It’s a moment in time I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
Twenty years ago at this exact moment, I was pulling into the company parking garage and had no earthly idea how the world was about to change in just the next few hours.
We had just moved to Ashburn 18 months prior, and my new office was in Tyson’s Corner, overlooking the Galleria Mall. Most of that time wasn’t spent in that office, but was instead used flying back and forth to Los Angeles to oversee a division my company had in Carson. Half those flights were on American Airlines, the other half on United, as I usually left on a Monday or Tuesday if there were meetings scheduled on Mondays at our offices, I used those two because they were the only direct flights out of Dulles to LAX.
I was sitting in my office on a phone call that morning when someone walked down the hall and said a plane had hit the Twin Towers. My first instinct was they were describing a small private plane that had gone off course and collided with the building, so after my call, I walked down to the conference room where a television was on to see what was going on. It seemed like half our staff was watching.
I arrived just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.
Stunned would not adequately describe my reaction. This was like Hollywood movie special effects I was watching, but it was playing out in real life. What in the world was happening, we all thought.
I walked down the hallway back toward my office, then went a few doors down to where our CFO’s office was. We talked about the chaos, and over his shoulder off in the distance, a puff of smoke appeared as we were talking. “What is out in that direction that would look like that?” I asked, and immediately heard the reply that said “holy crap, that’s where the Pentagon is.”
Moments later someone rushed in to say a plane had indeed just hit the Pentagon. I would later find out it was American Airlines Flight 77 that left Dulles a little after 8 each morning and went directly to LAX.
The same one I would take when I flew on American to LAX the previous year.
By now, people were panicking. Another plane was reportedly on its way, and commentators were saying it was headed toward either the Capitol or the White House. I got in my car to go find my daughter at her elementary school, and in turning on the radio to WTOP, heard stories of people being told to get out of their cars and lie down on the 14th street bridge because of more rumors of impending attacks.
Many of these rumors couldn’t be confirmed because it seemed everybody and their brother was on their cell phone trying to see if friends or family were OK, and the traffic overwhelmed the towers to the point few cellphones worked. This only added to the panic and chaos.
“Nice decision to move up here right in time for the beginning of World War III,” I thought to myself while doing 80 MPH down the toll road to get back to Ashburn and Cedar Lane Elementary.
In the air you could hear aircraft mobilized to stop anyone from coming any closer to the DC area. Sales managers were sending in emails saying the planes they were on to travel to other territories were promptly stopped and told to land at the nearest airport, pretty much stranding them in places they didn’t expect to be.
At my daughter’s school, mine was one of the last to be picked up, as apparently every other parent had the same thought I did: I don’t know what’s going on, but whatever it is, we’ll experience it together as a family at home. Once there, we just stared at the TV wondering how and why all this happened. Whatever it was, the world I thought my daughter would grow up in, I concluded, would never be the same.
Someone attacked this country on its own soil. For all my life, I thought that was an impossible scenario that could never happen. But it did.
That night, back in a time when people actually watched network news, I turned to CBS’s coverage. They showed the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, and for only the first time ever, they played the United States National Anthem as a way of expressing their condolences for the loss our country had suffered.
Tears were rolling down my face.
In the coming days, emotions ranged from “let’s go bomb them” to a rare feeling among people in this country of “we’re all on the same side.” Clothing and merchandise with the American Flag on them sold out quickly. If you drove down the toll road or beltway, odds are you saw a flag or a banner saying “USA” hanging from overpasses.
My company even made pillows with the red and white stripes of the American flag on one side, and the white stars against the blue background of the flag on the other, along with the words "United We Stand." Twenty years later, I still use it on my lap for my keyboard when typing stories. It still reminds me of that day, too.
Our government eventually pursued the pound of flesh many demanded, going to Afghanistan to bomb a country already in the stone age, back to the stone age. A Navy seal team would go on to track down the alleged mastermind of the attacks – Osama Bin Laden – and executed him.
Time went on and life went on. A new generation was born, and the importance of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001 seems to move toward the back of the country’s consciousness with each passing year.
But for me today, on the 20th anniversary of that day, the memories are just as real as if it happened yesterday. Thousands went to work that morning and never came home. Thousands more would go to Afghanistan and also never be seen again. All of us raced home to be with our families because we didn’t now or understand what was going on.
And at 8 AM that morning as I flashed my magnetic card at the gate to enter the parking garage, I had no idea any of this was coming. It will always serve as a reminder to me to enjoy every minute you’re given in this life and to take nothing for granted.
Because as we all watched in horror 20 years ago, in the blink of an eye, the world can change.
* Our 1st manned spaceflight
* JFK Asassination
* Martin Luther King shooting
* RFK killing
* Man on the moon
* Elvis' death
* Oklahoma City bombing
Moments my generation won't forget.