Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 - My Personal Story

Over the past few days many people have been reflecting on the tragic events of September 2001. Born and raised in New York, it had a large and lasting impact on me.

Tuesday September 11, 2001 was the second day of a three day technology conference on a cruise ship, the Aurora. It started out as usual with a sponsored breakfast before the presentations, workshops and vendor meetings which would fill the day. Mid morning there was a general announcement and all regularly scheduled sessions were suspended. The on-board television systems carried the BBC News live covering the tragic events as they unfolded throughout the day..

Initially there was shock and disbelief but it quickly turned to deep concern. Concern for the operations of the companies which was our responsibility. Concern for our colleagues as we had no idea of the extent of the attack. Concern for our families and for ourselves. And a plethora of other emotions including anger, sympathy, disgust and deep sorrow over the loss of the towers and the thousands of innocent victims.

I worked summer jobs on Wall Street during the time when these magnificent buildings first sprang out of the ground. I often stood watching the pile drivers during my lunch hour as they prepared the foundation. I watched the crane atop the structure as it went ever higher into the sky, pulling the huge steel frame into place below and around it. I watch the shiny silver exterior cladding added floor after floor.

Years later, while attending NYU graduate school downtown, the bar on the 102nd became a favorite place to hang out any time class was cancelled. I worked in the area, attended many business meetings in the towers and often shopped and ate lunch in the concourse. My wife and I enjoyed a dinner at Windows on the World, and, years later, we took our two children to the observation deck.

These towers were an integral part of the City and held a very special place in the hearts and minds of every New Yorker, including me. Losing them hurt, and the loss of so many lives, police, firefighters, emergency workers and ordinary people, was almost too much to bear.

On board the Aurora we could do little more than watch and wait for more news. The port of New York, our point of origin, was now closed. The ship, being of British registry received a visit from the coast guard and, for security reasons, was asked to leave US waters. As we headed straight out towards the ocean, the captain assured us the ship had enough supplies to last three months. This did not make me feel better. We were just off the coast of Atlantic City. There was a mad scramble to the railing to get the last cell phone call made before we slipped out of range.

That evening I recall vividly heading to my cabin to dress for dinner. An announcement had been made in light of the circumstances formal dress would not be required. A friend passed me in the hallway and asked where I was headed. "To put on my tux," I replied, "I'm an American and no terrorist is going to change the way I live my life."

Of course, there have been many changes since then. We have to take our shoes off at the airport and walk pass National Guardsman in Grand Central Terminal every day. We're unsettled because we know our enemies, who we previously fought almost exclusively on foreign soil, can attack us right here at home.

I don't work in the City any more, haven't for many years, and yet I still miss it. I miss the people and the energy and the life that is New York. And I miss the towers that were an iconic part of the downtown skyline.

Ten years later, images of the towers burning and crumbling to the ground can still bring tears to my eyes.

Captain Joe

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