Since it’s Sept. 11, 2008, I’m going to do something I’ve never done before and share with you my experience of Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, 2001. I’d like to open up the site all day for DT readers — worldwide — to describe where you were, what you saw and your impressions were on 9/11. I’ll post the responses throughout the day…
I was eating breakfast in the National Press Club that morning when I saw the images of the first hit on the WTC playing on the news shows that morning in the dining room. At first I really thought this was a mistake, but when I realized it was a much larger plane, I began to suspect some sort of terrorist attack.
I ran down to my news office — at the time I worked for a defense industry newsletter called Defense Week — and by the time I got to the TVs in my office, the second plane had hit. Then I knew we were truly being attacked.
Then the Pentagon…
As a new news guy, I figured it was time for me to swing into action. I wasn’t sure what to do so I grabbed my things and headed toward what most people thought would be the next target…the White House.
The streets were jammed with cars and people, but it was orderly. No one was totally freaking out but there was a thick tension in the air. I got the sense that folks in that part of DC — near the White House and various other ‘executive office buildings” — were used to tension and stress. I walked quickly over to the park in front of the White House and was quickly shoved away by an MP5-wielding uniformed Secret Service. People were starting to freak.
Then all of a sudden, you could hear Air Force jets in the air, flying low. As if on cue, the Secret Service guys started running down Pennsylvania Ave. herding people west, away from the White House. Another plane was coming and its target was right where we were standing.
I walked fast, but not too far. The excitement of the stress kept me planted there. I was small fry so the Secret Service officers ignored me. No plane showed up (it turned out this was the Shanksville, Pa., plane), so I went back to the office and started banging the phones for colleagues in the Pentagon and elsewhere. My first series of stories was on the coming conflict in Afghanistan and an examination of the Soviet defeat there.
The next day, Sept. 12, I went to the Pentagon. It was incredibly emotional for me. The building gaped from the impact. The air was still thick with smoke. The rafters smoldered. But the building was open for business. A testament to the resilience of the American military.
I’ve spent the last seven years covering the “global war on terrorism” in one way or another. Truly 9/11 was the first life-changing event I’ve been a part of. And it reminds me of the “where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “what were you doing when man set foot on the moon?” kind of questions. But 9/11 had far more impact than those events could have on my daily life. I’ve been shot at, risked explosive injury, met tribal elders in poppy fields, seen the “worst of the worst” in chain link cages, witnessed new alliances seen the best — and the worst — of our government’s capabilities and felt first hand the grief of loss than never wanes.
9/11 is the seminal event of this century. It has in many ways defined me — professionally and personally — and it’s something I wish away every time I think of it.