Another year has passed and yet the memory of that horrific day is still as vivid as the day it happened. I was parked at the base of the World Trade Center five minutes prior to the first plane hitting the building. As I drove north on the FDR Drive I saw the first plane heading south towards its date with history that forever changed the world. At the time I thought the plane was in distress and that the pilot was trying to make it to the Hudson River but as I saw and heard the plane overhead, clearly the engines were running and nothing else seemed improper. However, as a frequent flyer, I knew the course this aircraft was on, was not a pattern normally associated with landing at either of the three major airports in the New York Metropolitan area.
When I saw the plane bank left and disappear behind another building, I knew it would hit something. I just didn’t know what or where. But as I looked back and saw the smoke billow from the North Tower, I was assuming it was simply a terrible tragedy as most people did. When the second plane hit the South Tower, I knew it was no accident and so began the day that would forever change our world.
Of all the memories of that day good and bad, what stands out for me most of all was the eerie quiet on the streets of New York. There were millions of people all walking north, contemplating what had just happened and yet you could hear a pin drop. There was not a sound. The lack of sound from the roar of jet engines over the city was surreal. Millions of people on the island of Manhattan were in shock, and simply looking for a way to get home to loved ones. So many people didn’t have cell service although I was fortunate to be able to call my wife and kids who were in grammar school at the time. I told my wife to leave them there as the school served as a bomb shelter and was at least as safe as anywhere else in the city.
Yes there was some good to come from the day. The stories of heroism. Strangers helping strangers. The attack in some ways had the opposite effect of its intent. Instead of causing fear it brought out the best in our fellow human beings. We became more human as a result.
A full day following the attack, burned papers from the World Trade center were falling from the sky on to my lawn. You could smell the charred remains and only imagine from where and how they ended up on my lawn 12.5 miles (20km) from ground zero. That evening, with the wind blowing out of the northwest and towards my home, we could smell the burning WTC buildings’ remains and all that was on fire in the now great hole in the ground covered by millions of tons of steel and debris. It was a smell that was indescribable and one I hope to never experience again. I seriously contemplated taking my wife and kids and leaving for the safe confines of Vermont to escape the noxious smell. But I have never been one to run away from anything and I didn’t want to leave the city where I was born and raised in its most desperate hour. Looking back, I’m not sure I would have made the same decision.
On Thursday, September 13, I went downtown to take care of some business and to see the remnants of the collapsed towers. A portion of one of the towers was still standing but other than that, nothing was recognizable. Everything was covered in a fine, white, powder. The only way to describe it, is it felt like what hell must be like. No color, no life. It was just dead other than the people who had come to see the devastation and who also had business there. As I walked away that morning, the devastation and lost lives struck me like a bat across the face. The smell of death was everywhere. I stopped behind Brooks Brothers, across the street from the World Trade center and cried for about five minutes. While certainly wanting those who had carried out this heinous act to pay for their evil deeds, it was time mourn.
It was a sad time in the city with daily funerals for the heroic men and women of the Police and Fire Departments. Wherever and whenever they occurred, people would stand in silence as the caravans drove by; a tribute to those who had lost their lives in the service of our fellow citizens, doing their duties as they always had. The loss was almost too much to bear but we also drew strength from it. Yes we had been hit hard and yes we were mourning but nothing would change who we are and what we believe. While it would take time, life would eventually return to some form of new normalcy and indeed it has. God Bless all those who suffered a personal loss in the 911 attacks. We will Never Forget!