I was working about a quarter of a mile from the Pentagon on Sept 11, 2001. When the towers were attacked, and then we heard about the Pentagon, I knew something unprecedented had occurred. For the first time in modern times, the United States were being attacked on their home soil. It took about forty-five minutes, but the order to evacuate was not unexpected. I found myself among the thousand other human beings trying to make their way out of DC and its surrounding areas amid feelings of confusion, uncertainty, and sometimes downright fear. The biggest question was “Who?” while the next question inevitably was “Why?”.
Like most people working in and around DC, I commuted via the subway system to avoid the crowded roads. Now, it was impossible to even get into a station, much less a train. A friend who lived near me offered a ride home. It was a slow and somber ride with very little being said apart from speculation about casualties. We listened to reports on the radio and were awestruck listening to accounts of the towers falling.
I wanted to cry for all the people who died that day, but since I was not by myself, I couldn’t.
I finally made it home and was assured that my wife and dog were safe. Then we started the phone calls to see that everyone else was okay. I couldn’t make calls out of the area, even with my cell phone, so there was no way to let my family in Arizona know that I was okay. When I did finally make it through, my heart wrenched as I heard my dad’s calm voice and unshed tears of thankfulness.
We stepped outside and I was struck by the first and most immediate impact of the attack. The sky was silent. I’ve heard silent skies before, but never in DC. There was always the sound of air traffic in one form or another. Now, it was silent, and if you listened hard enough you thought you could hear the sound of the wind over the prairie. In DC. It was weird. Later, the President came on the television and asked the nation to continue normal routine life while damage assessment continued. My wife and I both returned to work the next day.
Stories started coming in. My brother-in-law was across the freeway from the Pentagon when the plane hit. He saw the whole thing. A friend of a friend working in the Pentagon itself, but unhurt decided to walk home due to congested roadways. He set out at 10am and arrived home after midnight. He also returned to work the next day.
Slowly, life returned to a new normal, the nation recovered, and over time, we learned some lessons. Lessons that needed to be learned.
First, we learned that when tragedy strikes, we are a single nation, and differences are put aside. We rise as one to take care of the problem.
Second, we learned that we cannot be complacent. For too long our country believed we were invulnerable. Not any more.
Third, we learned that we, as a country and as individuals, we have an impact on the world. Not just on a world scale, but on a community scale, an individual scale. We cannot take our own actions for granted.
Finally, we learned that as a nation we have friends, and that the free thinkers of the world abhorred the event.
I have always been proud to be an American. That day I remembered why. It’s a lesson I will never forget.