Sunday, September 11, 2011

My September 11, 2001 in Washington D.C.

I have posted this personal story on my blog several times before and it was recently posted in a local news story, therefore some of you may have already read this; but please forgive me as today I am posting this for my sons.  My boys will be learning from numerous news sources of the events of 9/11, and then they can read my personal recap here as well as talk to their mother who lost two coworkers that day.

Ten years ago today I was in Arlington, Virginia (near the Ballston Metro Stop) attending a training course which was scheduled to start at 9 a.m. As we were getting ready to start the class, a blackberry went off stating that a plane hit the World Trade Center and we were lucky enough that the location had a TV connected to cable and therefore it was immediately turned to CNN. The class watched as the reporters were unsure what they were seeing and we tried to figure out if it was small general aviation accident or something more serious. Just then on live TV we saw the second plane hit the tower and we knew that the first plane must have been similar. We sat in awe with the rest of the world as we watched that screen to try to comprehend what we were actually seeing.

At about 9:30 half of the class was on the telephone seeing what needed to be done as the other half watched the screen. The facilitator of the training class was a contractor who wanted to start the class (in order to get paid?) and after a 5 minute argument with most of the remaining students in the room, a supervisor made the call and said that the TV should be turned off and the class should go on. Not less than 2 minutes later, the person with the blackberry (in 2001 he must have been pretty special because they were probably rare.) stood up and yelled that "the Pentagon was just hit!”

The Pentagon is located in Arlington, Va the same city as the training course and my hotel was even closer as I was staying in the Crystal City area, just blocks from the Pentagon. People scrambled, everyone was dazed, cell phones didn’t work, locals jumped in cars to get home to their families and I decided to try to get back to my hotel since most of my co-workers had already left.

Thousands of people decided to go home the way they came and the Metro mass transit subway system wasn’t made to accommodate that level of traffic. People were reflective, several were crying, scared, shoulder to shoulder, a mass of humanity, now a hundred of feet below ground in a subway station that was build to be a fallout shelter in case of nuclear attack. On top of everything else, it seemed that the trains had now stopped running.

Underground, time had stopped. I might have been there an hour, but it seemed ten. What was happening up on the surface? Were we now at war? What was next? Babies were crying, mothers were holding them tight but there was very little other sound. A Metro conductor, held the microphone to his ear and yelled that the trains were now running again, the platform erupted in cheers; 10 minutes later I was on a train heading back to my hotel.

As I got out of the Crystal City Metro Station, I could smell the Pentagon burning less than a mile away and I was able to walk faster then the stream of cars who were trying to get out of the area. Back in the hotel, I sat alone in a very dark hotel room surfing channels to get as much information as I could absorb. I watched in horror on the Spanish Channel as they showed in graphic detail of people jumping to their death and then I watched as the towers fell. Finally I got a hold of my wife to let her know that I was fine and where I was located.

At the time Kristin was a United Airlines flight attendant, based out of Newark, NJ who was on medical leave because she was eight months pregnant with my son Gavin. Had she been flying, it is very likely that she would have been on United Flight 93 because it was one of her regular flights. Flight attendants obtain trips based on seniority and with Kris’s 12 years of seniority at the time, was able to hold the cross continental trip scheduled for San Francisco. Flying all of her trips from the Newark base while we lived in Atlanta meant that she shared a flop house with other flight attendants near the Newark airport. She and 15 other flight attendants shared a room at the Hampton Inn that contained a bunch of beds and was permanently set for them on a first come, first serve basis. Two of Kristin’s “roommates” in the flophouse were working Flight 93 that day and crashed in the field in Pennsylvania. From that day on, Kristin never flew again as a United Airlines Flight Attendant.

My return flight possibilities back to Atlanta were non-existent and I didn’t have a rental car since I was taking public transportation around D.C. Luckily my super social wife spread the word to her friends that I was stuck in Washington and the very next day I was picked up by the husband of one of her friends from a Dunwoody playgroup who was working in D.C.

As we departed Arlington we pulled onto I-395 and the Pentagon with the huge black hole in the side came into view, we knew from that day forward the definition of the word "normal" was forever changed.


John Heneghan said...

I just received an email telling me about a book titled "The Legacy Letters - Messages of Life and Hope from 9/11 Family Members" edited by a Dunwoody resident, Brian Curtis.

It is a powerful book and all proceeds go directly the non-profit Tuesday’s Children (

It is for a great cause and is nice to highlight a resident of Dunwoody trying donating his time to memorialize 9/11…

Following is the book description taken directly from Amazon:

Ten years after the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the family members of one hundred of the individuals lost on that terrible day look back-and forward-in this inspiring collection of letters.

Filled with love, resilience, humor, wonder, and encouragement, the letters offer a unique perspective on the events of the unforgettable day that forever changed our world.

The authors of these letters are adolescents, teens, young adults, spouses, parents, siblings, nieces, and grandparents. They are first- generation Americans, citizens of other nations, and lifelong New Yorkers. But they all share one thing: They honor their loved ones by living their lives with purpose, and a promise to never forget.

These courageous family members share their grief and loss-and hope- speaking in their own words, with love, courage, and strength enough to inspire us all.

Sandy Spruill said...

Thanks for sharing this, John! I had just walked into work on September 11, 2001 when my boss told me to go to another office where everyone was watching events unfold live on CNN.

As you described, it took time to fully comprehend what was happening. But, when I did, I realized that my sister was leaving on a trip from Newark that morning, as well.

Typically, I had not really paid close attention to the time of her flight (I thought it was in the morning) or the airline or the destination. As I watched the television, I did not know if my "baby" sister was on one of those planes. The thought occurred to me that I could be watching as she died. She also was pregnant.

As it happened, her flight from Newark was probably the last flight to pass the Twin Towers still standing. The flight that left from the same gate at Newark right after hers was one of those flights that crashed into Twin Towers.

Not knowing if my sister was dead or alive, I also could not reach my brother-in-law who worked in the Financial District in NYC. Distraught, I left work and went home.

Several hours later, my sister's flight landed in Atlanta, as all air traffic was grounded. At that point, I still did not know if she was alive or dead. I was never so glad to hear her voice as I was that day when she called me!

Because cell phone towers were down in NYC, it took several more hours before my sister and her husband were able to connect and confirm the safety of each other.

Tuliplady said...

John, thank you for sharing this with us again. I am certain your sons will appreciate the value of it. Many of us have special memories attached to that day and it has made an impression that will stay with us forever.