6 years later…. It seems like 2 lifetimes ago yet I can remember the events of the day as if it were yesterday. It is hard, if not impossible, to impress upon people who weren’t in NYC or DC that day what it was really like. The best I think I can do is to repost the email, unedited, I sent out to friends and family back in 2001. I remember my High School teachers telling me they printed it out and read it to thier classes, MVHS students 1000s of miles away. I hope it still can deliver the same impact.
A little back story… at the time I was 20 years old and a sophomore at The George Wasington University in Washington DC. My apartment on campus was about 5 blocks west of the White House, 2 blocks west of the World Bank, and 3-4 blocks north of the State Department. GW is overwhelmingly populated with students from the tri-state area, with close connections to people working in lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center itself. The following months were like living in a funeral, throughout the whole city. You could walk by a complete stranger on the street, and without saying a word, look at them and just think “Yeah, I know. I understand.”
And the biggest piece of bull#*&@ is that GW did not close the campus on the 12. We had to go to class the next day. Students across the country we getting a day off, students millions of mile away from danger, and we had to go to class. Not that I think anyone learned much from a textbook that day. So it goes.
Tuesday, September 11, 2001 10:06 PM EST
I thought it would only be appropriate to document the events of the day, from my perspective. I am writing this for those who are more removed from the actual danger, but also to clear my own head. Read it if you like, don’t read it, I don’t mind. I just need to clear my head.
I had a class at 8am, in which we start the day discussing current events. Ironically, no one had that much exciting to say (clutching at straws, someone brought up that Michael Jordan might return to the NBA, playing for the Washington DC Wizards). When this class ends I walk straight to my 930 Health class. And today enroute I ran into two friends, Sarah and Catherine, who had just finished watching CNN. By that time, the first plane had ran into the world trade center, and as they watched the coverage of the incident, the watched as the second plane crashed into the other tower. Catherine said how we could be next, Washington DC being such a major city. At that point, the full impact of the event did not really take hold, and I continued to class. Ironically, in my health class we discussed how to effectively deal with stress in you life, and also psychological health problems. At 1030, and administrator entered the room and in a calm voice said “just to let you know the school will be closing…” at that point no one in the room really understood what she meant, for we all already knew the school was closing down at the end of the month for the IMF/Worldbank protests. The administrator, noticing our bewildered looks, continued “oh, you don’t know? The Pentagon has been attacked, the Capitol has been attacked and there might be a bomb at the State Department (for your reference, my school is located in the heart of DC, 3 blocks east of the white house, maybe 2 blocks north of the State Department, and the World Bank and IMF buildings actually lie amongst the University buildings…) I walked back to my dorm in a daze and a state of shock, regretting that I was the last student at my school who didn’t have a cell phone and then realized that all cell phone lines were busy anyways so it didn’t really matter.
When I got back to my residence hall, my roommates were already home, and the TV was tuned to CNN. I was in a state of panic, I wasn’t really sure what to do. Information from the news said that there was another plane that was 10 minutes outside of DC, and the White House or Capitol was probably being targeted. I was very distressed… the phone lines were down and I had no way to call and talk to my parents. My roommates and I all packed our backpacks with a few changes of clothes, water, some food and other bare necessities, knowing at any moment my school could be evacuated. I can barely even begin to convey how scary a time this morning was, phone lines down, random information trickling in, and knowing that there was absolutely nothing we could do but sit and wait. So I sat at my computer, IMing the few people that I saw online, in tears as I typed. Since my room is centrally located on campus, several of my friends came and we watched the TV together. My only form of communication was via the internet, but I didn’t really know what to say. The street outside my window was blocked off for they were securing the area around the white house. In the plaza across the street, people were gathered, not knowing really where to go or what to do. Some of my friends considered fleeing to relatives houses in Maryland or Virginia, but all the bridges into the city were being shut down to all traffic except medical personal. We eventually found out that there was no bomb at the State Department, and the plane that was heading toward downtown DC had been diverted (it eventually crashed in Pennsylvania). Eventually, the phone lines started working again, and I was able to talk to my grandmother,my mother and Heath. It really helped to be amongst my friends during this heightened state of emotional trauma.
By about 1pm, my friends and I realized that things had cooled down enough to leave the dorm and go eat lunch at the student center ( the building next-door). There was tight security around the building and we had to show are student IDs, and you could only pay for food with your meal plan points or university debit dollars. The dining area has several large screen TVs, so we continued to watch in horror about the tragedies of the day. Pictures of the Pentagon on fire… my friends and I regularly travel to Pentagon City (only a few stops away on the metro) which is directly across the street… to know that it was attacked was daunting. University counselors were going table to table to talk to students and to let us know their services were available. All of the stress and trauma of the day made me physically ill, and after lunch I returned to my room and slept for 3 hours.
I spent this evening with my friends in another residence hall on the other end of campus. They live on the 12th floor, and you can see a clear view of the Pentagon out their window. You could still see smoke and flames, though the said earlier in the day things were a lot worse… had they been in their room that morning instead of class, they would have clearly seen the plane as it ran into the side of the Pentagon. Together, my friends and I ate pizza and watched the news (they have 3 TVs in their room) and President Bush’s address. It helped a lot to be amongst friends, since none of us were able to be with family at this time. It is all still very daunting.
People are saying this is like a modern day Pearl Harbor, but somehow I think that comparison does not do this situation justice. Though I was not alive back then, you have to remember that the world was already in a state of war, and it was one target, and not to downplay that situation but it was Hawaii… this was an attack on the nations capital and also one of the largest and most prominent cities in America. They say there was actually 11 different targets, fortunately only 2 were reached because the FAA was able to stop all air traffic. Pearl Harbor involved kamikaze planes filled with people ready to die for their cause. The planes today were passenger planes, full of innocent men women and children trying to travel across the country. It makes me sick to my stomach when I realize that the terrorists purposely chose cross country flights because they would be full of fuel and cause the biggest explosions, that they knew they second attack on the trade center would be seen live because of the news covering the 1st plane, that people jumped from the 80th story of the world trade center so they wouldn’t be burned alive. This is all very hard to swallow, and this date will go down in history, ironically today is 911.
I want to express my extreme gratitude to those friends that talked to me this morning via IM, it really helped me to stay grounded amidst the chaos. Thanks for the phone calls and your concerns. Let me reassure all of you that I am alright, a little shaken, but hopefully out of harms way. I hope reading this has helped you in some way to see the events of the day from ground-zero (of sorts)... This whole ordeal puts a new perspective on life as a whole.