On September 11, 2001, I was hunkering down for work on a special issue of our magazine, when I got an e-mail from Bill, our New Orleans reporter. He mentioned almost off-handedly that one story he was working on might be in jeopardy because the company’s headquarters were at the World Trade Center in New York, and he’d just heard a report that one of the WTC towers had been hit by a plane.
When I got his e-mail, I immediately turned on the radio … just in time to hear that a second plane had just hit the other tower. Within seconds, Bill called on the phone: “It sounds like New York is under attack!” he said.
Like everyone else, I knew instantly that the second plane meant that it was a terrorist attack. And also like everyone else, I didn’t get much work done the rest of that day, although I tried. News was hard to come by; the Internet news sites slowed to a crawl, so I had to rely on the radio. My wife Jean, a teacher, was in her classroom, and the district had told teachers not to turn their classroom TVs on, so the only news she got was what I could feed her via e-mail. I still have copies of the e-mails we sent to each other that day in which I described what I could of the progression of events as I was hearing them on the radio.
So much of that day is burned into my memory: the shock of learning that the planes were hijacked passenger planes; trying to imagine what the collapse of the towers looked like, because I wasn’t able to see the videos until that evening; the numerous false reports that came out, like the car bomb at the State Department; and the eerie silence that evening and for the next few days, with no planes in the sky because of the indefinite and unprecedented “ground stop.”
Since then, I’ve read quite a bit about the events of September 11. The best books were the 9/11 Commission report, Against All Enemies by Richard Clarke, and 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn.