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Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

Cape Fear Voices/The Teen Scene

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    A day in September

    Author in the middle

    For many Americans, September 11, 2001, is etched in our memories. Colonel V and I stood outside the information technology collaboration center, where we had gathered a team of a dozen government professionals. We would work at the facility for the next week or so brainstorming and creating a more streamlined and customer focused agency. 

    Our agency, the Defense Supply Service- Washington, would present our final report to the Administrative Assistant to the Secretary of the Army in the Pentagon Office. I was the team leader. The slightly brisk morning breeze brought welcome relief from the summer’s heat and humidity. “What a spectacularly blue sky,” I remarked to the Colonel as I extinguished my cigarette. We headed into the facility. 

    On entering the collaboration room with its numerous desktop computers and television monitors adorning the walls, we saw people gathered around the monitors. The monitors displayed images of a tower ablaze in New York City. “A plane flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center,” someone exclaimed. “Must’ve been a student pilot,” someone else conjectured. We watched, wondering how someone could have made such a gross mistake in flight. “Take your seats,” I announced. “We’ll leave the monitors on so we can follow the news from New York. We need to start promptly at 9.” 

    No sooner had I begun to talk when the monitors showed another plane crashing into the South Tower. Concern grew as the words “terrorist attack” circulated. We watched the replay on the screens. It was 9:05 am. I resumed addressing the team on our mission and the process that would result in a report on the agency reorganization. 

    With tensions high, we struggled to focus on our job amidst the news coming from the monitors. Suddenly, the room erupted in a cacophony of ringing cell phones. “A plane has hit the Pentagon!” someone shouted. My phone rang. It was my brother Joe calling from New Hampshire. “Are you safe?” he demanded. “Are you in the Pentagon? Are you safe?” “I’m working offsite at a location down the street from the Pentagon. I’m fine. I’ll call you later,” I responded. 

    The room was filled with voices urgently talking to others on their phones. Some talked to family members. Some were taking calls from offices in the Pentagon. We collected as much information as possible and quietly gathered at the front of the room to share what we had learned. “The Pentagon is evacuating. We have orders to stay in place and not return to our offices,” COL V informed us. “Call your families if you can get through. We’ll decide what to do after you’ve assured them that you are safe.” “We won’t be able to retrieve our cars, so we’ll have to find other ways to get home. METRO may be shut down,” he continued. 

    I called Cindy, my future bride. She was a relatively new employee with the US Department of Education on 14th Street in DC. “I don’t care what your supervisor tells you!” I exclaimed. “Get your things and leave the office NOW!” She responded, “The Secretary has not released us yet.” “I don’t care what the Secretary says!” I shouted. “Take leave if you must but get out of DC! Take the Orange line to the Vienna Station. It’s as far as METRO will take you. Wait for me there. But leave now! METRO will shut down, and we have no idea what the roads will be like.”

    I hung up. It was now nearly 10 am. COL V and I caucused. With no access to the Pentagon and its parking lots, we needed a way to get our folks home safely. We also needed to decide if we would continue our mission. Everyone ultimately agreed that we would return the next day and continue our work.

    I loaded six of my co-workers into my Suburban and drove them to their homes throughout the DC suburbs of Maryland and Virginia. As we drove slowly through Arlington, streets filled with people leaving their offices. As they walked, they looked up as if expecting a plane to plummet to the ground. It was eerily quiet. Planes nationwide had been grounded. 

    Later, I picked Cindy up in Vienna, and we headed to our home in Woodbridge, Virginia. Our offsite work was completed during the following week. Smoke and water damage to our offices kept us from returning to work at the Pentagon for several more weeks. 

    Upon returning, we passed through several checkpoints manned with Humvees and heavily armed soldiers. The loss of life at the Pentagon would have been much higher had the plane crashed into one of the older, less reinforced wings of the Pentagon. But that was little consolation to the families who had lost loved ones that day. 

    Our agency financial and IT departments lost 40 employees in the attack. More were injured and burned. Ironically, the day before, I had toured the newly renovated wing and admired its modernity, even envying those who had already moved into their new offices. 

    After I retired, I became a contract consultant to the Federal Transit Administration, overseeing the rebuilding of the transit hub at Ground Zero. Doing so involved working with people who had survived the disaster and were now rebuilding Ground Zero. 

    Watching the Museum, Memorial Wall, Oculus, and new Towers rise from the ashes of Ground Zero, where so many had died, was an honor and a privilege I will never forget.

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