I was tied up in a meeting with my Director and Assistant Director while the twin towers were being hit and had no idea what was happening. Ironically, we were talking about the northern border of the U.S. and how resources weren't being devoted to it as they were with the southern border. I went right from that meeting to a meeting at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building, by the White House to meet with Customs' Service officials. Normally, I would have taken the subway to my meeting, but I was running late, so I took a cab. It was during the cab ride that I heard about the attacks on the radio. The cab driver filled us in on the details. As we arrived to my destination, we heard reports of fire being reported at the Pentagon. I tried not to panic. I knew they were doing renovations at the Pentagon, so I was hoping it was a small construction fire. But as I was exiting the cab, I saw the smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon. It was really bad, and I knew it was probably another terrorist attack.
My boss and I forged ahead to our meeting, but security stopped us from taking the elevators and told us the building was being evacuated. When we went back out on the streets, it was mayhem. People were running everywhere in a panic. We decided against taking the subway back since it was a great target for terrorism (it ended up being closed down for that very reason). Now, there were no cabs in sight, so we decided to walk the two miles back to the office. People were running all around in shear panic. We heard about reports of car bombs going off nearby (CNN reported as much too, but they turned out to be false reports). Somebody on the street told us that a plane crashed into the Old Executive Office Building. We assured them that didn't happen as we just came from that area and the Old Executive Office Building was fine. At the time, nobody was one hundred percent sure of what caused the fire at the Pentagon (was it another plane or a bomb?). Where would the next attack be? New York had two attacks, would D.C. have another?
When we finally made it back to the office, we were glued to CNN. The news from New York was devastating. Unbelievable. The news about the Pentagon was also sad. A year earlier, I was working on military issues and went to the Pentagon often. I couldn't help but feel lucky that I had moved out of that issue area. For had I been in D.C. that week working on a military topic, there is a good chance I would have been not only at the Pentagon, but in the part of the Pentagon affected by the plane crash.
CNN reported that all the airlines had all planes accounted for with the exception of one plane, United Airlines flight 93. It appeared to be heading toward D.C. We were all waiting in anticipation for the plane to crash somewhere in the area. Then the reports came out that the plane crashed out in an open field. We were relieved, albeit sad for the passengers on the plane.
I couldn't wait to get out of D.C., but it wasn't easy to do. Train tickets were limited (in fact, one train I was considering taking ended up derailing). Rental cars were hard to come by, and the thought of driving cross country with coworkers wasn't that appealing. Planes were grounded until the Friday after 9/11. I ended up staying until Friday when the first commercial flights were allowed to fly. I ended up taking the very first United flight that flew from Dulles Airport to Los Angeles International nonstop. Security was very tight, needless to say. The flight ended up being delayed for about 5 hours because they realized at the last minute that the flight crew for the plane was still in Chicago, so they had to scrounge together another flight crew from the local area.
I white-knuckled the first half of the flight but then relaxed.
It was so good to be home! Los Angeles felt so far away from the craziness.
September 11th changed the way we lived our lives. It changed our feeling of being secure. It brought devastation to our country. I hope we never have to endure another attack like that again. But I hope we can do it while keeping our Constitution intact and supporting other people their religious freedom to worship peaceably. That's the world I want to raise my daughter in!