Around this time 15 years ago I was training one of my newly promoted executives. We were heading to Washington DC for his first scheduled client meeting. Excited about his bright future and eager to close a deal. Shortly in to our short trip in to Virginia (sitting in DC traffic), we hear about the World Trade Center planes. Not knowing a lot about the severity of the NY attacks, we proceeded to our meeting thinking DC would be the last place for terror attack. “It’s DC for God’s sake, we are in the safest place in the world”, is how I defused the current situation. Unfortunately for us, his first meeting was on the back side of the Pentagon just across the bridge in to Virginia.
As we continue our commute breaking through the daily grid lock traffic of DC coming around the Pentagon, I noticed a large plane flying extremely low coming directly toward us and it was coming very fast. It didn’t dawn on me that the airport was in the opposite direction of the Pentagon and the Air Force Base was a distance away. Plus, you see low flying planes coming over the Potomac all day and every day. It was easy to be confused. Right before I was able to process what I was seeing, we watched this plane fly right beside us and directly in to the Pentagon.
My young exec was fresh out of college and immediately was shocked at what we witnessed less than a few hundred yards from the attack. I believe our close proximity is what really set home for both of us as we could feel the intense heat and debris falling from the large Orange mushroom shaped plum that followed the impact. We watched in unbelief. It was like a military war zone explosion filled with gas, heat ash, and thick smoke directly afterward. He immediately began to go in to shock, breathing hard and extremely concerned about the people on the plane and in the building. At that point, my goal was to try and find the safest route out of that area. In disbelieve, fear and concerned for our own safety, it was our goal to regroup outside of DC as quick as possible.
After hours of trying to navigate through chaos and grid lock traffic, we end up back in DC and the site was out of a scifi movie. People running, cell phones going in and out, people wrecking in to each other. It was like a true life war zone once the word was out that the Capital was being attacked.
The reality of this event was, any deviation to that plane and I would not be here to share our experience. Unlike my military experiences, this was different. It was not a exercise or Iraqi desert combat zone. There was no military issued side arm or MP5 to combat the enemy, this was personal. This involved my wife and children. Americans are being killed and now I have to get my employee home and find my wife and kids. It was only when I saw my wife and young daughter (Victoria) that my adrenalin lowered and the magnitude of the event hit me. I realized how blessed I was to see them. There was no way to explain what we witness while I was watching the news for the first and seeing the WTC building fall. (A building that I have been on top of as a tourist)
As a military vet, it was easy to become angry. But you can’t stay angry long when you see the aftermath of kindness, unity as a country. Caring for one another. Fighting to help those who were in need. There was no black, no white no republican or democrat in DC. Just American, fired up and ready to kick some terrorist ass!
The 9/11 event had various impacts on people all over the globe. My heart still breaks for the families that lost love ones on those planes and in those buildings, but for some of us who actually witnessed the horrific attack first hand, it has provided a greater appreciation for life, family and for your fellow Americans.
Since then, my young exec is a very established successful businessman now. He is married with children and we talk about how that day has impacted our lives. We will forever be bound by the events and every year, we call each other to share how much we appreciate our friendship. That day still is as clear as it was in 2001. We don’t laugh, nor do we dwell much on it, we just tell each other that its 9/11 and that we are blessed to be here.
This morning as I was on my 5 mile exercise, I could see Victoria’s little face when I finally walked in the door that night. Neither Amie or any of my other family members could get in touch with me for most of the day due to cell phone technology being down. But I can still remember Victorias first words when I walked through the garage door, “Daddy are you ok”, as I wept, I hugged her and Amie and told them how much they mean to me. We started to pray for the others who were not able to hold their loved ones that night. It was a day to forever remember.