It was after a weekend of watching the World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers" along with an interview with author Stephen Ambrose that I felt grateful to those who sacrificed their lives to preserve our freedom and questioned whether I possessed a fraction of the bravery they so willingly displayed.
So feelings of patriotism were still welled up in me on the morning of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when I went on a routine errand to fetch some bagels for the family breakfast. The FM-radio station I so casually listened to mentioned that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. That was all the radio newscaster had to say. For whatever reason I knew this story was a long way from being over and my reporter's intuition told me that something was terribly wrong.
I raced home, radio blaring the background. Once home, I turned on the television in search of more information. So many thoughts raced through my mind. First and foremost was the fact that I have many friends and family who work in one of the Twin Towers and in the financial district of New York City. I knew they would be in harm's way. As I watched the events unfold on television, my wife and I began phoning sisters, brothers, cousins, co-workers, industry contacts and close friends to find out their whereabouts and whether they needed help.
The most shocking call I made of the morning was shortly after the second plane had struck the second tower. I was trying to contact a friend who worked in the World Financial Center that is adjacent to the Trade Center. He had witnessed the plane striking one of the towers while the other burned. He was evacuated and was on the run. With our cell phone connection intact I feed him information I received from television news reports. He was on the run, scrambling to get out of the city and asking for my help in contacting his wife and children whom he had not yet been able to contact. "I am going to try and make it to the ferries," he said referring to the ferry that would soon carry him across the Hudson River and into New Jersey where he believed he would be safe. During his mad escape to the lower tip of Manhattan he described the horror and devastation as it was unfolding before his eyes much in the same way American soldiers witnessed the horrors in Europe or in the Pacific.
Before it was broadcast on any television or radio news report, he described a scene I expect he, and I, will never forget. "Bob, they are jumping out of the windows," he said. For a moment, I could not fathom what he was saying and then he repeated it. "Bob," he said, "people are jumping out of the World Trade Center. They are just jumping." Trapped and facing certain death or wounded to the point of delirium these people were jumping to their deaths. My heart sank. I felt nauseous. I prayed.
Keep moving, I said. It won't be long before all of a shell shocked New York shuts down. It would not be long before most of the nation shuts down.
There were other loved ones still unaccounted for. My sister-in-law who works in Manhattan had luckily been delayed in the morning and her commuter train was terminated in Queens. We scrambled to line up a car service to fetch her before things got worse. A cousin of mine who works for a financial house in the World Trade Center had made an urgent call home to report he was fleeing but was not heard from for many hours. His mother called in tears fearing that her son may have been killed. He was found many hours later dazed and covered with dust as he meandered the streets of Manhattan trying to find his way home. I knew these events I was experiencing would be small pieces of a larger tapestry of stories that would soon be knit together. There are many VARBusiness readers in those towers and in the financial district of New York City. I have often visited their offices in the shadows of those skyscrapers. They serve the financial institutions that occupy those buildings and, in some cases, their businesses have been lost along with their customers.
As a lifelong New Yorker, born in Brooklyn and now living in bucolic suburbs of Long Island, I can think of no other symbol of strength and sheer engineering accomplishment than the twin towers of the World Trade Center. I remember the Manhattan skyline without them. I marvel at old family photos that show the Manhattan landscape without the towers and without the Verazanno Bridge. I once questioned if a photo I was viewing was actually a picture of New York. My dad just laughed when he heard that. I have been on many flights where the pilot took us on an aerial tour of the World Trade Centers, positioning the jet so all the passengers could get a better view of those imposing structures. That is why I wept as the towers crumbled beneath the weight of the devastation. I felt as if this attack, whether terrorism or declaration of war, had brought all of New York and America to its knees. It took me longer than I thought it would to compose myself. Some eight hours after the attack, those towers have been reduced to a smoldering, smoking pile of rumble. An indelible image for some, a tomb for others.
As if the attack on the World Trade Center were not enough, I then heard the news about a plane crash and explosions taking their toll on the Pentagon. My goodness, someone or some organization had the wherewithal to orchestrate an attack at the economic heart of the country and the military nerve center of this great nation.
But as the events unfolded, I realized that while this story would not only touch every American, but also strike at the soul of the IT industry. Some of the four American and United flights that had been hijacked were bound for San Francisco or Los Angeles. Those were flights that had transported me across the country and I knew there were many computer industry executives who frequented those airliners. I was hoping that no one I knew was on any of those flights and was saddened to hear that the young, 31-year-old founder and chief technology officer of Akamai, Daniel Lewin, had reportedly perished on one of the flights that devastated the World Trade Center. On behalf of the entire VARBusiness staff, I would like to express my condolences to his family.
In addition to those events, I feel lucky in a strange way. I was scheduled to make my way into New York on Tuesday to attend a major product introduction hosted by Vignette Corp. The Vignette executive team had planned to roll out a major new product in New York's Times Square and planned an elaborate press conference and briefing for solution providers and customers throughout the day Tuesday. I am sure those who made the trip from Austin, Texas to New York will never forget Tuesday, Sept. 11. They will have another chance to rollout their new software products and services.
But I am sure no industry executive will soon be able to forget just how four commercial airliners could have possibly been hijacked. Such an event is unfathomable for anyone who travels. No matter how many miles you travel, somewhere in the back of your mind flashes those strange thoughts. What if? What if this tin can goes down? What if something terrible happens? The older I get and the more I travel the more those thoughts collect in the forefront of my mind. My comfort comes from the rosary beads I carry in my right front pants pocket. While traveling, if we hit some turbulence, I reach into that pocket for comfort.
I am not sure what will comfort those who lost loved ones in the World Trade Center crash, the Pentagon or on the flight that went down in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, like the documentaries of World War II show, people will be brought together in companionship and prayer.
Please tell me your thoughts about what can only be described as an act of war or stories of friends or family caught up in this tragedy at email@example.com.