30. A former client was flying in from Toronto and we were meeting for a lunch I had arranged with someone I wanted to her to meet. I had a voice message from her that she was in a taxi on the way in from LaGuardia Airport.

Then, shortly after 8:46, there was a news flash on the TV monitor hanging from the ceiling reporting that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. We all gathered around to see what was happening. At that time, we thought it must be a commercial airliner gone astray. We had no notion at all that this was a terrorist attack.

I called my husband at home and told him to turn on the TV. That was the last phone call I made that day, as the attack disrupted telephone communications throughout lower Manhattan.

Then the next plane hit – and the next, and the next. We began watching the attacks with the rest of the world in real time. We didn’t know if the Twin Towers were their only target in New York, so shortly before noon everyone left the office and began their journeys home.

No Way Home

It wasn’t easy as all New York City transit busses and trains had stopped running along with commuter railroads. Vehicular traffic was halted at all tunnels and bridges connecting Manhattan to the mainland. We were effectively isolated from the rest of the world.

I had no idea where my former client was so I walked to the restaurant (which was still open) and left my business card and a note telling Diana that if she needed a place to say she should walk to my apartment. Yes, our feet were our transportation that day. I was lucky – only about three miles.

Thousands of people began walking over the bridges – they walked and walked until they got home or family and friends picked them up. Authorities also began evacuating people from the financial district in ferries to New Jersey.

My office was only two blocks from Times Square, an inviting target. So we all headed east, skirting that tourist mecca because we didn’t know where the next strike might hit. Yes, we didn’t know at the time if we were still under attack.

Stories to Remember

While the rest of the nation was traumatized by 9-11 it hit New Yorkers particularly hard. Everyone, including me, knew someone who died in the Towers or knew a friend who had lost a loved one.

Many of us returned to work the next day. But the attack was a gut punch for our office because one young woman’s husband worked in the North Tower for Marsh and McLennan (295 died) and was still missing.

She and her family came to the office. I think they needed the comfort of our community as we continued to watch the non-stop TV coverage while they called local hospitals asking for Mark Rosenberg. Finally, they got a positive response from St. Vincent’s and rushed there. We were all ecstatic for them.

But it wasn’t their Mark Rosenberg who had perished in the attack.

These are the stories of everyday New Yorkers that I personally know of. There are thousands more just like these:

— My client’s taxi was turned back from Manhattan and she returned to LaGuardia, but, of course, all flights had been halted. She was trying to locate a hotel, still in her taxi, when two young men approached her. They lived in suburban Long Island and if she would give them a lift, they would find her a motel. They did and she spent that day and the next with one of them in his living room with his family watching TV. On Thursday of that week she hired a local taxi to drive her across New York State to Buffalo, on the Canadian border, where her husband met her.

— A young friend worked for Fred Alger in in the North Tower on the 93rd floor and had gone into the office early to pick up a proposal. He took the elevator down to the lower level and entered the E subway train going uptown. He smelled smoke and the doors kept opening and closing but eventually it began moving – the last train out. When he exited uptown he saw all the excitement in the streets but had no idea what had happened. All his colleagues perished.

— That night we ate dinner with friends in our building. We couldn’t be alone. They had visitors from Florida who had planned to fly back the next morning. Of course, flights were disrupted for days. My friends gave them their car to drive to Florida and they sold the car when they arrived home.

— Three colleagues from our sister advertising agency were in California on business. They rented a car and drove to New York.

— A member of my professional association and a former client was working in one of the Towers. She was on the phone with her family and said she would be walking down the stairs but first she wanted to retrieve her pocketbook from her desk. She didn’t make it out.

About a week after 9/11 my husband and I decided to visit the site. Many others were there, too. There was almost total silence as we viewed the iconic “fence” that was the only remaining structure standing. Every building for blocks was covered in soot. Under the pile of rubble were almost 3,000 innocent victims. It had become a sacred place.

We said a prayer and left.

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Comments

  1. How well I remember. I was supposed to have breakfast with a friend in the WTC and the night before she called to say she was going to vote and asked if we could reschedule. The next morning I watched the horror from my TV at home!!

  2. That was amazing and so heart felt. I remember watching it all unfold at work and then at home. I remember feeling so paranoid. My son, who was three at the time saw us watching the TV and how upset we were. He finally asked why Batman had not saved everyone.

    • Debra — That’s so touching. How innocent children are, and blessedly so. Don’t we all wish they could have been saved.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story. I was in the military when this happened. It will be a day I will never forget. I finally retired after 25 years of service but this day still haunts me. May God bless our Nation.

  4. Thanks for sharing your memories, Jeannette. None of us will ever forget, and as you say, it’s important to remember. The most vivid memory I have is riding in on the train from CT the next morning and finding it virtually empty – everyone was reading the newspaper and everyone still looked shell-shocked. It was as if we were in an episode of the Twilight Zone — so strange. On all the days following 9-11 for many weeks I remember reading the incredible vignettes in the Times of all the people who perished. Every person in those stories was indeed special. Sadly, six of the people I read about were people I had known in one way or another. One was my downstairs neighbor of 13 years; another was a beautiful young woman who invited a group of us to dinner apartment a year or two before. We were there for an early dinner before heading over to the Metropolitan Opera for a wonderful evening. So sad memories often spark happier memories. Thanks again.

  5. Jeannette we must never forget and I don’t believe most of us will, or can. We were building our current house at the time. My stain glass designer was with me standing in one of the rooms which is now my office. My cell phone rang and my husband asked where I was. Since I didn’t have access to a radio or tv, he filled me in. I explained to the designer what was happening. We were quiet for about a minute, stunned and in shock.

    As I read your post I am, in my office. Reading it made me be quiet again.

  6. Jeannette – Thanks for the post, it is a day that has affected our country in many ways and sharing your personal remembrance was very nice to hear. Unfortunately, we continue to be confronted with a menace of intolerance that will require our country to make sacrifices for many years to come.

    • Ken — I agree, the situation has actually gotten worse since 9/11. And patriots like your daughter are serving their country during these difficult times and for that I give thanks.

  7. I was driving my husband to work when the first plane hit. At first we thought it was a joke because the morning radio station we used to listen to was two wise guys. When I got home, I saw it on TV. The rest of the day was a daze. We couldn’t even bring ourselves to visit the memorial when we went to NYC. We made it down there, and I saw how long the line was and I just couldn’t do it because it was just too much to stand there and wait to get in.

    • Jeri — I know, we were watching TV in the office right after the first plane hit and it took a long time to understand what was happening. I didn’t want to visit the museum, either, but I had relatives in town and they wanted to go. You can reserve your spot online and we didn’t wait at all on a busy Saturday. It is a magnificent place — almost like a sanctuary and filled with memorabilia that once again reminds us how vulnerable we are as nation.

  8. Jeannette- I will never forget 9/11. My son was working at the World Trade Center at the time. A friend of mine said turn on the TV. My heart fell to the floor. I called my son’s home and his wife said he left for NY. I called his office and as I was speaking to his secretary, she started screaming that the building was collapsing. I called him and he was in the Lincoln tunnel and had no clue what was going on. I told him to turn around and go home. My son had gotten up late that day. I am so blessed he is here, but we lost a lot of friends that were working for Cantor Fitzgerald. I agree we should never forget this day.

    • Arleen — What an emotional and frightening moment that must have been for you. I’m assuming your son worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. And the CEO, as you know, was taking his son to his first day of kindergarten and was planning to arrive later to the office. It is fate how some people were spared, including, thankfully, your son.

  9. Remember vividly when it happened. My office in London was very close to the American embassy so we all went home, just in case.

    It’s lamentable that the risk of such attacks happening is higher today than it was in 2001. The Islamic State has resources and capabilities to do anything they wish, anywhere in the world. Add to that that it has sleepers in practically all countries in the world. About 3 years ago a suicide bomber failed in Stockholm, Sweden. Turns out he was part of what is today the Islamic State.

    • Catarina — I know that 9/11 rocked the world and it became apparent that no country is safe if terrorists can strike one of the largest cities in world with impunity. And it’s only gotten worse.

  10. As traumatizing as 9/11 was for all of America, I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for you as a New Yorker. Im sure the feelings and images will be the same when you are 80 in your mind and heart as they were the day that they happened.

    • Yes, Susan, I can remember even the smallest details of that day, such as what I was wearing, and what we had for dinner, when I can’t even remember those details from last week. Our city was traumatized for months and people’s lives were disrupted forever. I had many friends in the vicinity of the World Trade Center who were never able to return to their contaminated homes. A whole rescue operation had to be implemented to rescue dogs and cats in the affected buildings. An awful day.

  11. Thanks so much for this Jeannette. I remember the day very well too. I was driving to the hospital in San Francisco for an infusion, and we heard the report on the radio. My partner and I were both in tears listening to a woman talking about a man who had jumped out of the window. I had a 2 hr infusion at the hospital, and it was during that time bits and pieces of information kept being relayed to me. It was so weird to have the skies across San Francisco be so quiet and everyone wondered if the Golden Gate Bridge would be the next target. It’s still hard to think about even after all this time.

    • A.K. — yes, dozens of people leaped from the top floors of the twin towers because the planes hit below their floors which were impassable. It was an awful choice to do that or be incinerated.

    • Doreen — It was devastating and it took us a long time to recover — emotionally and physically. Our agency brought in counsellors because it was so traumatic for many who lost loved ones and those who lived near the World Trade Center and were forced from their homes.

  12. Thank you for that extremely touching recollection Jeannette!

    Like you (and I’m sure) everybody else, as I and some colleagues and friends later on that day, watched (with such disbelief!) everything steadily unfolding on that faithful day.

    It was sort of surreal, as I recall. You couldn’t quite accept that what was happening was in fact planned and deliberately being carried out! No way!

    I’ll never forget (nor do I wish to), forget the sheer horror of seeing the footage of the one American leap to his death from the burning smoke filled building!

    I can only imagine what you and everybody else who was actually their must of have been going through, physically and emotionally!

    It really gripped our entire nation, in a way very few real life tragic events can!

    I can still remember vividly, seeing pictures on the nightly (when i was a kid) of some of the horrors of the Vietnam war!

    But, 9/11 made those events pale by comparison! I really loved and thoroughly enjoyed the video BTW.

    It’s amazing the resolve we demonstrated as an entire nation, able for a time to put aside our differences and all come together as Americans!

    Like you and so many others, I too will never ever (nor do I wish to) forget those tragic events on 9-11!

    Thank you so much for reminding us what’s really important Jeannette!

    • Mark – wouldn’t it be heartening if we could all come together as a nation like we did on 9/11. If only the politicians in Washington could do that now for the good of the people and our country.