Friday, September 11, 2009

Where Were You?



I've already heard it asked in my office, on the radio, and in a couple of other venues this morning: Where were you when you first heard about the attacks on 9/11? The answers have been numerous, from people sitting in their cars in traffic, to folks working as police officers here in Philly, to folks who had the day off and were watching it all on television.

Being a police officer who has worked the 'Last Out' shift for a few years, meaning that I worked a steady shift of overnight hours from approximately 11pm until 7am, I have often speculated that there must have been at least some officers of the NYPD who worked overnight and had just gotten home and in bed by 8am or so on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I was usually in bed by that time after working that shift myself.

I can imagine such an officer sleeping away their day, perhaps with their cellphone off or on 'silent' and with their home phone ring turned off. Again, this was my habit after working overnight. The last thing that I wanted to have happen was for anyone to wake me up for anything, let alone for some random call from work to reach me. Who could ever imagine receiving the call that those officers may have missed and later found on their answering machines?

Imagine those officers working all night, getting home on a typical Tuesday morning, and then waking up at around 3pm before finally hearing from some source: a phone message, the news on television or radio, some friend or neighbor in person telling them what had happened. Of course your first call is going to be in to your work place, and then begins the likely process of getting ready to head in to work, possibly having to make some special travel arrangements to get there.

All of that is speculative, but it takes no stretch of the imagination to consider that there were probably hundreds of such officers in New York city on that fateful day. Where was I that morning? I would imagine it's pretty typical, and typically uninteresting. I was assigned as a Detective with the Northeast Detective Division of the Philadelphia Police Department at the time, but was on a scheduled day off.

At about 7:15am I had left our home in the Somerton section of Philadelphia to drive our daughter Melissa to school. She had just begun her sophomore year at Archbishop Ryan High School in the Far Northeast section of the city, and it took me about 35 minutes to get her over to the building and out of the car, and drive back to our house.

I had been logged on to my home PC before we left, checking my email while waiting for Melissa to finish getting herself ready, and was listening to Philly's local "smooth jazz" radio station. It was such a beautiful morning when we left, and the mood with the jazz music was so mellow, that I left it playing so that I could return to this same atmosphere.

I got back and things were just as I had hoped. The day was still blossoming in gorgeous style with mellow temperatures and a high, clear blue sky. The jazz music was keeping that atmosphere just as mellow inside my house, and I sat back down to the computer. Many mornings would find me turning on and following Fox News, but this morning the music was so perfect for the day that I just left it play and kept out the news of the world.

At about 9am, my home phone rang, and it was my wife Debbie calling. She had a bit of an excited tone to her voice as she quickly asked "Are you watching TV?" I told her that I wasn't, and she replied "Well turn it on, they just bombed our embassy!" I told her okay, and we quickly hung up the phone. But I didn't turn on the TV right away. She called back a couple minutes later and said "Do you have the TV on?" When I told her that I hadn't turned it on yet, she more insistently told me "Turn it on!"

So I grabbed the remote and clicked on the television, wondering what could be upsetting her so much about one of our embassies being bombed. Not that it wouldn't be a big story, but I just didn't understand why she would be calling from her work about it. As the screen came in to view there on Fox was a picture of the first Twin Tower in the minutes after it had been struck. I told her "That's not an embassy, it's the Twin Towers, and a plane hit it" She just told me to keep it on, that they were talking about a possible terrorist attack, and we again hung up.

As I sat back and watched those early confusing moments, something almost unreal happened on the screen. While they were talking about a plane hitting the tower, and speculating on the nature of that crash, suddenly there was another jet coming in to view in the picture. In the split second that it took for the mind to go from "What the heck is a plane doing flying that low when one already hit the tower" to "Oh my God!" the second plane struck the second Twin Tower.

At that immediate instant it became clear that this was no accident. There was no doubt that this was an attack. Now the question was, what next? I clearly remember stopping right there and saying a prayer.

The rest of my day was filled with following the developments on Fox News and the other news channels. My wife was let out early from her work, and on her way home she picked up our daughter from school. I found that my other two older daughters were safe, and closely followed things to see if Philadelphia would ever become involved or our officers mobilized. Neither ever happened.

That is forever how I will remember that day, that moment. The incredible peace and tranquility of that morning suddenly ended by the phone call, and then that incredible moment on television of the second plane as it hit the World Trade Center. Eight years later it still is as clear a memory as the sky was on that Tuesday morning. I imagine that it will forever remain that crystal clear, and I hope and pray that there is never another day like it, or worse, in our nations future.

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