I was a channel manager for Qwest Communications at the time. My morning commute was from Centreville, VA about 20 miles into Arlington, VA. The Qwest building is in an area called Ballston, just a couple miles from DC.
I was on Route 50 traveling East toward DC, about 3 miles from the Potomac headed into Arlington. WMAL AM 630 broke the news to me: A plane had hit the World Trade Center.
First thing I did was call my Dad. At the time I placed the call, I was thinking that an airliner had malfunctioned somehow. The feelings were more like seeing a natural disaster than anything else. I expected my day to remain unchanged.
When I got to the office, I went to the second floor cafeteria/lounge area, where there were several TV’s set up. There were some dozen or so of us standing around with coffee watching the news unfold.
We watched as the second plane hit.
When that happened, the mood changed. We were jolted into a new reality, one where danger – doom – seemed eminent.
I went to my desk to check email and the web for some new info. The emails started flying.
A couple friends working across the river sent out emails saying that they had heard the White House and Pentagon had been hit.
There were a bunch of rumors that started fast, and this was long before Twitter.
It was only a couple of minutes before the TV news verified that the Pentagon had indeed been hit. There was speculation about whether it was a plane or a missile.
I got the hell out of the office and headed for home.
About the time I got into the car, my cell phone died. It worked fine, but no connections were possible. The scary part was that I didn’t know if the phone system had been attacked, or if it were just overwhelmed by people trying to use it. Regardless, it added to my fright.
What I did next surprised even me. It was pure instinct. Remember, all I knew was that two planes hit the Twin Towers, another plane or missile hit the Pentagon, and the phone system was down.
I had been a teenager in the 1980’s – I was thinking “Red Dawn.”
I stopped at an ATM and took out all the cash it would allow me to take out. I remember it being $600.00.
My next stop was to Galyans in Fair Lakes, VA. I bought 300 rounds of .357 and 300 rounds of .38 ammunition for my handgun. As I stood in line at Galyans, there were three of four other guys who had the same idea.
None of us spoke, but we all gave each other knowing glances.
It took me some three hours to make it the 20 miles from Arlington to Centreville. Traffic was blocked in all directions. I drove my Tahoe across many medians and even a couple fields to get where I needed to go. Those with sedans were stuck on the pavement and had a much longer ride than I did.
I finally got home.
I sat on the couch that evening with my eyes glued to the TV. It was about 8:30 when the first images of people jumping from the upper floors of the Towers were shown. They chose to jump rather than die burning.
It was overwhelming. I sat there and quietly cried.
The next morning, nothing was open. I went for a long jog in Centreville, VA. There was some traffic, but there was a palpable feeling of tension. People were staying home.
Over the next weeks the sadness morphed into anger. I was glad George Bush seemed so strong and resolute.
In late October, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon. Running past the Pentagon was a moving experience. I had been running alongside a group of marines who were clad in full gear. It was difficult to maintain my composure when our group ran by the gaping hole in the core of American strength.
A few days after 9/11 I made the drive back to work. Every bridge and overpass had an American flag draped from it. It warmed my heart.
In those days just after 9/11, I knew what it meant to be an American. I knew the feeling that my Uncles had, when they shipped off to fight the Axis back in the forties. Well, maybe not all the feelings, but at least I understood the love of country that compelled them. I knew the feeling that my Mom had as she watched her brothers go. I knew the meaning of patriotism.
In those days after 9/11, the meaning of America became so clear.
9/11 changed me. I remember Dick Cheney (I think it was Cheney) saying, “They were at war with us, but we were not at war with them.”
I will never forget. I will always be vigilant, prepared, and willing to do what it takes to protect my kids and family from this scourge that threatens us.
I will never forget any of it.