We’re approaching the 21st anniversary of 9/11, that horrible day that no American will ever forget.
We suffered one terrible blow after another in quick succession. Massive airliners loaded with jet fuel and overwhelmed flyers deliberately crashed into gigantic buildings occupied by thousands more unsuspecting victims. Huge, seemingly indestructible buildings collapsed one by one until we all lost count. Giant explosions and hellish fires engulfed unsuspecting victims.
Brave first responders rushed headlong into danger to help others and were gone in an instant, transformed into colossal clouds of dust. More brave innocents deliberately sacrificed themselves to save their fellow Americans.
Thousands of loved ones suddenly found themselves widows, widowers, orphans and childless parents with little or no chance to say goodbye to precious loved ones. Even more thousands survived unspeakable events. It was unimaginable… an unbelievably traumatic day for so many.
One of the worst things I remember about that day and the days that followed was fear of the unknown… the uncertainty… what might be coming next. Dozens of rumors flew over the internet and TV. We didn’t know if or when the terror might visit the rest of us. Like many others, I recognized it could get much worse for me and mine very quickly.
I was home that week. I got up early and walked the Green Belt on a beautiful autumn morning, enjoying the cool, crisp air, planning to spend all day in my office working on client reports. When I headed home, my new neighbor across the street waved me over. I had not yet met her as I had been travelling full time. She rushed the introductions and told me that a jet airliner had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and that many deaths were expected. The news was sobering. She had seen the video and was shaken. In my eagerness to see the video, I cut short conversation and hurried inside. I still feel badly about abandoning her like that.
I watched that godawful video of the first plane a couple of times and called my husband, Chocoholic. He was at work on one of the upper floors of the Transco Tower. I told him what little I knew and urged him to come home. I had flown over the Tower a number of times on approach to Houston Hobby. It was an easy target if terrorists had plans for Houston, 64 stories high, a lonely high-rise in the Galleria, one of the most visible buildings in Houston outside of the downtown business district. It even sported a searchlight beacon visible for forty miles after dark!
Chocoholic’s employer had no announced plans to let people go. I urged my husband to get out of that freaking building. I watched more video, anguished over more terroristic acts of mass murder and conflagration and surfed TV channels and the internet, collecting information on Houston businesses already sending employees home. When I had a list of heavy hitters, I called Chocoholic, urging him to relay the list to his immediate superior. It took another hour, but he finally called to say he was on his way home. Thank God!
Things finally quieted down at our house around twilight. They stayed pretty quiet the next day, but either that or the next evening, we had a scare. Around 9 p.m. we were watching TV, finally relaxing just a little from the stress. Suddenly, two jet fighters from the Texas Air National Guard at Ellington Field came screaming overhead. We were rattled as were the house and windows. I searched the internet for what might be going on but couldn’t find anything. Having read somewhere that it could take fighter jets as long as an hour to complete pre-flight checklists and inspections, I figured that even if it wasn’t authorized, a couple of hotshot pilots had decided they needed to practice speedy take-offs on their own. I couldn’t fault them for the noise and the adrenaline rush. It was comforting to know those brave young pilots were nearby to protect us.
Much later, I learned that on the morning of 9/11, 2 F-16’s were dispatched from Ellington to the Gulf of Mexico, some 50 miles offshore Louisiana, where they assumed escort duty for Air Force One and the President on their way to refuel at Barksdale Air Force Base outside Bossier City. I never found any explanation for the startling night-time emergency takeoff.
NOTE: Garrett M. Graff’s non-fiction book The Only Plane in the Sky, An Oral History of September 11, 2001, published in 2020, presents a vivid chronology of what happened to whom that day. It is well-researched including a great many heart-stopping interviews with 9/11 survivors. It’s not for the faint of heart nor for the tender-hearted or those suffering from depression. It is raw and brutal at times, but still a wonderful book. It is a very big book, in the 1,000 page range, and every page is fascinating.