Memories of 9/11 (With Coda On Flight 93)

September 11, 2001 started as a typical day in our D.C. area office. We arrived around 8:00 AM, turned on the Windows PC and went to get coffee while it booted. Along the way we stopped to chat with someone about pending legislation. Then we heard a commotion from a small conference room and joined a small crowd hovering over the TV. The side of the North Tower had a gaping hole in it. Smoke was pouring out. Staff talked in hushed tones over a palpable sense of agitation.

The Stiftung stepped out for the head. Clearly an incompetent Piper pilot had a bad morning. It was no big deal. If you’ve lived in the City, you know these things happen. Rubes from D.C. couldn’t understand. We dreaded the sensationalism to come. The cable channels would have a field day (shark month barely ended). Was it wishful thinking in hindsight? No, we really did think it was a small plane error.

When we rejoined the now larger conference room group in an instant our world turned upside down. The South Tower had been struck. Our heart broke into two. We loved those buildings. Dining with clients. And simply as part of what is. Like the moon or sun. Staff young and old were silent watching the fires. This obviously was an attack.

Suddenly our office building shook with a loud but rolling boom. People ran to the windows. We moved down the hall and stood in the undeservedly nice office of a genial Movement assassin. He was hired to amp up influence with the Bush/Cheney Movement anti-bodies. On his TV the Pentagon burned. The Pentagon was literally just down the parkway. Panic became real. To calm this Titan of Amerikuh down, I pointed out that most of its structure remained in tact.

Shortly thereafter the building was ordered evacuated. We were told another plane had turned around towards D.C.

We Will Remember

The Stiftung was scheduled long in advance to attend an event/appear at a seminar down at U.Va. that day. The phones were not working. Was it cancelled? Only one way to find out. We got into the car and headed to Charlottesville, thus beginning a most surreal experience. The route to U.Va. is bucolic. That day the sky was a glorious blue and the sun shone with that edge of Fall crispness. With windows down we listened to AM radio describe the undescribable. Who did it? Why? What cities next? Arabs this and that. Across all the radio channels one thing remained constant – we were under attack and this meant war.

We pulled over at one gas station and bought a full tank from a Sikh attendant with head dress. We shook his hand and smiled, thanking him. Pulling away we already began thinking that he would have a hard time in this new America. The reason? At a local burger joint further on the mood was angry and confused — like leaking gas just waiting for a match. Sikhs? Arabs? No one there would take the time to learn the differences.

Naturally, when we got to U.Va. they cancelled the event. It was late afternoon; the campus beautiful as ever. Spend the night or turn around? We bought music at some college discount storefront and began the long drive back.

We’re glad for the drive. We could experience the reaction to the attacks in the car-cocoon as it rolled along, the car’s motion seemingly allowed it all to register fluidly. Certainly more helpful than some of our colleagues who went over to the Pentagon. To this day that never felt right and they still seem like gawkers tying to get history to rub off on them. (The hardest manual labor these folks did was tear the saran wrap covering stacks of legal pads. They didn’t even get past the outer perimeter barriers).

The Next Day

On September 12th almost everyone was talking war — if they weren’t still too stunned. Ironically, the word among the Movement was that Bush didn’t have the balls to do it.

Location seemingly did affect peoples’ emotional reaction and perceptions. That evening on the 12th, the Stiftung picked up a long-time D.C. resident at Dulles Airport. She had been stranded in Hawaii by the airplane grounding order. When we drove from Dulles back into D.C. by this time surface to air batteries and HMMVs dotted intersections around the Imperial City. She was amazed. I asked if she knew what happened. She said sure, they had Fox cable on at the resort. Some buildings were damaged. ‘War’ never occurred to her. Or the scale of shock.


Our heart always was with the City and the Towers. The Pentagon means very little to us despite the time spent dealing with it. In the following days we made the reverse drive and took the pilgrimage up 95 to the City. With our tears pouring down, then for us, it all became undeniably real. Each over pass on 95 had flags or sheets with messages of love for the victims in the Towers. Each car passing honked with a wave of support. Along all 200 plus miles. The Stiftung has never felt such bittersweet tears and love but for once.

Ultimately that was and is 9/11 for us. Tears for those lost and the selflessness. And memory, filled with sadness but also healing. The Concert for the City that October summed it up perfectly.

Watching how it all got turned into a milporn totem for Rightists seems like a second victimization.

Flight 93

From STSOZ 1.0 our 2006 reaction to the movie ‘Flight 93’. Still feels about right.


  1. A Random Quote says

    “Iraq could become America’s primary staging ground in the Middle East. And the greatest beneficial effect could come next door, in Iran.”
    ~Robert D. Kaplan
    Atlantic Monthly 11-02

  2. Tbilisi says

    Sorry for being a few days late, but it’s interesting, Doctor, that your heart was with New York. I actually felt the opposite, but for the same reasons. Two friends of mine died in the WTC, but I have always felt that those targeted in New York were indeed selfish – pursuing high paying jobs over those with some social good. They died, but their deaths were no more horrible than the deaths of any other innocent, and their funerals were no more sad than others I have been to. The fireman were different, of course, but personally I felt it was wrong to group their true courage in the face of death with the simple unluckiness of those working in the towers. The dead at the Pentagon, I felt, were at least public servants. I have worked there too, and obviously actual motivations and behavior varies with the individual, but my heart was always with the public servants who died that day.

    But 9/11 was a personal tragedy for millions of people for a million different reasons, so I mean the above as just one observation of one person.

  3. Comment says

    Recall Rudy telling all abouut his corrupt budy Kerik and him theorizing Bush as part of a divine intervention in American politics because 9-11 necessitated attacking Iraq.

    Rudy – in that one clip, managed to degrade America and slur the numinous.

  4. Anon says

    “Watching how it all got turned into a milporn totem for Rightists seems like a second victimization”

    Yes. Those fuckers stole the dignity of so many dead, just to score political points. For years. Yet another thing I hate about them.

  5. says

    Far away in Yorkshire, I remember the scariest thing being the news that the Warlord had been flown to Omaha, Nebraska…I didn’t know much about the place (still don’t) but I did know very well that STRATCOM nee SAC was there.

    Quite a lot of people I know first imagined it was a teabagger/militia/whatever domestic job. Perhaps an unconscious foreshadowing of what was coming up.

  6. Bruce says

    My best friend was killed, he was on the 103 floor, at Cantor Fitzgerald. I told him to take that job… but he was very happy there. I was on the Deutsche Bank equities trading floor up 52nd Street, CNBC/CNN TV screens everywhere… Such a strange day. Lots of stories to tell, but the lesson I learned took much longer, how easy it was to get wrapped in the emotions and calls to war… I became a strongly pro-war neo-con for many years…

  7. Euskal says

    Never understood how Saudi Arabia got off scott free from US nuking them after it was revealed that all the highjackers were Saudi.

  8. Comment says

    Meant to say half a dozen – But it’s tough to say what the lingering toll will be. The whole city and the whole country was injured, broadly speaking. Hard to believe 8 years have gone by. Ground zero is still empty = we blame Pataki partly for his poor choice of designer. We still recall the first bombing and memory sort of fuses that event closer to the last one

  9. Comment says

    We were about a mile away – in and around Union SQ = We lost two friends and about a dozen friends injured. Just horrible.

  10. says

    Great post; thank you for this. I’ve written my own personal remembrance here:

    We must remember and pray for the victims and their families. The story of Deora Bodley (youngest victim on United 93) and her father is especially sad and touching.

    Next, we as a nation must vow to never again let ourselves become something worse, for what we’ve suffered. If we do, bin Laden wins. We must unite again, and be “that shining beacon on a hill” for the rest of the world. God bless.

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