Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9-11-2001 Impressions

I had just returned to my office, on Capitol Hill, after a week’s vacation at the beach. It was a beautiful September morning, clear and cool, bright blue skies. We had the morning news running on the office television, they were reporting an “accident,” an airplane had hit one of the New York skyscrapers – I called my boss, something didn’t feel right, I wanted to find out what he knew. As we watched the news report, as I was on the phone with my boss, we saw the second plane hit the other tower. This was deliberate.

We evacuated. On the street we heard sirens, and a large explosion. We knew we were under attack. Street rumors were that the explosion was a plane hitting the Old Executive Office Building, later I found out it was the Pentagon. We could see the smoke in the sky.

One of my staff, Scott, went to get his wife; she worked for (then) Congressman Gutknecht of Minnesota. My other staffer, Cari, and I got in my car to drive out of Washington. We had heard the 14th Street Bridge into Virginia was closed, so we headed for Maryland. The streets were gridlocked, police were trying to direct traffic. The faces of the people on the sidewalks were stunned, some in tears. I managed to get one phone call out to my boyfriend – I told him I was okay and trying to get home, I asked him to call my family. The cell phone lines were jammed.

Cari was able to get Scott on his phone – he and his wife were at Congressman Gutknecht’s apartment on the Senate side of Capitol Hill. We were invited to join them since we couldn’t get out of the city. We entered the apartment – it was barely furnished, and there were about twenty people already there – mostly young staffers – sitting on the floor around a radio. The Congressman didn’t have a television. We listened to the news reports. The Congressman was gracious and calming. He sent some of us out to the local sandwich shop to get food for everyone. He wrote an speech to his constituents in Minnesota, comparing 9-11 to Pearl Harbor, he dictated it over his landline to his office in Minnesota. Then he collected the names and phone numbers of all of our families and had his Minnesota office call our families to tell them we were all right. The cell phone lines were still jammed.

By early evening Cari and I thought we’d try again to get out of the city. It was eerily quiet; all the airplanes had been grounded. Most of the traffic was gone and the sidewalks were empty. We drove into Virginia, we could see black smoke and the wreckage of the Pentagon, and I could smell the charring. I dropped Cari at the train station and headed home. I went to the basement, unpacked my American flag, and hung it on the front door.

The next morning, our office was open, the point was to show the terrorists that work would continue, and they could not, would not shut down Congress, shut down America.

The sky was crystal blue, but DC was quiet, hushed. It seemed that even the birds were silent. Airplanes were still grounded. The Pentagon gaped with a huge black hole. There were tanks parked at the bridges into DC.

On the Hill, we all greeted each other in the hallways, on the elevators. We knew we’d been a target, we knew we were survivors.
September 2001