Memory Care: 9/11

Twenty-two years ago, 9/11/2001, my day began as most did back then. I got up, read the paper, turned on NBC local news as it would move then, to the Today Show. I ate my usual breakfast (something light) and drank a cup or two of coffee. My wife had left for Madison (WI) where she was Director of Clinical Operations for a hospice. She had a long(ish) commute.

I had just finished getting dressed when Katie Couric (Today Show) said something strange had happened to one of the Towers (World Trade Center). She was reporting that it appeared that a plan had struck one of the Towers. Her reporting didn’t provide much detail and certainly, didn’t raise any alarm or provide any indication of the size of the plane. I didn’t think much of the story and turned the television off to leave for work.

My office at the time was a forty-minute commute away. The local news on the radio hadn’t caught-up to the national story that was unfolding. It was about 8:00 AM central time and I was listening to a local radio channel that heavily covered sports – Packers and Brewers. The day was Tuesday, and the news was heavy Packers.

I switched the radio channel to a Chicago sports station (another tradition of mine at the time). The news there was still football, but this was Bears news. I got a bit more information on this station about other NFL games, etc. I recall a bit of White Sox and Cubs news too.

I switched back to my Milwaukee station and they were just going into a breaking news segment. I listened for a few minutes as I was about at work. I pulled into my parking spot in the lot and the news seemed to be very much, what I heard from Katie on the Today Show…”a plane hit the World Trade Center”. Figuring I heard this story, I went into the office.

I recall walking into the building, greeting the front desk receptionist per usual, and heading up the stairs to my office. As I got to the outer office, my assistant stood up and she looked startled. I asked her what was wrong, and she asked I had been listening to the news. I told her I had but mostly sports, etc. I then asked her if she was talking about the plane crash in New York and she got shaky and said, “yes”. Within a minute or two, other senior staff started gathering in my outer office and filling me in. We grabbed a TV from a training room and set it up in the conference room I used, down the hall from my office. I had a radio in my office, and I turned it to Chicago news, WBBM, figuring they would cover whatever was happening the best.

I didn’t catch the second plane hitting the other tower. I did catch the reporting on the news and then, heard about the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania. Sometime during the first forty-five minutes I was in the office, my wife called from her office in Madison. She had been in a Board meeting that was interrupted by the news.

My wife asked me what she should do (as if I knew at the time). I recall telling her to be calm, head home when she could and reassuring her that I didn’t believe that we were at any imminent danger. Thank God I was right but at that moment, I was trying to be calm and comforting as I had no basis for my certainty. I assumed then, and as the day went on, I learned I was right, that the events of the morning were terrorist related and not the start of a foreign invasion of some form.

I recall getting nothing done that day at work. I recall lots of phone calls with friends and colleagues and trying to reassure residents (I was running a senior living and care system at the time) and staff that all was OK, and we needed to be calm and connected. The news would keep us posted.

I don’t remember what time I left the office but I never, for days, turned off the news, radio or television. I got home and hugged my wife, and we must have both said something like, “holy sh#t” at the time. We sat together, watching the news, holding hands and tried to reconcile what had happened that morning.

I was numb for days. I talked with my parents, my wife’s parents, friends, other family, and folks I knew in New York and D.C. I had friends and associates in both Towers – three did not survive. For days, I watched nothing but coverage of the events, the aftermath, and the clean-up. I waited for some kind of identification of who the actor or actors were that perpetrated the terroristic acts.

At one point during the first few days after 9/11, I heard the Lee Greenwood song, “God Bless the USA”. I cried and shook like a little kid. I guess I needed to somehow, vent emotionally, like so many other Americans. For those who don’t know the song or haven’t seen the video with it, you can connect to it here:

In early October of 2001, I flew from Milwaukee to Washington D.C. for a conference. Prior to 9/11, airport security was virtually, nothing. My wife could come to the gate with me, meet me at the gate, etc. No more.

As I waited with an associate at the gate to board, the airport was teaming with police, sheriffs, and national guard troops. The sheriff deputies had bomb sniffing dogs with them. They roamed around us, in and out, as we sat waiting to Board.

About fifteen minutes before boarding call, we were instructed to move to the corridor, leaving the sitting area and our stuff (bags, papers, etc.) at our seats. The officers and dogs came through and anything that looked suspicious was inspected.

After we boarded the plane, the captain gave use instructions on how the flight would proceed. We were told that we had to remain seated for the first thirty minutes after take-off. We also would need to remain seated for the thirty minutes preceding landing. Food and beverage service on the flight were minimized.

As we got close to D.C. and Reagan National, our route brought us across the city view versus from the Potomac approach. I had the window seat, and I could see the Pentagon and all the scaffold and work enclosures near the impact site. Along the area and the Parkway (GW Parkway), there were anti-aircraft batteries. I was stunned at what I saw.

The airport was on high alert, no different than Milwaukee. Cops of all kinds and military personnel were all over the airport, interior and exterior. As we left the airport, our cab took us up the GW Parkway to the City and to our hotel/conference center. We saw the anti-aircraft batteries, the expanded police presence, and the city in a way that I never seen it before. I then concluded that the world I knew before 9/11 had changed and that the change was permanent.

Twenty-two years later, the world has changed and not for the better. I watched snippets of news coverage from that day, and I feel numb like the first time I realized what happened. I am sad that the pride and resilience we had post-9/11 has eroded. I haven’t forgotten but some have and given that 9/11/2001 occurred twenty-two years ago, a whole generation never saw the events of that day, first-person. I hope those close to them, have told the story about the day.

I saw the Trade Center site with my wife on a business trip. We took our son to see it as well. I saw the hole and then, the beginning of the Freedom Tower. I toured the first museum exhibits and on a different trip, the GW Bush library which is full of 9/11 displays and artifacts. Each connection to that day is still raw for me.

I know I will never forget that day and will always, remember the days after and my first trip to D.C. post 9/11. I still choke-up at “God Bless the U.S.A.”. I prayed a bunch that day and days after for answers and reconciliation. I pray today that as a nation, we will not forget 9/11/2001 and that we will remember the pride and support we had as a country for our own soul, our own history as a nation, our collective goodwill and fellowship as Americans, and our support for those who serve and work to protect liberty and the goodness that is the U.S.A.

God Bless the U.S.A. I hope this message today provided a little Memory Care for readers and I pray that in my lifetime remaining, that I never see another day like 9/11/2001.



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