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Today is a day I will never forget, nor will anybody else around to witness it. September 11, 2001 will live on in infamy like December 7, 1941. Things I've seen, heard and felt will never be forgotten. These images will haunt my mind forever. I will one day be able to tell my kids, later my grandchildren, of this event, when they discuss it in history class. But for now, it is in the present. And unlike a movie, or history that has long since past, this feels very real.
I woke up this morning, expecting this day to be like any other. I thought it was a normal Tuesday, just like the last one. I had two classes at Northern Virginia Community College this morning, one in Woodbridge and one in Manassas. Later, I was planning on going to work at four in the afternoon. Nothing special about today, until it happened.
Upon getting out of my 8:00 AM class in Woodbridge, I got in my car. I was going to stop by work on my way home to talk to Esmer, our new morning person, for a few minutes. I got in my car and turned it on, thus starting the radio up. It had been left on WWDC101 (101.1 FM) earlier that morning and "Elliot in the Morning" was still on. I was preparing to listen to my Matchbox Twenty CD when I noticed that Elliot was dialing a number on a phone. Curiosity drove me to listen. He was calling the old radio station in New York where he used to work. He asked them about what they saw.
What they saw was a plane hit the New York City World Trade Center Tower.
They only saw the second one.
Elliot's old radio station was located in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan. In the ten minutes it took me to travel from NOVA in Woodbridge to the coffee shop where I work, I heard what had happened. One plane had hit the North Tower of the two, somewhere up around the eightieth floor. Sometime shortly later, another plane hit the other building. Reports were on TV about the first crash when the second one hit. Many stations had live coverage when the second plane hit. Like everybody else, Elliot was trying to figure out what happened.
Elliot's former station said they saw the second plane turn and hit directly into the tower. There was no mistaking it; the pilot meant to hit it.
I ran into the store and told Esmer what had happened. We tried to pick up WTOP (107.7), an all news station. We were met with static and no success. I left the store and hurried home, where my mom was waiting. As I listened to the radio, I heard Elliot state that all the bridges and tunnels in Manhattan were being shut down. I heard that the airports in New York and Washington DC were being shut down. I heard the President, George W. Bush, make a brief statement about the event, which was believed to be an act of terrorism. All of this took place in less than ten minutes.
When I got home, I went upstairs to where my mom was waiting. I sat down and watched the TV with her. Within moments, I saw footage of the second plane hitting the towers. The people on the radio tried as hard as they could to describe it, but words couldn't. You needed to see it with your own eyes. The plane turned and headed straight for the Tower. I watched in disbelief as I saw footage of the plane hit time and time again. When the plane hit, that part of the building burst into an orange fireball. I watched with my mouth open. A few minutes after I got home, all the airports in the United States were shut down and all flights were ordered to the ground.
I was in my chair when we heard that a third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington DC. Both my mom and I just stared. The suspense and horror created by the news could never be equaled by a movie. And it was real. I called Esmer a few times to try and keep her informed of what was going on, but I eventually gave up. There was too much going on.
I remained in my seat. I saw the reports as they came in, unconfirmed, that one of the World Trade Center Towers had collapsed. I saw the Manhattan skyline, choked with smoke, with only one Tower. I saw on live television as the second tower collapsed. Words will never be able to describe it. My heart was in my throat. The building went down in a black cloud of smoke, as if someone had imploded it. Two buildings, each one hundred and ten stories tall, were reduced to rubbish in a matter of minutes. It brought tears to my eyes.
I saw the smoke that rose out of the Pentagon. Time ceased to have any meaning. I sat in my seat when I should have left for my class in Manassas. I couldn't tear my eyes away from the TV for a moment, much less a few hours. I wasn't about to miss history in the making. I saw a part of the Pentagon collapse. I saw Palestinians dancing and celebrating in the streets of their homeland, which angered me like nothing else ever has. At one point in time, it was reported that two of the three planes came out of Dulles airport, right near where I live. We also heard that another plane, hijacked like the previous three, was circling over Dulles. Another plane went down in western Pennsylvania. It was later stated that only one plane came from Dulles, two came from Boston, and one from Newark, New Jersey. It was also confirmed that there was no plane circling Dulles.
When the news first said that there was a plane circling Dulles, my body tensed and froze with fear. Dulles was too close to home. I couldn't understand how this could be happening. Dulles is my home airport. My school was shut down. We heard military jets fly over our house. Every now and then, the phone would ring. Everybody was trying to stay in touch, trying to make sure everybody was okay. Many people began to flee DC, creating a mass exodus. On the news, every now and then, another plane would be reported in the area and people would panic. Even I would turn cold and tense up, preparing for another blow. None came, thankfully.
The afternoon wore on, and we calmed down, as it appeared that another attack wasn't going to happen. My brother, my sister-in-law, and my niece came over. My father came home from work. We could only talk about what had happened, and watch the TV. The images that played across the screen have been burned into our brains forever.
I went to work, and the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was on everybody's lips. My boss came in at 7:15 and we shut the shop down early. We talked about the attack: the Attack on America.
Words cannot describe what I've seen happen today. The words don't exist. My grandmother, when she called, said that this blew Pearl Harbor away. She was only one of many to compare the Attack on America to Pearl Harbor. About 50,000 people work at the Twin Towers. About 260 people were on all four planes. Nobody knows how many could have been in the section of the Pentagon that was hit when it was hit. People are preparing for the death toll to be horrendous. People hesitate to make estimates, as it is difficult and the number will be high.
Many people lost their lives today. Innocent people, who only wanted to go to work. Innocent people, who were in the midst of travel. Innocent people, who were trying to save others. Innocent people who did not deserve to die. The number could be in the thousands. Who knows how many people could have died today. The shut down of the airports may have saved thousands of other lives. We may never know.
Symbols of our country were destroyed today. This morning, two large towers were a part of the Manhattan skyline. Tonight, they are gone. One wall of the Pentagon has been destroyed.
People are in shock and mourning. This morning, somebody's mother, father, sister, brother, son, daughter, husband, wife, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, lover, was lost. This morning, so many people lost their lives when they shouldn't have.
No matter how many times you see the plane hit the tower, see the towers collapse, see the broken wall of the Pentagon, you never get used to it. You can't tear your eyes away from it, even though you don't want to see it. It will make you sick to your stomach. And you can wish and pray that it isn't real, but it is. This is no movie. This tragic act of terrorism happened in America today.
We all lost something today. Maybe we lost a friend or a family member. If we didn't, we probably know somebody who did. But we also lost something else. Perhaps it was a sense of innocence. We thought such a thing would never happen to the United States, but it did. It could happen again. Some part of us died. We are now thinking about what we take for granted every day: freedom and our lives. We still have our freedom, and our lives and we should be thankful. We should appreciate what we still have and not take it for granted.
There is an eerie silence outside. There are no planes flying overhead. There won't be until at least tomorrow afternoon. The silence, the lack of planes, is deafening. You can hear it, feel it, taste it, breathe it. The silence is a living force, a monster, if you will. The silence is a reminder of what took place today.
The roads are nearly deserted. This city is like a ghost town. It is yet another reminder of what happened today.
Today, our freedom was threatened in an act of terrorism. Our freedom was held at gunpoint and we couldn't even see the face of the person whose finger was on the trigger.
-September 11, 2001