I'm sure my story of September 11th is similiar to a lot of people out there. I woke up early that Tuesday morning to go to my weekly men's prayer breakfast. It was a smaller group that morning and after we'd discussed our study for the week and prayed, I headed out to Oak Ridge to work. I got in a bit early and as I was listening to the radio, I heard a report of a plane crashing into a building.
Oh great, I thought, remembering a plane crashing into a building in Florida a few weeks before, another idiot who can't pilot a plane. I sighed heavily and headed into work. I'd arrived earlier than usual and was kind of looking forward to the quiet of the morning to catch up on some things, answer a few e-mails and, in general, ease into the day.
I went in, fired up the Internet and started into my daily task. About five minutes later, my co-worker Steve came in and said, "Hey did you hear plane crashed into the World Trade Center?"
"I heard a plane crashed but details were sketchy when I was getting out of my car," I said.
"This could be a big deal," he said.
Now, I'll admit I took this with a grain of salt. To Steve everything was a potential big deal. I decided to see what was going on and tried to fire up a news service site. It was slow. I tried another--same effect. I wondered if our network was down but found Google's main page with no problem. I decided to head to the breakroom where we had satellite TV to see what was going on.
I walked in to find several other co-workers gathered around the set.
"What's going on?" I asked, seeing the image of smoke coming out of the first tower for the first time.
"A plane hit the World Trade Center," someone said.
I stood there, watching the image, reading the crawl and hearing the announcers, hoping someone would make sense of all this. Then, the second plane hit.
I felt weak in the knees and stunned. What the hell is going on here? I wondered to myself. As the second plane hit, there was a collective gasp in the room and a few explatives were let loose.
I stood there, watching in numb horror. And it got worse. My father worked at the Pentagon at the time and reports came in of something going on at the Pentagon. I heard the phrase "fire fights" used and had this image of a running battle taking place in the corridors of the Pentagon. Now, my dad's job didn't require him to be at the Pentagon every day--sometimes they had off-site training or seminars. I desparately tried to recall if my dad was off-site that day. Some part of me kept saying, "Of course he is....don't panic."
Panic won. As I stood there, fear gripped me. I decided I'd calmly walk to my office, shut the door and try to call him. Once he picked up his cell phone at some off-site location, I'd be OK...it'd all be OK.
I took two calm steps out of the room and then ran down the hall to my office. I'm pretty sure had the NFL been timing me that day, I'd have been highly drafted for my time for my time running the four-forty. I sat in my chair, drew in a deep breath and dialed the number.
It rang again.
A third time.
Dammit, I willed him, pick up the damn phone. Fourth ring and voice mail.
I left a message, trying to sound calm. "Hey Dad, just seeing if you're OK. Call me as soon as you get this, please."
I hung up, panic threatening to consume me. I took a deep breath and decided to call my mom. She was in Nashville at the time since my sister was recovering from an illness and she was helping her out. Mom would know where he was and tell me he was off-site that day. I called my sister's house, wondering if I'd wake anyone up.
My mom answered and right away I knew my answer. Yes, my dad was in the Pentagon and no, we hadn't heard from him. I promised to call as soon as I heard and vice versa. I then went down to watch more coverage from the news, since work was the last thing on my mind at this point.
The room was fuller now of people, watching the story unfold. What I recall was the sense of panic in the news reports of those first few hours--I recall there were rumors of a plane flying up the Potomac River that might have to be shot down and various other attacks. I watched as air traffic was shut down and we slowly began to make sense of what was going on. It seemed like one of those bad action movies gone horribly wrong and I kept thinking, "This can't he happening. Not to America. This happens other places in the world but not here."
As the media began to talk about other possible targets, I realized I worked fairly close to the Oak Ridge nuclear plant. As did everyone else I worked with. After an hour or so, the decision was made that we could go home if we wanted to since it didn't seem like anyone would get any work done that day. Also, there was the fear the plant might be attacked. I decided to go home and wait for news from my dad. I was in a panic though trying not to let it show....I don't think I was very successful.
I was driving home when I got a call on my cell phone. It was from my sister's house. Oh no, I thought..it's bad news. I pulled over into the Walgreens on Middlebrook Pike and shakily answered the phone. The good news was my father was alive and was out of the Pentagon. He'd had to have someone from his office call to tell us he was alive and well but he couldn't get to or use a phone since the circuits were jammed. And he'd left his cell phone at home that day and that is why it would do no good to call him on it.
I cried in the Walgreens parking lot--tears of relief and joy that my dad was alive and tears of anger at what was happening.
My father was one of the last out and the first back in the Pentagon on September 11th. He helped get the communications systems back up so the various parties could talk about what was going on and how to begin to respond to this madness.
During my drive home, I was listening to NewsTalk 99 and I remember hearing Hallorin Hill talk about the towers collapsing. The horror in his voice came through the air waves.
I got home and watched the same footage over and over again. Eventually, I got so worn out of dealing with it, I went to the Y and worked out watching the same footage on TV screens there. I had a respite while I swam and then I went home to see it again and again. As I drove around, I remember thinking I'd better fill up my car right then before gas prices rose to three dollars a gallon or more. And I recall the sports talk shows not even discussing sports that day, but the horror that we'd expereinced. This was a big deal since it was UT vs Florida week. When I'd woke up that morning, my biggest worry was could we go to Gainseville and beat the Gators. Suddenly that seemed less important to me..in fact, it seemed rather trivial.
I did speak to my dad on the phone later that evening. It was good to hear his voice, though he sounded exhausted.
And as I spoke, I realized I was blessed. I'd spent two or three hours in panicked worry for my dad, wondering if he was alive. I know there were families that day who spent days, weeks or even months waiting, hoping for a call with good news that never came. Even scarier was the thought that there were families with family members or friends on those planes who knew right away their loved ones weren't come home.
In the days and weeks to come, I saw out nation rally together in a way I haven't often seen. 9/11 wasn't an event to use as political leverage becuase it happened to us all. Sadly, it seems as if politicans have slowly turned it from a moment of unity in our nation to a way to get votes or promote an agenda.
But I'll never forget that day. And I hope and pray that our nation never has to experience anything like that ever again.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 9/11/2006 07:22:00 AM