15 Years Ago, I Witnessed Something That I Will Never Forget

There is an expression in the US and part of the world that goes ‘9/11 Never Forget’. I will never forget 9/11! I remember virtually every detail of that days and the weeks that proceeded. From just after the first plane hit, until two or three weeks after the ‘event’ . Here is my tale…

It started out as any other ordinary day. I took a bus to commuter train (LIRR) to the NY City subway to get to work at Guardian Life Insurance. I always got in early, around 7:00 to beat the rush. I was in my cubicle probably checking email or coding when a few coworkers came and said, “Do you see the World Trade Center is on fire?” At the time, I worked in downtown Manhattan at 7 Hanover Sq which was about a half of a mile from The World Trade Center. I replied “No” and I followed the people to the other side of the building where I watched the North Tower, 1 World Trade Center, smoke from what we know now as the first plane to hit the building. We watched in awe as the building was smoking and papers were flying around like it was snow at Christmas.

North Tower Plane Crash

We stood, the 6 of us, amazed the World Trade Center was on fire. Seventeen minutes later at 9:03 am EDT I and the 6 others were shocked when we saw the second plane hit the South Tower (2 World Trade Center).

Second Tower Hit

I was shocked! I watched as the plane, as we know now, as the second plane to fly in the sky and HIT the second building. ALL of us were like, “what the f#@#!?”. We had no idea what happened. We all scattered. like the NYC cockroaches do when the lights turned on and went back to our desks. I, like all the others, went back to our desks/cubicles. I called my wife (@deeguadagno) in a panic… “Did you see? I just saw a plane hit the World Trade Center?” Both of us at the time did not know what happened, I said to her “I’m out of here”, I told my boss at the time. “I just saw a plane hit the World Trade Center and both of them are on fire. I’m leaving!”. He, as most corporate managers would do said, “We do not have permission to leave yet.”. I said, “I don’t care, I’m leaving”. I left and called my direct reports and told them to head home if there were already in transit. As I walked the 4-7 blocks from the office to the subway station it felt like I was walking through dirty snow. There were paper and soot from the fires and ashes from the World Trade Center that was blocks away. I eventually got on a subway and the last commuter rail (LIRR) out of Penn station heading for home. At the time, I did not have a cell phone so I had to borrow someone else to call the wife and tell her I made it out of the City and was heading home. I and the other passengers were watching the World Trade Center smoke from a distance. I finally arrived home around 10:40 am where I hugged my wife and 2 kids to learned that both Towers have collapsed. I did not know what to do or say other then hug my family. I eventually went did some of the ‘Honey Do List’ items to take my mind off of what happened. While doing that, I tried to find out how some of my direct reports were doing. One was in Denver on training, two were en route to work. Unfortunately, as a result of the ‘attacks’, the telephone network was damaged. It took almost 24 hours until I found out that all of my direct reports were OK.

The weird thing about the event was that we, as a Family, were supposed to go on a vacation to LA on September 12th to go to Disney, Sea World, Hollywood and Southern California. Unfortunately, as we all know, flights were ground for a bit. While Dee was glued to the TV, I couldn’t watch it and did a lot of my ‘honey do list’ stuff like mow the lawn, fix stuff, anything to avoid the TV and the realization of what happened until the flights we no longer grounded.

Around September 14th or so, flights were allowed to take off again. Personally, outside of all of the tragedy, this one of the smoothest vacations around. We, a family of 4, were on a 737 or so aircraft with a configuration of 2 x 4 x 2. This plane could probably sit about 300 people or so. There were about 30 of us on the plane which meant each person had a row to themselves for the 4-hour flight. While on the trip, since no one seemed to be flying or vacationing at the time. we essentially had Disney World, Universal Studios , LegoLand and SeaWorld to ourselves. The trip was great! There were no lines at the parks, we went on rides multiple times and enjoyed life…

Fourteen days later I returned to reality. I got up at 5:00am and started my commute into work. This was roughly when “Lower Manhattan” was open to businesses. Unfortunately, at the time, the trains only went to about 14th street because the City was inspecting the rails and tunnels as a result of the collapse. This meant that my commute went from about an hour and a half to about two hours and fifteen minutes with about two miles of walking. The time or walk did not matter. It was more of ‘the walk’ or how we had to walk that mattered. The furthest south that the subway would stop was around 14th and Broadway. The easiest walk to our office was straight down Broadway. Broadway, for those of you that do not know NYC, ran parallel, one block away from the World Trade Center. That means that even day, to and from work, I walked by what was left of the World Trade Center. Let me tell that it SUCKED for a minimum of two weeks. Once I, and other commuters, got to the vicinity of the World Trade Center at was at an intersection we all stopped, looked and cried. Because of the different angles and the length of the ‘site,from’ this went on for about a half of a mile. Let me tell you it sucked! It was rough going into and leaving work every day and having to for 30 minutes or so as part of your ‘commute’.Don’t get me wrong, my crying and longer commute time do not compare to the 3000+ people that lost their lives or loved ones that still have to suffer.

So 15 years later I still remember the day as it was yesterday. It’s still hard to see a plane in the sky and not picture the plane I saw hit the South Tower. However, you have to remember that we, as a Country, have and will more on.

Fast forward about 20 or so months later to the Northeast Blackout of 2003  when NYC and others lost power. We had NO idea what happened. We all assumed another 9/11 type attack. We all panicked and migrated/ran/left the city. I walked home from the office, about 18 miles, in 85-degree heat and about 1000% humidity, until I got to my brother’s apartment. On route, I experienced people charging $5 – $10 dollars for a 16oz bottle of water.

While I can imagine what others felt around the tragedies of 9/11 or what the survivors or sufferers have been through, I will Never Forget 9/11.

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