In the Suburbs: Stark Sept. 11 images still real ... raw
Published 6:11 am, Friday, September 11, 2015
Sept. 11, 2015 — 14 years after so many lives were taken and so many other lives were shattered by the loss. Even though so many years have passed I am still haunted by the things I saw and the events that transpired that day. While I was not at what came to be known as Ground Zero, I was in Manhattan, experiencing the day from the perspective of one who was caught up in the moment as terrorists reached our soil.
That morning, my good friend Bob and I caught an early train into the city. It was a gorgeous day with hardly a cloud in the sky — a perfect day for using four airliners as weapons. Bob and I agreed to meet up for the commute home and went our separate ways.
I had to complete a report for our weekly management meeting and was glad to have the quiet time in my office, which was just below 23rd Street on Park Avenue South. I chatted with a female colleague, whose office was next to mine and at 8:15, from out of nowhere, we heard the loud droning of jet engines. We commented that it felt like the plane was right outside our office window, but we never saw it. That droning sound haunts me to this day and I’m convinced it was the first plane.
Fifteen minutes later I was just beginning my weekly report in our conference room when another colleague burst in and told us to turn on the television immediately because a small plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. After we had turned on the set, we saw flames and acrid black smoke billowing from the north tower, somewhere around the 60th floor. That image remains etched in my memory.
As we left the conference room, the phone rang and I picked It up at our receptionist Gerry’s desk. The phone call was from Gerry’s son, Jeffrey, who was calling from the 105th floor of the north tower and was trapped there with colleagues. I could barely hear him due to the heavy static on the line, but he wanted his mom to call him back. Barely minutes after we’d hung up, Gerry walked in, I told her roughly what was happening and she rushed to call Jeffrey. He didn’t make it.
As events continued to unfold, our staff stood like statues in the conference room. I shuddered as we watched the second airliner fly right into the south tower and explode in a ball of fire. Almost simultaneously, the third jet was skidding into the Pentagon in Washington and as we tried to process what was happening, we learned that heroic passengers on a fourth jet, that might have been heading directly toward the White House, had overpowered the terrorists in the cockpit and crashed the plane into a field in Shanksville, Pa. I will never forget their battle cry, “Let’s roll!”
Just after 10 a.m., the unthinkable happened. The south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed in a thunderball of dust and flames. Soon after, the north tower fell. Lord knows how many poor souls jumped to their deaths to avoid the inferno that seemed to burn endlessly where the towers once stood. Dust rose as thousands of people scattered away from the rubble.
Later that day I walked with hundreds of soot-covered commuters to Grand Central Station. The scene was almost surreal and there was no conversation. I felt like this was the night of the living dead and that is the image I will always carry.
For weeks after the 9/11 tragedy, I spent my train time buried in the hundreds of personal vignettes about the victims and crying softly. These people could have been friends, colleagues, neighbors or acquaintances. I wondered, at times, because I wept so easily from these stories, whether I was experiencing a form of personal Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Months later, I finally accepted that my feelings and emotions were probably just natural aftershocks from this horror story.
I know that the images I still see in my mind from the 9/11 massacre will never go away. That’s because I don’t ever want to forget them and the impact they had on my life and my family. And I believe that no one else should forget what happened that day and in the 14 years since 9/11. Today, as readers mention the names of the dead during the memorial service, the events of the day will come flooding back for me. Sept. 11, 2001, changed so many of us in ways we’ll never be able to articulate.
Steven Gaynes’ "In the Suburbs" column appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.