I live in a wonderful, friendly, stable, middle-class neighborhood. All the houses were built at the same time – 1958. It’s one of those cookie-cutter, post-war subdivisions built to ease the housing crunch created by the parents of the baby boomers.
People who move here have a tendency to stay for a long time. For instance, I’ve been here 12 ½ years, across the street 18 years, next door 12 years, other side 5 years, across to the left 6 years, original owners behind me and original owners across to the right.
We get to know each other but we don’t intrude in each other’s lives. We watch out for each other when any of us are gone on vacation or when we see strangers in the neighborhood. We share gardening tips, talk about things going on in our lives and sometimes discuss the world situation. Sometimes we gossip about each other and we have gone through good times and bad together. Some of us have keys to other’s houses.
New York and Washington D.C. are far, far away from our comfortable little environment. We read about them, watch them on the news and occasionally visit, but they don’t have much impact on our everyday lives.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, my alarm rang at 6 a.m. Pacific time – which was really 5:45 a.m. because I set it 15 minutes ahead. A song was playing and I was in a fog and headed for the shower. About 10 minutes later, stepping out of the shower I noticed there was no more music and the normally light-hearted DJ’s were very somber. It was obvious something serious had happened, so I turned on the TV and saw the smoke and flames coming from the north tower of the WTC. No one was sure what happened, but the term “tragic accident” was used when -WHAM - at 6:03 a.m. Pacific time I and millions of others witnessed a plane fly into the south tower.
I’m not often stunned, but I actually had to sit down because of the shock. I watched for a few minutes then rushed to dry my hair and get ready for work trying not to miss any of the coverage. Now the talk began to change from tragic accident, but there were no real theories yet on what had happened. The scenes from New York looked surreal.
Then shortly after 6:37 a.m. the news that the Pentagon had been hit was broadcast. Hijacking and terrorists were words being used with increasing frequency. While we sat waiting for pictures from the Pentagon, at 6:59 a.m. the north tower collapsed. The scene on TV was utter chaos and it was apparent that even the newscasters were in shock.
Pictures came in from the Pentagon with the smoke and flames, then the replay of the north tower collapse, then the news that Flight 92 had crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside at 7:06 a.m. and just 22 minutes later at 7:28 a.m. the south tower also collapsed in a huge cloud of dust.
I watched for another 10 minutes then had to leave for work. I was already running late, but didn’t care. I listened to the radio all the way in and noticed the solemn looks on the faces of the other drivers. People at work were shaken and we all had the streaming news on the internet on our desk computers. It was impossible to talk or think about anything else. We had jobs to do, but our hearts were not there. We all ate lunch in the conference room with the TV and as soon as work was over, went home to turn on our TV’s.
I pulled into my garage then went over to my mailbox to grab the mail. I was in a hurry to get inside and watch the news, but my next door neighbor yelled at me. I didn’t want to talk and was a little irritated, but she insisted and what she said stopped me in my tracks.
My neighbors – original owners across and to the right – a couple in their late 70’s at the time – their son might have been in the Pentagon.
No one was sure yet. There hadn’t been any confirmation, but his wife confirmed that he had gone into work that morning. He was only 30 days away from retiring from a long career in the Army and wasn’t even supposed to be in his office that day, but apparently he was trying to finish up some paperwork. He was a dedicated officer. He was a great and only son, had 3 wonderful children and a good marriage. I met him a few times and he was a very nice person
His office was directly in the path of Flight 77.
According to the reports, Flight 77 hit the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cut through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. Flight 77 struck the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was within days of being totally [renovated]. It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.
We spent that evening and most of the next day waiting to find out if he was in the Pentagon when Flight 77 hit.
He was there.
They never found him. There was nothing left to find.
It was a sad time for all of us and even though we were on the other side of the country, it made the whole tragedy very personal and real for us.
I took a pie because that’s how I was raised. When something tragic happened to someone, you took food. Olga told me later she was glad to have it because they had so much company. The flowers arrived, and arrived, and arrived and arrived. The official Army vehicles came and went several times. Friends and relatives paid their respects and gradually things got back to normal.
On the first anniversary of the tragedy, I took some flowers and a card to let them know I was thinking of them. They showed me a wonderful portrait someone had painted of him after his death. They were so proud of him. We all were.
September 11th is always a sad day in this neighborhood.