Thursday, May 22, 2008

3 years and 8 days since my experience of September 11, 2001 part 1

originally posted 9.19.04

I've told my story of being in the air the day our nation was attacked 3 years ago many times. I told it most recently at my cousin's wedding and I feel this is a good time to publish it to the web.

Those of you who know I was in the Marines until recently may or may not know that when I was serving in Kansas I would fly down to Dallas once a month to work on the NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) Warehouse down there. I have cousins in Dallas that I had not seen for many years and I decided to stay an extra day to see them. I rented a car and drove into the city and spent all the day with them. Then I took the early afternoon and evening to spend with a young lady who, despite my protestations, received much of my attention. That was September 10th. My fellow Marines had left that afternoon. I had stayed to spend time with those aforementioned.

The next morning I got to the airport really early and grabbed my standby flight - I had two options - fly to Houston to get back to KC by 3:30 or fly to Cleveland to be back to KC by 1:30. It was 6:30am, and I wanted to make my travel time as short as possible. I got on the 7am flight to Cleveland and I had to get upgraded to 1st class because coach was full! My day was going well already. I got the hot towel, ordered my custom breakfast, had some champagne, and fell asleep. As we were coming into Cleveland I noticed we were coming in very fast on the landing. Of course, at this time the towers had been hit already. It was almost 10am in NY. I had the roughest landing I'd ever had in 100,000 + miles of flight and I heard the announcement that the airport would be closed for the rest of the day. I would learn later that other flights were told of the incident while they were in the air.

"This better be for some stupid terrorist crap," I remarked as I got off the plane into a ghost of a terminal. Little did I know how true my words would ring. I followed the crowd out through stopped baggage carousels. The entire driveway in front of the terminal was full of people, not cars, and airline food was everywhere. Something was definitely up, but since all of the television monitors were off, we didn't know.

I looked out at the crowd. If I'm going to get stranded, I'm going to get stranded with cute girls, I thought. I spotted two of them and made a beeline with my 3 carry-on items. How are you guys? As it turns out, they were two nurses from Wisconsin who had spent a year planning an Italian vacation. They didn't know it yet, but their plans were done for. I called my dad on my Sprint PCS phone - which to Sprint's credit, made it through the high cell traffic. As my dad narrated to me the events happening on the screen in front of him, I was the dispassionate news source to the 20 people closest to me. It was as if we were back in the days of radio. I hung up with my dad after about 20 minutes when we resolved to go to a hotel. I rounded up a few people and led them out of there. We got a shuttle and went to a hotel. Having exactly $7.50 in my PayPal account, I was unable to contribute to the room, but promised to chip in later. I figured that my organizing and leading was a contribution in and of itself :-) All that aside, we proceeded to sit in the room, watch the towers fall about 100 times, and call a few of our loved ones. One of us was a reporter from a South Carolina NBC station. We watched her call in her story from our hotel room. We bonded, talked, and then ordered some pizza and rebooked our tickets to fly out tomorrow. Word was that flights would be released in the morning.

That morning, of course, all flights were grounded. My crew was restless. The three Wisconsinites - the two nurses and a businessman - decided to rent a car and drive back. The tally for the rental car - $450. Yeah, I know. The reporter from South Carolina decided to hitch a ride with some senior citizens headed that way. I had to get on the phone with her fiancé to reassure him that she would be fine. It turns out they drove 60 mph the whole way there and sang songs. She paid, in her own way, for that journey :-)

Thus began September 12th. To be continued...

Thought for today

Make friends everywhere you can.

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