A Personal Recollection Of 9/11

I realized, of course, that today was 9/11, but it hadn’t struck me that it was the tenth anniversary of that awful day. Like many others, I can still remember much of it like it was yesterday.

Ten years ago, 9/11 began like any other day for us. The only thing that was different was that my parents happened to be here for a week to visit.

Early in the morning, my wife Jan and I headed off to work, while my parents planned to head into Washington, D.C. a bit later on.

As we did every work day, we passed through the visitor control post on Samford Road, which leads into the National Security Agency campus at Fort George G. Meade in Maryland, where we’d both been working since the mid-1980s (and from which my wife resigned in 2005, with me following suit in August of this year).

We went about our morning work routine as normal until sometime just before 9 a.m., when one of our coworkers came through the office, saying that something had happened at the World Trade Center.

A bunch of us piled into the division office to watch CNN. We saw the smoke coming from the north tower, and listened to the commentary indicating that a plane had hit the building. At the time, however, no one seemed to know anything about the plane. A lot of us figured it was probably just a small plane, as it was hard to get any sense of scale at that point of the damage to the tower.

Then, as we stood there watching, the camera picked up something heading toward the center. I remember thinking, “Jesus, that looks like a jet!” just before it slammed into the south tower.

The sight left us all stunned for a moment.

At that point, our management ushered us back to work. My wife and I worked on the seventh floor of the old headquarters building, which is adjacent to Route 32. I wasn’t the only one preoccupied not only with what was clearly an orchestrated attack, but was wondering if it was really over.

That’s when the report of the Pentagon being hit came in.

Call me a chicken, call me whatever you want, but that’s when I told Jan, “We’re leaving.” NSA is a stone’s throw away from Baltimore Washington International Airport, and if someone was following up the attacks on the World Trade Center with high visibility military targets like the Pentagon, NSA couldn’t be too far down the list. All I knew at that point was that I wanted to make sure Jan was safe.

Fortunately, what we worked on wasn’t what’s considered “mission critical,” so it wasn’t a huge deal for us to leave. If we had been in mission critical missions, we would have stayed, but I’m glad we had the option. My skin was crawling, and when we got out to the parking lot, I found myself glancing to the north toward BWI. I wasn’t the only one.

A short time later, non-essential personnel were released to head home.

When we got home, the first thing we did, of course, was turn on CNN.

Then came the task of trying to figure out what had happened to my parents, who had gone downtown. The Pentagon wasn’t on their agenda, but with them, you never know.

Unfortunately, the cellular network was saturated and we couldn’t get through. We kept trying to reach them through the day, without any luck.

Around 3 p.m., the front door opened and my parents appeared.

“Where the devil have you been?” I asked. “We’ve been trying to reach you all day!”

They looked at each other, then at me, totally confused. “Why? Is something going on?”

Leave it to my parents, whom I love dearly, to be completely oblivious to the second Day of Infamy, after the attack on Pearl Harbor, to be suffered by the United States.

Ten years ago today. My heartfelt condolences to all those who lost someone that day, and my prayers to those who have since labored tirelessly in an effort to ensure it doesn’t happen again.