Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Looking Back Twelve Years

Some thoughts after a dozen years…

I think one thing that has stuck with me these past 12 years is the feeling of extreme helplessness I had. Something changed that morning and it was disconcerting. I vividly remember sitting in a Project Management class in Fulton Hall with the great section 1M1 at Kings Point, probably bored to tears and trying to keep myself from falling asleep as our esteemed professor droned on with a generic blue and gray colored power point presentation. Another student ran past the door, alerting us to the fact that a plane or something had hit one of the towers. Not knowing at all what to expect when we got to the roof, I remember thinking about the event comically as we raced up the stairs, some amateur pilot in a small craft had probably gotten too close and made an error, what a dumb ass! Nothing could have prepared me for what we saw from the top of the engineering building. Nestled between the towers of the Throgs Neck Bridge, the top of One World Trade Center engulfed in smoke, billowing out on the horizon as far as the eye could see, I was completely stunned into silence.

I don’t remember if our class was dismissed at that moment, but I remember being huddled around the television in the ward room of Cleveland Hall as much as I could all morning, seeing the reports that the second tower had been hit. At some point before 10 AM I wandered over to an area near the waterfront to take some pictures not realizing that the south tower had just collapsed. The rest of the day is sort of a fog of watching television coverage on the various cable news channels in the Band Company Ward Room, and attending classes. In Naval Architecture class, our professor explained the construction of the towers and why they collapsed. When you set aside the conspiracy theories that have festered over the past 12 years, his explanation on the morning of 9/11/01 to a stunned class of engineering students, turned out to be exactly the same as the 9/11 commission report. A quantitative methods class was cancelled and a test along with it, I remember feeling terrible that I would have a reprieve from a test I was certain to fail as I had not adequately prepared, (probably I was drinking beer in the baseball dugouts the night before). I would end up failing that test anyway on 9/12. 

Looking back at the television footage, it's amazing the naivete of everyone prior to the second plane hitting, even living through the bombing in 1993, and seeing everything unfold before our eyes, how we just assumed it was probably an accident, not some years long plot by evil men, throwing a desperate haymaker at the great satan. If you can bear to watch, as the second plane comes into view around the 10 minute mark, and the camera pans away as no one is expecting it, when the woman being interviewed screams out that a second plane hit, I think that is the moment when that feeling of innocence left for good. The woman on the phone thinks maybe there is a problem with the Air Traffic Control, while Matt Lauer tries to  get the camera footage, and then mutters that we have to assume that it's not an accident. I remember around that time my good friend Mike saying it must be Bin Laden.

The Power Squadron was dispatched to lower Manhattan soon after the towers collapsed, over 100 Midshipman and the waterfront staff, assisted in evacuation and relief efforts that would continue for weeks. Being on academic probation, as I was frequently, I was not permitted to volunteer. The afternoon was full of preparation by the Academy to accept triage patients since we were one of the closer federal facilities. I was to direct ambulance traffic along Steamboat Road, ambulances that never came. Drifting through the fog of that day, I tried to get away from the news coverage, I tried taking a nap, but sleep wouldn't come, when I rejoined the rest of my company mates in the ward room, we watched 7 World Trade Center collapse.

I don’t remember if it was the day of, or the day after when it was more clear what had happened, and who had perpetrated these attacks, (Mike ended up being correct in assuming Bin Laden of course), but I remember the Regimental Commander telling the Regiment at noon mess, that if we wanted to get those responsible we should join the Marines. Our generation was going to war, classmates, company mates, high school and childhood friends at the Naval Academy, my twin brother and his ROTC detachment, my older brother finishing up in the Army. Things had changed forever, the feeling of helplessness faded in the days following the attacks, but our world has never been the same. 

A photo taken by one of my old room mates from the grounds of the US Merchant Marine Academy

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