by Bargis Tryhol on 10/09/11 at 10:56 amOur Day Of Infamy…9-11-01
My cell phone rang as I turned onto the busy highway. I had just finished an early morning breakfast meeting with an old time client and I was hurrying to get back to the office in time for our weekly staff meeting. It was my assistant Linda who excitedly told me to turn on the news because a plane had just flown into the World Trade Center in New York. She didn’t have much more information than that, adding, that the news coming over the television showed the building weeping smoke and flame from the upper floors.
Curious, I thought. How could a plane not see something as huge as the Trade Center? Maybe a pilot had a heart attack and the aircraft turned suddenly, I rationalized to myself, filled with morbid curiosity. Finally, I found a station that had an all news format and half-listened to some advertisement about appliances and an annoying commercial about Chevrolets. The announcer and commentator came back on with a news update…An airliner had hit the skyscraper! The New Your Fire Department was on the scene and people were being evacuated and the fury of emergency vehicles filled the streets around the Trade Center. Eyewitnesses claimed an engine from the ill-fated plane lay on one of the streets, and pieces of furniture from the tower continued to fall.
Deep inside, I knew this was personal and my thoughts went back to the early 70’s when I was part of a company that installed the refrigeration equipment and walk-in coolers and freezers in the Top of the World restaurant. The view and complexity of the building amazed me at the time. I could still remember how proud I was to have a part in that construction, though at the time, I thought the building was indestructible and a monument to man’s engineering achievements.
I arrived at my office and hurried inside. The office and sales staff were huddled around the television in the break room, eyes and minds fixated on the images. Suddenly, another plane appeared out of the corner of the screen, within moments it too slammed into the second World Trade building in a ball of flame and debris. People gasped in horror and murmured ‘oh no’ to no one in particular except themselves in the hope the images weren’t real and was just some special effect on some TV show.
Connie, a transplanted native of Manhattan was crying. Her uncle worked in one of the buildings. Which one and which floor she didn’t know. I too had my own fears. My brother’s studio was with a shadow cast of the Trade Center and hoped the debris hadn’t affected him. The television screen was filled with scenes of paper drifting fromm the sky as if a snow storm hit unexpectedly out of a crystal blue sky. Interspersed were shards of falling glass, metal, and larger objects.
I looked over at Dave one of the salesman. A burly guy who once played for a professional NFL team, his eyes were moist and his knuckles were white from gripping the chair back he used to steady himself. He knew, as well as myself, that this was the opening attack of a war. Suddenly, a report flashed on the screen of a loud explosion being heard in Washington, DC. Some reporters in DC thought it was near the Treasury Building, some said it was the Pentagon. To us in the office it was a numbing overload of insecurity and creeping, chilling fear. We were at war with an unknown enemy and it was just in the beginning moments. We didn’t know what was next or what the next target would be.
Connie tried calling her relatives in New York, but the lines were clogged with hundreds of thousands callers as well, only adding to her anxiety and fear for her relatives. Linda, my assistant, fielded calls from our employees still in the field who had heard scant reports but wondered what was going on. My eyes were glued to the TV, hoping the Trade Center workers were being helped to safety and wondered how the hell they were going to put the fire out. Reports came in of people trapped in upper floors, calmly phoning loved ones and authorities asking when help would arrive. For some it never came, as scores of people ended their lives by jumping from the building, forced to window ledges by the intense heat and thick, black smoke. We sat there quietly…Simply because we were stunned.
At the time, I remembered asking my father long ago where he was and how he felt when he was younger man on that Sunday morning on December 7th, 1941. His time of shared Infamy. He said he was stunned too, sad, worried, and fearful because all they had was a radio and sketchy news reports. He said he was ‘angry a whole bunch at the Japanese’ for the sneaky attack.
At the time I couldn’t share that feeling because I didn’t understand, nor comprehend such a horrible act could be done by so cruel a people. His feelings were trapped deep down inside him and covered by four years of his personal fight against that same enemy in the far away Pacific.
We looked in stunned silence as the first building fell. The roar heard over the television. The screen filled with the dark roiling fog of dust and debris. A few of the women were crying, others started blankly into the screen trying desperately to understand the real-time horror playing before their eyes. I knew everyone wanted to be home with loved ones in an effort to reassure them, hold them, and offer a shared hope that the perpetrators of this unspeakable act would be swiftly brought to justice.
I told everyone to take the day off and go home. The field staff were notified and phones were turned over to the answer service. Business could wait. It was time to address the long process of personal healing and understanding.
On the drive home on that clear and cool September morning, I couldn’t help but notice the faces of other drivers in cars alongside of me and at intersections as they patiently waited for lights to change and listened to their car radios in silence. Every face showing a detachment from the normal everyday affairs that usually filled their minds and hearts. Each had a stoic mask of disbelief, shock, horror on their faces. I guess mine too was that way as I sat looking around me.
It was then I realized that I’ve seen this before many years ago on a dreary Thursday afternoon in late November, 1963. Kennedy was shot dead by an assassin and the late afternoon drive home from work had the same faces I looked at now behind the wheels of cars and trucks. It wasn’t fear, because most Americans don’t scare that easily. It was shock, disbelief, anger, and sorrow.
Today, much like 1963 or 1941, it was quite evident that everyone had a deeper understanding, a very personal understanding, that the world had changed that day before their eyes and horror walked in dark shadows across the land. I guess it was upon that realization that I, and others as well, were living our own Day of Infamy..