A Personal Note About 9/11September 11, 2012 @ 3:07 PM EST
I am not usually one to get too emotional about things but one cannot help but have a lot of memories come back after watching a fair amount of today’s 9/11 Anniversary events and memorials.
I thought some of you might be interested in hearing my personal story that day, especially those who do not live and work in the New York Metro area.
I will keep this as brief as possible, as I could probably write for hours.
I was working at the time for one of the world’s largest consulting/marketing/communications firms and the morning of 9/11 we were having our usual senior staff meeting run by our company’s CEO. About 12-15 of us were there in our main conference room in our midtown Manhattan office building, each in turn giving updates on current client projects. Two of my major clients at the time were the American Stock Exchange and Reuters.
All of a sudden the CEO’s executive assistant ran into the room and said there had been a terrible plane crash at the World Trade Center. Our CEO bolted from the room and said we would regroup in 30 minutes. Most of the rest of us went off to another room to find a TV and see what was happening. People throughout the company were wandering the halls, some hysterical and crying, some in numb shock, most in total confusion. And this was before anyone had a clue as to what was really happening.
Here is the really tough part. One of my senior colleagues from the meeting was watching TV coverage with us and obviously as distraught as could be, but saying little and trying to work his cell phone. As we watched the second plane hit the second tower live, he totally lost control, and screamed that his brother worked in the second tower on a high floor. His brother, we found out later, was one of the victims.
After this we all soon left the room, with the news reports speculating now on the terror angle and we all having our separate concerns for friends, family, co-workers and personal safety. I called my wife and made sure everything was ok and told her I would try and stay in touch as best possible.
Beyond my family, foremost in my mind was the safety of one of my staff members, who had gone that morning early to a meeting at the American Stock Exchange, not more than three blocks from the towers. I tried to reach our clients on a land line with no success. I tried to reach my colleague’s cell multiple times but no luck. (Cell phone coverage in NYC was notoriously bad at this time anyway, but we learned later the system was on total overload). His wife soon called me since she had not heard from her husband and was very worried.
This piece of the story at least had a good ending. My colleague and AMEX staff members had been evacuated from the AMEX and given refuge in the basement “secure” area of one of the major brokerage houses downtown, but had to literally run for their lives through the infamous dust and debris storm to get there. I actually did not learn of his status until late that night.
By this point our building was going to be shut down and everyone “ordered” to go home. The only issue with that was how to get home with public transportation in chaos. (Any thoughts of somehow helping out with the situation in some way were pretty much impossible, as lower Manhattan was being essentially shut down and people asked to stay away).
Somehow I got on the last train back to Connecticut before a several hour shutdown of service came on. The ride was surreal and very sad, with people glued to portable radios and then when we exited the underground portion of the trip from Grand Central Station, we witnessed an unobstructed view on this bright sunny day of the tremendous smoke billowing from the site of the towers.
On the train I then continued to try and reach my sister, who worked on the west side of Manhattan, in the midtown area. No luck getting through. She and I eventually connected but she could not get back to her apartment in New Jersey but was able to finally get a train that night to Connecticut to stay with us.
That same afternoon, I drove down to the beach area in our Connecticut town and could clearly see the smoke some 50 miles away.
Ok, to make a long story a bit shorter, you know all the rest of the details of what actually happened with the attacks. We were in front of the television all night and in contact with friends and family members. All of my close friends on Wall Street were all ok, thankfully, but several friends of friends were not.
There were several postscripts to the day.
The next morning I drove my sister home to New Jersey on another brilliantly sunny day, using the Tappan Zee Bridge. What an eerie sight. Virtually no traffic moving in the direction we were headed, west. Coming in the other direction, east, toward New York City was an endless “convoy” of National Guard vehicles, construction equipment, and many other types of service and rescue trucks. I will never forget it.
I will also never forget her neighbor, a construction worker, loading up his personal truck and getting ready to head to NYC to see what he could do to help.
My “trapped” associate’s wife, an artist and author, was inspired to write an oral history type book, capturing first-hand experiences of 9/11.
Our clients from the American Stock Exchange ended up moving into our offices for several weeks as their building had a great deal of damage and the contamination in the immediate area was just too great.
One of my other clients just so happened to be the American Red Cross. As soon as we were able to get back to work, which was fairly quickly, we worked non-stop with the Red Cross on their 9/11 media efforts on a pro bono basis. We were also able to solicit very generous donations of media time from newspapers and radio and TV stations all around the country to run a variety of Red Cross informational and donation-centered media placements. We at least felt we were contributing to the recovery effort in some small way.
Our work with the American Stock Exchange was also frenzied, trying to get word out as to the Exchange’s status and eventual reopening date and helping to coordinate a variety of media and communications issues.
And of course, unfortunately, there was all the news which later emerged of connections that had a friend, family member or acquaintance perish that day. Thankfully, everyone within our immediate family and close circle of friends was ok. But our thoughts and feelings still go out to the families of those who lost loved ones.
And that is what I remember most vividly