In honor of the fallen and first responders on September 11, 2001.
I had it in my mind to write about something very different today. But, after seeing the many events on television commemorating the September 11th attack 16 years ago, I had to change my plans. I decided I would share my memories of that day, as my way of commemorating the event and to honor those who were killed and wounded — 2996 dead, over 6000 injured.
My memory of that day begins in Crystal City, Virginia where my office was located. For those of you who aren’t aware, Crystal City is next door to the Pentagon. It is full of defense contractors of every sort, housed in shiny glass buildings, thus the name ‘Crystal City.’ There were regular shuttles that frequently ran from Crystal City to the many entrances to the Pentagon. I used those shuttles regularly.
I was scheduled to attend a 10 o’clock meeting in the E-ring, the outer most of the concentric rings that make up the Pentagon. It was to be in a conference room near the impact area. However, as I was making my way toward my office door to catch the elevator down to the street and catch the 9:30 am shuttle, the phone rang. “How inconvenient’” I thought. I rushed back to my desk, grabbed the phone, and all I heard was a dial tone. I punched ‘#69’ to try to get the callback number to see who had just called, but the recording said, “That number is not available,” or something like that.
A Pivotal Delay
This delay proved critical. By the time I made it out my office door, onto the elevator, and eventually out to the street, the shuttle was pulling away. The next shuttle wouldn’t be along for another fifteen minutes. That meant I was going to be late. The missed shuttle would have arrived around 9:40, giving me time to get to the conference room and set up for the presentation I was planning to give. I was very frustrated. Whoever had just tried to call had now caused me to be late. There was no way I could get there in time to set up and be ready to go at 10 am.
While standing there on the sidewalk waiting for the next shuttle, around 9:45 am, I felt the ground shake and heard a loud boom! A moment later, still trying to figure out what was going on, I could see the smoke plume going straight up from the direction of the Pentagon! Someone standing next to me said, “That’s coming from the Pentagon!” I immediately ran back into the office building thinking that I’d get a better look from my 11th story window. I had to see what was going on.
Devastation and Worry
From my angle looking from my window, I couldn’t see the actual impact point. But I could see the Pentagon and the smoke and debris that had filled the sky. The falling debris looked like pieces of concrete or other similar material. Later, we began to see pieces of paper, like confetti, floating slowly down all over the area.
All of us in the office were devastated. We turned on the television and tried to catch what was going on, not only here, but in New York. I could see the White House, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the Capitol building. Were these the next targets?
We knew we were stuck since we could see the roads closed, open to only emergency vehicles. It was going to be a long time before we would be able to get home. The phone lines were utterly useless to us; nothing was getting out or coming in. I knew my wife and family were going to be frantic wanting word of my condition, but they would have to wait for many, many fearful hours.
Unlike those in the Pentagon, the field in Pennsylvania, and the World Trade Center, I got home safe and sound to my family late that evening. I will never forget the boom, the debris, the chaos, and my friends who were killed and wounded.
I will also never forget that inconvenient phone call that kept me from catching the 9:30 am shuttle. Who was it? As a man of faith, I believe a divine intervening hand kept me that day. The events of that day served to fill me with a sense of purpose because I believe I was saved for a reason. I pray to God that I prove worthy, that I can do my part to make the world a better place, and that I can impact lives for good. If I can, then I feel I will have fulfilled my purpose.
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