Wednesday is Sept. 11 — the anniversary of the one of the most devastating terrorist attacks on the U.S. The day that terrorist flew airplanes into the World Trade Towers in New York City and into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day.
I remember that day well; it was a beautiful fall day and the sky was so blue. I was sitting in my office in Alexandria, Virginia with a few other people when a colleague stuck his head in the door and said a plane had just flown into the World Trade Tower. Our first thoughts were it was a commuter plane accident of some kind, but a short time later we got word another plane had hit the second tower and we knew it was no mistake — we were under attack.
Confusion followed. While we didn’t work in the Pentagon, we were part of it. Our bosses and colleagues worked there. We heard the Pentagon was hit (it was) and the state department was hit (it wasn’t). The news warned the Capitol building, or the White House, would be next. People were told to evacuate those buildings and run. The buildings were spared as we later learned because of the brave souls on the plane that was headed there. They are heroes, confirmed by the black box of that plane that was recording their last moments before the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Unless you lived in Washington, you probably don’t know of the heroes in the Pentagon. Military officers whose training kicked in, enabling them to save some of the people who were trapped in the devastation. Something that is rarely mentioned is that the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, ran to the devastation to see if he could help. His office was on the farthest side of the building from the crash, and others I know who worked on that side of the building told me they had no idea of the crash because it just felt like the building sort of sighed, but nothing else could be seen or heard.
The day after the attacks, the Pentagon was declared “open for business.” For months afterward, the building reeked of jet fuel. Paper masks were issued, but no one wore them. They boarded up the passages to the side of the building that was hit. It was hard not to imagine what it must have been like on the other side. The garden in the center of the Pentagon, populated by old magnolia trees, flowers and a hot dog stand, was turned into a temporary morgue as they recovered bodies. Papers from the crash site littered the streets in Crystal City, only a few blocks way.
For weeks, The Washington Post wrote about the attacks, the heroes and the victims. I remember it was one victim’s wedding anniversary and she had plans to spend the day with her husband. She stopped into the office to check on something and fate saw to it she never left. The victims were ordinary people like you and me who got up that morning and went to work — never knowing that they would dead by lunch and their names engraved in history.
We must not forget. I hope as you go about your day, you will take a minute to think about it all and remember all those who lost their lives that day. We lost our innocence that day — we now know we are not safe from evil, and every week it seems we are reminded. We must stand strong together and not let our political and social differences divide us.