On 9/11/2001 I was a federal employee at Social Security Headquarters (a large complex of 8 buildings) in Baltimore County, Maryland. Shortly before 9:30 a.m., as I was pulling into a parking space, I heard that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought they were talking about small planes, not commercial passenger jets. I remember thinking that two planes was weird. I hurried into the building to sign in and get to my 9:30 meeting.

The woman who sat next to me called in to say she couldn’t get to work from Virginia because something was happening in the Pentagon area. Rumors about planes hitting various government buildings in and around DC ran rampant. Frankly, if they’d hit the right buildings in the SSA complex, it could have dealt a substantial financial blow to the U.S. Hopefully, the current disaster recovery plans will reduce the time required to recover from any kind of disaster.

My branch chief who was also acting Division Director that day stuck her head in and said she was getting the hell out of the office and that we could do whatever we wanted about staying or going. Sometime later an announcement was made that the building was closing and everyone was dismissed. I had to hang around because the tech support people were working on my computer and I had to keep signing in for them. Despite the rumors I never believed I was in danger. Another reason I stayed was so I could stop and pick up some lunch on my way home.

Who stayed to make sure our quadriplegic employee was able to contact his transport people? Remember, the boss hightailed it out early on. Phone circuits were tied up with all the phone calls being made and attempted. Bruce hadn’t been able to contact his transportation to get a ride. Who stayed? Our newest employee who had been there for two weeks and I. I asked Darnell why he hadn’t left. He said he wanted to make sure Bruce was able to get home. If I had any respect left for my boss by that time I lost it that day. In a different division, the acting director insisted on staying until every single employee he was responsible for left despite his employees trying to get him to leave because he had a family. He deserves respect.

I had no idea what was really going on until I got home and turned on the TV. When we returned to work I learned that one of my former co-workers was one of the masses of people walking across the bridge to get home from Manhattan. I wondered where my parents were. Once all the planes were grounded I knew they were safe, I just didn’t know where they were. They were supposed to fly out of St. Louis that day but I didn’t know when. Were they at home? Had they reached their destination? Were they grounded somewhere? I didn’t know and it didn’t occur to them to call me to let me know. I called them that evening and learned that their flight was after the planes were grounded so they went home to Illinois. My aunt was the only person in the family who called me to make sure I was ok. I said I was fine but I didn’t know where mom and dad were yet.

Watching the TV coverage was like watching a disaster movie. I had no connections to New York at that time so it wasn’t real to me. The next week my friend who sat next to me at work told me about her weekend in New York helping to search for her three cousins who were in the towers. One was a John Doe in a hospital, unable to talk; another found under her maiden name in a different hospital; no trace of the third one who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. Finally, they went to his apartment and got the superintendent to let them in. Rather than call a family member, he left his final message on his answering machine. No trace of him has ever been found. My friend’s tragedy made it real.

My house was near the flight path for BWI airport. The next three days were so quiet with no aircraft in the air except for the military planes making their circuits around the Baltimore-Washington corridor. I was at one end of the loop, my friend in Virginia was at the other end of the loop.

One of my former guild members, Veronica Christensen, was an instrumental part of the 9/11 ground zero flag restoration. Read Veronica Christensen’s story of the flag’s rescue.

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
. . .  any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

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2 Responses to “9/11”

  1. Kerry Says:

    I remember that day. It was around lunchtime and my husband’s brother-in-law called us as he’d heard the news in his car. My husband rushed to the tv and turned on the news. We watched in disbelief.
    What a lovely boss you had. So caring for her staff. Incredible! So sad that your colleague lost her cousin. It brings it all home when someone you know was affected.

    I had worked in London during the IRA bombing campaigns – we just carried on. A MacDonalds was bombed the same day that I had been to earlier. A bomb went off prematurely in an underground car park next to where I worked. It was a fact of life – when your time’s up so be it! Otherwise business as usual.
    A girl we worked with was a victim of the Lockerbie bombing. She was travelling with her fiance to get things for their wedding later in the summer and Christmas presents. A bubbly girl that everyone liked, Terry (Theresa) Saunders. Her fiance was one of our customers and had started a golf club from derelict land with his business partner and it was just becoming successful. My friend (and quilting buddy) worked very closely with Terry and was quite affected by it all. She has to take tranquilisers any time she flies on a plane.
    My husband, daughter and her partner are just off to Florida this week. I’m staying home. I do not like flying and over the years got worse. Knowing of Terry’s death possibly just added to the fears that were already there. But now I worry even though I’m not going – this time about them as I know her partner is going to propose – he asked permission and I want them all to be safe!
    I cannot watch the documentaries as I find it too disturbing, nor could I watch the film of 9/11.
    I do not understand the mentality of such people to do such horrific things to decent people just going about their normal lives.
    Peace, Barbara xx

  2. Sarah Bertine Says:

    Thank you for your essay. I think first person accounts of historical events make the most interesting reading.
    I live in California so was very far from everything but I think we felt it as much as anyone. I was working as a counter clerk in the Superior Court at the time and we only had a few customers show up although the staff was all present.

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