In 2001, our main contact with the outside world was television and the telephone. I had a small TV set on my office desk, turned to a cable news channel, sound muted, all day long.
You can all understand my shock when we started getting word of a plane crash into the majestic World Trade Center in New York City. And then live camera of the site making it obvious that this was no accidental small plane crash, as had happened once in the past. This was a jet liner, full of passengers and fuel, deliberately crashed into the building after takeoff.
This was AN ATTACK; this was an act of TERRORISM.
I couldn’t sit down the rest of the day.
Early on, I will never forget the billowing smoke and the reassuring words and calm actions of Mayor Rudy Giuliani, trying to project control and avoiding panic, even while he was en route to the site in the time between the two crashes.
AND then the second crash. And then reports of a crash in Pennsylvania and then another report of a crash into the Pentagon.
The HORROR of it all. We were just stunned. My staff and I could only watch helplessly as we stood around, crying and hugging each other.
And then also an amazing sight – people turning around and running back to the buildings, even entering them … to help. And the police and firemen in troops, running back into the buildings.
WE WATCHED, even with more horror, as unexpectedly the buildings began to collapse, sending up a huge cloud of smoke, debris and gas, resulting in certain death of any who had just returned, climbing the staircases to rescue.
AND PEOPLE JUMPING OUT OF BUILDINGS, taking the remote chance that the ground might only injure them, rather than face sure death in a burning building.
More than 2,000 people dead, all in only a few hours.
The HORROR of it all; the HORROR of it all (quoted from the movie, “Apocalypse Now”).
Several months later, Shirley and I toured the New York site. Coincidently, the iconic steel beam featured on future postage stamps was being removed that day. With tears running down our faces, we posed with some local visiting police and firemen and a tourist couple from Ireland.
Seven days after the bombing, I had been in D.C., routine, and with some bravado, carrying a brief case as if I belonged, I walked right up to the gaping hole in the Pentagon and peered inside. Amazing the twisted wreckage and how far back into the building it all extended.
Four days later (about 12 days after the bombing) I was in Toronto, on the way to our cottage. The welcoming Canadian newspapers carried huge frontpage headlines of Canadian, British and U.S. special forces already on the ground in Afghanistan (this information was kept quiet in the United States).