By Steve Connolly
It began like any other Tuesday morning for me. A casual drive to work. Fall colors dancing in the trees. Crisp cold air with no frost. It was the perfect day. Arriving at the office, I’d planned an early morning conference call with the west coast to update a current project. The meeting started on time and was running smoothly. Suddenly, a west coast co-worker said we needed to end the meeting because a jet plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. At the time, it didn’t make sense. I thought it must have been a small plane. I looked at my watch. 9:50 AM.
Walking back into my department, I mentioned to a manager a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. She gave me a look which reflected how I felt. Someone must have gotten the event confused. We had another conference room in the front of the building equipped with a TV. When I turned on the set, a breaking news banner appeared. What I had been told by my west coast colleagues was true. The newscasters looked as if they were trying to decide what was happening. As I watched the screen, another plane crashed into the South Tower of the Trade Center. It was hard to comprehend. Just a few months earlier, on a business trip, I’d switched planes in NYC. I remembered seeing the World Trade buildings and thinking how massive they were.
Throughout the morning, acts of terror continued to advance. Next, a plane crashed into the Pentagon, and then another plane was forced to crash in the fields of Pennsylvania. Later, both towers of the trade center collapsed. Buildings were burning and parts of the city were evacuated. It was surreal. Never to be forgotten.
The result of the terrorist acts caught everyone off guard. Regular travel was paralyzed and all US air traffic grounded. My boss was stranded in Los Angeles. My cousin and her mother had an unplanned extended stay in Las Vegas. A co-worker in Florida was forced to take a train home. Everyone I talked to became hesitant to fly as we wondered what would happen next.
Was the terror over?
As the week went on, I kept close track of the news broadcasts. I watched as rescue personnel and volunteers combed through the rubble searching for survivors. The fires at the sites continued burning. I learned that my younger brother, Frank, a fireman from Miami Beach, volunteered to help in the search and rescue. This caused me to worry because my brother has a tender heart, and I wondered how this would impact his life.
Before I knew it, an opportunity opened for me to go to New York City. Our church was sending a group to hand out water and offer support to the people. This was not my thing, but thinking of my brother in the thick of the rescue effort, I figured I could do something to help. Once there, I found myself surrounded by New Yorkers who wanted to be comforted, either to talk or have prayer. I hugged many people that weekend.
Everywhere you looked there were flyers of the many loved ones still missing and unaccounted for from the towers. It was a sad time. At one point, we could walk down toward Battery Park. The route we took was several streets over from where the trade center buildings had stood. I was shocked by the destruction. The storefronts, several blocks away, were filled with ash. Seeing glimpses of the tower’s rubble made it a challenge to grasp the reality of the terror. Fires continued burning filling the air with the smell of destruction. I was thankful I could be there to help, even if it was just a little.
So many changes were precipitated by the events of 9/11. The United States entered into war, attacking Iraq and sending forces into Afghanistan (the longest running war with US involvement). Today, we still have troops in both locations. Many Americans have sacrificed their lives in these two countries. New words and phrases became part of our everyday vocabulary. ISIS, al-Qaida, Taliban, and Ground-Zero just to name a few.
The Department of Homeland Security was created, and the Patriot Act was implemented. The TSA was created (Transportation Security Administration) and assigned strict screening at all US airports. Only ticketed customers could go through security checkpoints to board flights. Airplanes were fitted with security cockpit doors. So many changes, too many to list.
One day of events drastically changed our lives. The repercussions of that day continue to shape and change the daily routine of America. We cannot become complacent and let such a time of terror repeat itself.
Writing prompt: It was two weeks after 9/11. I was on the street handing out water to those working in the rubble. I reached out to give the fireman approaching me a bottle of water. As I did he embraced me in a bear hug and whispered in my ear…