I was sleeping when Hubby called and told me to turn on the news. “Something’s happened in NYC…I’m only hearing it on the radio, will you turn the TV on and tell me what the deal is?”. I was in Las Vegas, he was working down in So. Cal. for the week and staying with my Dad. So I flipped on the news and sat in bed, watching the chaos. “It looks like a plane flew into one of the Trade Towers. What the hell? How do you not avoid a collision with one of the towers?” Hubbby had to go, but I sat, transfixed. Watching the tower billow smoke out of a gaping wound.
I remembered the first time I saw the Twin Towers, in 1983. My family had just moved from So. Cal. to New Jersey so my dad could work with Dean Witter. His office? World Trade Center, Tower II, 74 floor. We took the train into the city, walked out from the subway stop, rode the longest and tallest escalator I’d ever been on to up the base of the building, and looked up. I almost fell over. The smooth, metal supports rose upwards and looked like they never stopped. Like they continued right up into heaven. For the next 10 years that my dad worked there, I never could manage to keep looking up from down below…the vertigo was too much. But I have dozens of pictures that I took with my head lowered and my arm raised with the camera pointing up. I’d look at them when I got them developed, but it just wasn’t the same as standing there.
I called my dad when the second plane hit his old building, the second tower. He’d left Dean Witter a few years before and now lived back in So. Cal., but I knew he had most of his colleagues still working there. I was getting panicked because it was slowly dawning on me that two airplanes hitting both towers was not coincidental. “Dad? Are you watching the news? What’s going on? Have you heard from anyone? What is happening?” Planes started falling from the sky, at the Pentagon and at the field in Pennsylvania, and it felt like the terror would go on forever. We were on the phone together when the unimaginable happened and the Twin Towers fell. “Oh, God, Dad. They couldn’t have fallen. Are they gone? Did they have a chance to evacuate everyone? I mean, everyone got out, right? We didn’t just watch thousands of people die, did we?”
He was silent, probably remembering what the evacuation was like in 1993 when the car bomb exploded at the base of the first Tower. The evacuations down the stairwells were effective, but painfully slow. Especially if you were up in the higher floors, just waiting to get down. When he spoke again, he said, “I can’t speak for everyone, but after the bombing it was standard Dean Witter procedure that if anything happened to any of the buildings, we were to drop everything, leave the building, and not look back until we were safely home.”
That procedure was put in place largely because of Rick Riscorla, the Security Chief of Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter.
At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11 struck World Trade Center Tower 1 (see September 11, 2001 attacks). Rescorla, following his evacuation plans, ignored building officials’ advice to stay put and began the orderly evacuation of Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees on twenty floors of World Trade Center Tower 2, and 1,000 employees in WTC 5. Rescorla reminded everyone to “…be proud to be an American …everyone will be talking about you tomorrow”, and sang God Bless America and other military and Cornish songs over his bullhorn to help evacuees stay calm as they left the building. Rescorla had most of Morgan Stanley’s 2700 employees as well as people working on other floors of WTC 2 safely out of the buildings by the time United Airlines Flight 175 hit WTC 2 at 9:02 a.m.
As my dad later found out, after the first plane struck, people in the second Tower were being instructed to stay at their desks because “there was no problem with their building.” Rick had his own vision of what he needed to do. It was a vision that predicted, in 1992, that a car bomb would be used to try and take down the buildings. No one listened to him. After it happened a year later, he then predicted that the next attack would be from commercial airliners. No one listened to him then, either. I imagine that he was determined to save at least the people in his company, and then as many other people as he could. Because of him, only 6 people from Morgan Stanley/Dean Witter lost their lives. After evacuating most of the 2700 employees out, he and three of his deputies went back into the building and were last seen climbing the stairs of what he certainly knew was a collapsing Tower.
Knowing that most of the communities around the town where I lived through Jr. High and High School were filled with commuters going into the Trade Centers, I was overwhelmed by the though of all those women waking up as wives and going to bed as widows. I spent the next week trying to find out if everyone I knew or knew of was safe. I learned that a classmate of mine, Dana Hannon, NYFD, was last seen going up the stairs of World Trade Center I. 29 years old, recently engaged, and well loved.
6 years later, I still can’t watch video of what happened that day. I’ve saved newspapers and magazine articles, thinking that one day I’ll read them. But not yet. I react not only to the huge loss of life, but also to the actual destruction of the Twin Towers themselves. I have a hard time allowing for the paradox that the same human race that could conceive of and build such a masterpiece of engineering, could also produce and conceive of destroying them and all they symbolized…hope, enthusiasm, progress, optimism, and freedom.
The events of 9-11 achieved the goals of the terrorists. Destruction, death, terror, grief, sadness, anger, helplessness. But as I read the tributes to the people who died on this day, and as I watched the people of NYC and the country deal with what happened, I am touched by the strength and determination I see. And so, in the most important of goals–to dehumanize and weaken an entire country, the terrorists failed.
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