We Will Never Forget…

Last night I felt it. Realization dawned of what the morning would bring. Sorrow gripped my heart and tears fell like rain. For when I awoke, it would be September 11.

Every American has their story, their memories of that fateful day. Every American shares in the pain of that day and the remembrance of the horrific loss of life. We came together as a nation. The world came together in support of the USA. Sadly, the togetherness did not last.

However, every year on this day, all Americans put aside their political views and grasp their neighbor’s hand or give them a hug because in remembrance of 9/11/2001, we all feel the agony, the grief, and we all mourn those lost on that day.

I invite all my readers to share their 9/11 stories today. We all have them. Not one person, unless not born until after 2001, doesn’t have a story, a memory of what they experienced that day. Every experience has value, shows a connection with your fellow Americans. Nothing prepared us for that day, but it is with the memory of that day that we, as Americans, go on and come together as a nation. I just wish that togetherness would last beyond the one day of remembrance.

As I invite you to share your stories of September 11, 2001, I will share my own. It is not something I talk about or share with others often. My family has heard the story. Some friends know it, but it is something I like to keep private as the pain still rips my heart 16 years later. My hope is that sharing it with you will help to purge the turmoil raging in my own mind and heart this morning, as despite the passage of years, the emotions remain fresh as if I’ve scraped off a scab that wasn’t quite healed and the blood is pouring from the wound.

September 10, 2001 – I was at work late that night preparing to depart Washington, DC for New York City on the early morning shuttle for a business meeting at our company’s headquarters. I had been there before. It was a tall building adjacent to the World Trade Center towers and part of the WTC building complex. Previous trips had been day trips, but this was going to be an overnighter with colleagues flying in from Boston as well for a huge conference. I was particularly excited about the trip because it was an opportunity to show a colleague and friend the WTC and we planned to visit the observation deck during a break in the meeting. She was from another country and was enthusiastic about the prospect of standing on the rooftop and looking down over the entire city of New York.

As I was wrapping up work, everyone else had gone home for the day, my phone rang. The Boston folks couldn’t make the trip after all due to an emergency there. So the meeting was rescheduled for Wednesday, September 12. The travel department took care of all the arrangements and I called all my DC colleagues to let them know of the delay.

The meeting never happened.

September 11, 2001 – Due to my late night at the office, I determined it was fine to sleep in just a bit. Driving down Route 50 into Arlington, VA I was listening to my favorite morning radio show. They interrupted their usual comedic banter with the news that a plane had collided into one of the World Trade Center towers. At the time, they imaged it was a small tourist or commuter plane. Still horrific, but not even close in comparison to the truth. It wasn’t until I walked into my office (about 1 mile from the Pentagon where my father-in-law and many friends worked) that I heard the truth as I watched in horror as the second plane smashed into the other tower on a co-worker’s computer screen.

Just a few minutes later, there was an ear-shattering explosion that rocked our building. I, along with many others, ran over to the windows and saw the billowing black smoke coming from the Pentagon. Knowing my father-in-law and many friends and former colleagues are there, my heart seemed to stop beating. I could only stare with tears streaming down my face. A young girl, just out of college, tearfully asked, “What is happening?”

I remember my words to her. It’s funny (not ha ha funny) that much of the day after that is a blur, but I clearly remember what I said. “Someone declared war on us. We are at war.”

We waited for what seemed an eternity. I contemplated a number of times leaving the building and running over to the Pentagon, but security stopped everyone from leaving. Not sure what I thought I could do at the time. My thoughts and prayers were with my family and friends in the Pentagon, as well as our colleagues in New York. I desperately wanted to do something…anything. There was nothing to do. We could only wait.

We stood riveted to our computer screens when the announcement came over the intercom…evacuate NOW, but they stated we should all take the Metro which was a block from our building, but do not take your cars. Well, apparently, I don’t listen very well.

I rounded up my team and shoved them all into my compact SUV. We were packed in tight. The roads were jammed and it took hours to get everyone home. But we all made it home safely. Sadly, thousands from New York and the Pentagon did not.

At the time my husband worked from home and our baby was in daycare just down the street. I knew they were safe. Before leaving my office building, I finally got a call out to him. He relayed news that sunk my heart even further. My parents had called, frantic. My mom had known of my planned trip to NYC, my plans to take my colleague to the towers. She did not know the trip was rescheduled. When my dad called from his office to tell her about the terrorist attacks, her words to him were “Oh my God! Karen is there.”

Having children, I now understand just how terrifying those words can be for a parent. For a few minutes, my parents lived through hell, waiting to find out if I was okay. My heart goes out to the parents, spouses, siblings, and friends of those who were not so lucky. Those who waited for hours and days to find out their loved ones did or did not make it out of New York or DC alive. My heart aches for those who had family and friends on Flight 93 and knew of their fates as the news reported the passengers’ attempt to take control of the plane and it crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside. My thanks go out to the souls of those passengers whose actions spared the lives the thousands in DC at the United States Capitol. Many friends are alive today due the selfless acts of those on Flight 93.

For those that lost loved ones on that day, please know that every American’s heart is with you today and we share in your grief. We honor their lives, although our actions may seem inadequate to do justice to your pain.

As a survivor of that day, by the grace of God I was not in New York and I no longer worked for the Defense Department so I was not at the Pentagon, I feel a kind of guilt. Words cannot adequately describe my emotions when it comes to 9/11. I know where I was supposed to be. I know where I wasn’t. I know that I was lucky. My father-in-law and other friends made it out of the Pentagon that day. Each knew someone who died that day. Each grieved separately and collectively. My colleagues in New York escaped but their building, a stone’s throw away from the towers, was destroyed in the aftermath of the towers collapse. My guilt lies in knowing so many who were not so lucky.

As I lay in bed that night, no sleep came. Our home at the time was right in the flight path for Dulles International Airport. We were accustomed to the roaring engines overhead as planes prepared to land. That night…silence. For many nights afterwards…silence. I never knew that silence could be so deafening.

For those whose lives were lost, for those who lost loved ones, I mourn with you. My greatest wish would be that I could’ve done more that day than simply drive my co-workers safely home. For those that did do more, for those who ran into the inferno raging in the Twin Towers and for those who ran towards the wreckage at the Pentagon…God bless you. You are the true heroes of this country. Your bravery and strength are models for the rest of us.

As I mentioned above, everyone has their 9/11 stories. Mine is nothing compared to the heroic and those intimately impacted by the events of that day. If you would like to share your story here, please message me. I believe I can receive messages via this blog page. If not, look me up on Facebook at KC Freeman.

We all share in the grief and hold onto the memories. Our nation mourns those who died that day, those that died since then who have fought to bring about justice and to rid the world of the scourge of such hate. The battle continues, in the name of our fallen.

 

 

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