Saturday, September 11, 2010

September 11, 2001

Where were you on September 11? I was on a business trip in Washington D.C. I worked as a Senior Analyst with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the watchdog arm of Congress. At the time, I specialized in issues dealing with what was then the U.S. Customs Service and the INS. Previously, I had specialized in military issues, particularly issues involving women in the military.

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!


  1. I was in San Jose...just waking up as the first tower fell. I woke up to the guy on KFOG talking about planes hitting the WTC. My husband was on the internet and had no idea it was much for old vs. new media. I went to work and my boss made me go through with a broadcast presentation that was scheduled that a.m. Needless to say no one tuned in and the recording was forever sitting there online with that fateful date making me look like an idiot for having done it that day. Lots of Californians were on those it really affected everyone out there even though it was happening so far away.

  2. I too remember everything about that day...stopping by from SITS

  3. I remember that day very vividly. It was an absolutely gorgeous morning. I was getting ready to see my adult Hebrew class and had "Good Morning America" in the background. I vaguely heard something about a plane hitting one of the towers of the World Trade Center and thought it was a small single engine plane. When I got to my friend's house for the lesson, my friend had her TV on listening to the news. This woman NEVER watches TV, so this was immediately weird. I joined her as did the rest of the class. Needless to say there was no Hebrew lesson that day. At the time I had one child in High School and one child in middle school. Fairfax County schools asked parents to refrain from coming to school and picking up the children. The children were safe where they were. When word that the Pentagon was hit, we all tried calling our husbands. Mine works in Roslyn and he can see the Pentagon from his office. He was okay, but quite shook up. I also got word that religious school was cancelled as well. This day definitely changed the way we view the world. I hope as you do Cheryl, we are smart in keeping each other safe, but we retain our freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution and we continue to push for religious freedom. We never should let our fear dictate how we treat others or the terrorists have won.

  4. Cheryl, what a unique and frightening close-call view you had of this world changing event.

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    Thank you for remembering.

  5. Amen sister! I was pregnant with my 1st child & it was quite an eye-opener to the world I was bringing my child into! On a happier note, thanks for stopping by our sits day. What a ride that was!!

  6. I was nursing my then new baby. Holy cow, where does time go?

    Thanks for sharing this bit. Thought provoking. Truly a tragic day not to be forgotten.

  7. It was such a frightening day for us here in NY as we knew so many people who worked in or near the Twin Towers. My husband worked in building 7, my daughter was in NYU and my son lived in Washington DC on N Street at the time ..just blocks from the White House. The phones weren't working and no one could check in with each other for hours. Thankfully everyone in our families were safe but we lost friends, neighbors, business associates.

  8. Wow. I was in my car on the way to work at a large government contractor. I got to work, called my wife to tell her, spent an hour or so watching news with co-workers, then worked a few hours and went home. My wife was glued to the TV & in shock.

  9. I found out I was pregnant that morning. I went from intense Joy to grief in a matter of moments.
    Thank You for sharing your moment with us.

  10. Hi Cheryl, I'm sending you an award.

    Happy weekend!

  11. I was living 10 miles from the pentagon then in just out of washington dc on the maryland border side. I had a 2 year old that wanted to watch elmo that morning and I flipped the channels to see if it was on...I saw all this smoke on tv and heard 'twin towers' i thought the whole thing was a joke or happening in another country somewhere other than america since it couldn't happen here...I kept flipping back to the smoke channel very puzzled...when i realized it was real and it was really happening I got dh--he was home that day and didn't go to work that day...we were both in shock. we tried to dial ut on the phones and there was no phone service or cell phone service...i don't tknow if that was everywhere in DC or just us since we lived in NSA airspace and they probably blocked the airspace that day.
    I was pg with my first son and he was due any day. I had a dr appt that day and dh didn't want me to go since he didn't know what was happening in our area and was afraid...I did end up ging but the ppl at the drs office were out of it or didn't care or underreacting IDK and no ne even talked about it there...idiots....anyway, my son was born 12 days later. It was a different world he was born into.

  12. Wow, you were kind of in the thick of it Cheryl. Glad you were not at the pentagon.

    We were living in L.A. at the time. I was in my second year of pediatric residency at CHLA and was still in the ER after my overnight shift. We were all glued to the TV in one of the rooms when we heard the news. The ER was eerily quiet. We witnessed the 2nd plane hit the other Twin Tower and that's when we realized it must be a terroist attack. It was very surreal.

    I love your ending paragraph. Thanks for sharing your story.