September 11, 2006

Remembering 9/11

When I was little I remember overhearing the adults say, "Where were you when Kennedy was shot?" or "Where were you when the Astronauts landed on the Moon?" This, of course was before my time and I remember thinking "We don't have an event where people my age would say something similar?" Then 9/11 happened and it wasn't long before everyone was asking each other where they were and comparing stories.

Here's my story:

Six years ago today I was working at the Pentagon. Five years ago today I was working at the Washington Navy Yard.

I was just returning to my cubicle to find my cell ringing and on the other line was my friend Chrissy. She was crying and asking me if I was ok. I had no idea what was going on but she tells me about the plane hitting the World Trade Center and then The Pentagon was hit. Just as she tells me this there's all sorts of commotion outside of my cubicle and they are talking about the same thing. I tell Chrissy not to worry and I got off the phone as we all went in search of a TV.

We are huddled around this little TV and watch live as the second plane hit. As I write this I have chills remembering that moment. We are all in shock and don't know what to think as the events unfold before us.

I have friends who are still at the Pentagon and I'm worried about them. I first try calling Ra and I can't reach her. I then try Kent who doesn't sound so good. He tells me Ra was in a meeting with him but she isn't with him now. He's outside and says, "If they want to kill mass amounts of important people then they are all outside vulnerable and I'm in the middle of them!" Wow! He is so right and I realize we are all panicking. I ask him about a few other people but he hadn't seen any of them.

My next call was to Ra's Mother in Canada since I figure she will be panicked wondering about her only child. I tell her I talked to Kent who saw her and she's ok but not with him now, but I don't know where she is or if she is out of the building. She asks me if I've talked to Ra and I say, "No". To which she replies, "Then you don't know anything." I can't blame her. She's 9 hours away and completely helpless and like the rest of us she is probably in shock over the events unfolding.

The Washington Navy Yard is shut down, no one coming and no one going. I called Mom who tells me her phone has been ringing off the hook because relatives think I'm still working at the Pentagon. We discuss the situation and agree that she should go get Mini Red. OK one less thing to worry about.

I have been calling Pentagon friends non-stop trying to make sure they are ok. It's becoming useless and watching the Pentagon on TV is so disturbing. So I step outside for a cigarette and about 20 guys in BDU's go running by in cadence (or whatever you call it) carrying M16s. That isn't something you see everyday. We are under attack! What a scary thought. Was this how people felt in Hawaii when Pearl Harbor was attacked?

I don't know what to do and I feel so helpless. I can't reach Ra, Crystal or even George. Oh no! George! He probably went running into the middle of it all. George was a good friend of mine but he had issues one of which was Napoleon Syndrome. He was always ready to fix anything for anyone and he had a great heart.

August 2000 I was at a retirement ceremony and that was right where the plane hit. Ra's office had moved just a month prior to 9/11 and it's a good thing because it burned up. The plane burrowed through several rings of the Pentagon and stopped with just the nose poking through to one of the driveways within a ring and this was and area I often visited. I can't imagine what it was like to be there as the plane hit.

I can't get through to anyone and I need to cool my jets. I can't concentrate to get any work done and I've already called my office to give them my status. I went to another building and sat outside with a bunch of the guys from the HVAC contractor and I just smoked. At noon they opened the gates to let people leave. I decided to bide my time and wait. I knew Mini Red was taken care of and there was no use getting in the middle of the traffic chaos. So I continued to sit outside talking to the HVAC guys.

About 2pm I couldn't wait any longer and decided to leave. I drove down M street past the Wharf and there wasn't a soul on the road. It was all so surreal like I was in some movie like Night of the Comet. I was at a traffic light under 395 waiting to turn and I hear this horn. It scared the crap outta me. It was a military vehicle like a Hummer but open in the back and full of soldiers. They drove around me and continued on to their destination wherever that may be in the city. The light turned green and I continued by the Tidal Basin. I looked over the river to see the Pentagon burning. It was so scary to see because it made it all so much more real. I just wanted to get home, which didn't take very long.

I finally heard from Ra and she had walked home to Rosslyn after snatching money from one of the facilities guys I had introduced her too. She left so fast there was no time to grab her purse, ID, cell or any money. About 6pm I reached Crystal who had walked to the King Street Metro and took the subway home. I knew Kent was ok from talking to him earlier. Now I just needed to hear from George. He wasn't answering his work, cell or home phone. It wasn't until 9pm he finally picked up his home phone. I'm afraid I may have even yelled at him but he just laughed.

George had done exactly what I was afraid of and went in to resolve. The Pentagon evacuation instructions had everyone convene in the center. They knew this was wrong for sometime but had never updated the instructions posted around. George dove into the center and started directing people. I was relieved he was ok and he was exhausted. He was only at the Pentagon for maybe another year before he left for Germany and we lost touch.

The next day I went by Ra's apartment to check on her. We went to the roof and we could see the Pentagon still burning. She tried to go back to work a few days later but the place smelled like burnt flesh. Her boyfriend came to DC to fly her back to his home in Texas. She needed some time off.

These were some scary times in many of our lives. Ra, Kent, George and Crystal no longer work at the Pentagon. I am fortunate to have been in the Pentagon prior to these events and even though much has changed the inside is still the same, or so I'm told. The shops, CVS, the places to eat and all the different modes of transportation around the inside, such as the carts and bikes. The section that was hit was rebuilt in record time.

For several weeks after everyone was so kind to each other. My commute was so pleasant but eventually, everything went back to normal. Except… there were flags everywhere. The commute went back to normal but as Americans we always loved our country but now we loved it even more. Our sense of pride has been elevated and that grows every year when we commemorate 9/11.

A Pentagon Memorial is in the works. To donate: