I was sitting going through some of my materials, scripts, emails and news feeds to find a worthy topic for today's blog, when I looked at the calendar and to my amazement, it is again SEPTEMBER 11.
We all know the worldwide what this date now infamously signifies - a clear and cloudless, and otherwise non-eventful beautiful post-summer morning, suddenly turned into a heart-breaking tragic day of war, banality, evil and murder of thousands of innocents, changing the world forever.
Some eight years later, life goes on, memory fades, but we must keep this memory alive, and never forget, lest such a wicked tragedy happen again. It is this day that I share my thoughts and story as a witness to history, a native New Yorker, as someone who was there that fateful morning, and survived.....
At the time, I worked in 1 World Financial Center - the building behind what was the South Tower of the World Trade Center - and was on my way to work via subway, with my wife, who was pregnant with my son. It was because I needed extra time to help and walk my wife to work, that I arrived somewhat later than usual, but not late enough to witness what was about to unfold. Everyday, I walked by the 1 World Trade Center, and could not help looking up each time to marvel in the enormity of the tallness of these man-made mountains, known as the the Twin Towers. I also remember passing the fire station there, always warmly greeted by those dedicated firefighters, who were the first to the scene, the first-responders, and the first to perish. They are true heroes.
The towers were indeed a symbol a U.S. financial economic power and world dominance, and of freedom and thus a prime target, as demonstrated by the attack on the trade center some years earlier in 1993. Ask all my colleagues, that I have up until 9/11/01, suspected that it would be targete d again, and called the site then "ground zero", before it was indelibly referred to it as such from that day on. I came to the scene between the first and second plane impact.
Anyways, at about the time the first plane hit the North Tower, I arrived at Rector Street, one stop away from my usual Cortlandt Street stop, and emerged from the platform to the subway operator booth, where a frustrated artist/clerk had drawn on the notice board a rather grim and cartoonish depiction of a plane hitting a tower with smoke coming out.
Sure enough when I got to the top of the stairs, I arrived with literally thousands of on-lookers on all street corners gathered to observe what horror had just happened. No one yet understood the depth of what had occurred. I looked up in the direction of all amazed eyes, to see a sickening site of the first tower with a huge gaping hole covering several floors of the building, with fire and thick smoke billowing out. My mouth dropped open, my stomach twisted in knots, and nausea set in, as I was certain that no one on those floors could have survived. Yet the worst was still to come.
Within an instant, a shadow in the sky, a moaning sound roaring from the engine of another plane flying too low, a sickening sound of impending death and destruction, the second plane hit the South Tower, like a missile. At that moment, I knew that this was a despicable terrorist act. Screams of thousands of horrified eye-witnesses began to scramble, as I made for a store-front under ground. A kind proprietor allowed me to use his phone to call my wife and let her know what had happened, and most important that I was ok. No cell phones were working and all wireless lines were jammed! I also had this wanting to hang around a bit to somehow find out if all my colleagues were ok, but one hysterical word from my wife, I was out of there as I hung up the phone. I needed to get out of the city ASAP!
I made for the nearest IRT train, and apparently caught the last working one back to Brooklyn, before all service was shutdown and the city was in lockdown. I boarded the bus to continue home, and all the riders were abuzz of the days unfolding events. We listened attentively to a young man with a radio who had just informed us that the Pentagon in D.C. was attacked and hit by an airplane. I knew we were under attack.
Suddenly, as the world as I knew it was turned upside down, the urban myths and legends began. "We're under attack, there are 10, 20, no, 50 planes up in the sky across the U.S." No one really knew the truth until later, but I remember the slow motion sense of panic on every one's face and how difficult it was to grasp the enormity of it all.
I arrived in my neighborhood, some 15 miles outside the city. The sky was gray, and ashes were falling out of the sky. Scattered pieces of burnt paper and business cards littered the streets near my home, carried by the winds from the city. G-d knows what else the ashes were, but it reminded me of another horror scene out of the movie Schindler's List.
One after the other, the towers came tumbling down. The man-made marvel that I have always wondered about and observed from childhood was ripped out of the city skyline - the Twin Towers were no more..
I found out later that some unfortunate victims passing by the South Tower on their way to work, (just like I did everyday) were killed by the intense burning fuel below, and other falling debris. I was one of the lucky ones who got there late. I guess one can say my unborn son had saved my life.
It was a day that shattered innonence of so many Americans and others all over the world - an awakening that freedom is never free, and should not be taken for granted, because others would like nothing more than to destroy what every man woman and child desires to have.
It was also a day that united the civilized world, that bonded the international community in brotherhood and solidarity, that found us common cause against unfettered evil, and showed the kindness of strangers coming together to help each other. (See this Time Magazine article on
It also is an awful shame that it takes a tragedy to do this. Much of the goodwill has been squandered, but undeniably united us for a brief wrinkle in time. We say "never forget", but I feel complacency setting in, as the blissful ignorance of evil-doers is the inherent flaw of the human spirit. No doubt that we have been fortunate enough not to see such another vicious attack on American soil - and it should be clear that it was no accident. I'll quote the famous saying that "all that must be done for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing" Stay vigilent we must, and never forget!
Thank you for reading my story. It is just one of thousands of stories as one eye-witness, and a true tale that I will share with my son one day of "where were you" on that fateful and tragic day.
- Robert Pearl