Nine years ago today, I was working as a legislative aide for a United States Senator. I was driving to work, and the only thing that seemed out of the ordinary was the weather. That particular Tuesday was absolutely gorgeous. The sun was shining grandly, but it wasn’t too hot. It was a positively glorious autumn morning.
I pulled into the parking lot of the Senate Office Building where I worked, and I heard on the news radio station I was listening to in the car that someone had flown a plane in to one of the towers of the World Trade Center. I simply thought, “Some idiot with a Cessna who doesn’t know what they’re doing. I hope not too many people are hurt.”
I walked into my office, and turn on the television. All legislative staff in the Senate offices have their own TVs to keep an eye on proceedings on the Senate floor. Everyone watched as the second plane flew directly into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.
No one knew what was going on. Everyone was panicking on the inside, but we were all trying to keep it together on the outside. Our supervisor called us into the conference room for our normal morning staff meeting. She said, “I know everyone is upset and confused. But we need to stay focused.” As our Senator was on the Armed Services Committee, we had a National Security team, comprised of three staffers. She said that those three could watch the developments on the news, but the rest of us had to watch the floor, as per usual. Especially me, as the Senators were debating an Appropriations bill for the Commerce, Justice and State Departments, which I was covering.
After the meeting, we returned to our offices. At 9:37, as I was diligently watching the floor business, all the Senators and staff vacated the Senate floor. We heard that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon. My Chief of Staff came in to my office and said, “Get out NOW. The Senator wants everyone OUT.” I protested, “What about the CJS Approps bill!??” Looking back now, that was incredibly silly, but we were all losing it at that point.
What we didn’t know then was that Flight 93 had already been hijacked, reversed course, and was barreling its way back to Washington, DC with the United States Capitol as it's intended target.
I quickly dialed my husband, who had worked a late shift the night prior and was sleeping. “We’re under attack.” I told him, and the line went dead.
Luckily, our Senator had the foresight to evacuate us before the formal evacuation orders came from Capitol Police. Because of that, those of us that lived outside of DC were able to leave the city before they started closing roads down.
I got to my car, and tried to call my husband again on my cell phone. It took me a few tries, but I got through to him. I told him what was going on, and that I was coming home. By this time, he knew what was going on because he’d seen the news. While I was talking to him, there was a loud BOOM! I said, “What was that??” And my cell phone went dead. They had closed down the cell towers in the city. My poor husband didn’t hear from me again for another two hours, and he didn’t know what was happening or if I was okay. We never did find out what that noise was…the fighter jets scrambling, an explosion at the Pentagon, who knows…
During my interminable ride home, the radio was crazed with rumors. There was a car bomb at the State Department; the White House was under attack, etc. I also heard as the Towers of the World Trade Center fell to the ground. And when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. When I finally made it home, my husband hugged me and left…the city’s entire police department had been called in.
I sat glued to the television for the next eight or so hours. There were many times I felt I couldn’t breathe. It was all so surreal, so impossibly frightening. Silly as it sounds, I kept thinking back to the ‘80s movie “Red Dawn.” It was so implausible because no one could ever touch us, as we were safely entrenched behind American borders. And yet, here this all was happening to us. It was like a nightmare.Needless to say, it was a day that will live forever in the hearts and minds of everyone who was touched by September 11th in any way. And today, we take time to remember all of those who were lost in those cowardly, horrific attacks on our beloved country. I also like to think that they are looking down on us, proud of how our nation kept moving. Proud of how determined we were and still are to not let them break us. Proud of how we all stood together and proclaimed our love for this great American nation. Proud of how we vowed to never forget.