Sunday, August 14, 2005

Voices of September 11th

The New York Times has setup an interactive webpage that allows you to listen to previously unreleased audio tapes from the NYFD, recorded during the attacks, as they happened. Reuters describes the tapes:

"The audio tapes, transcripts of emergency workers' radio dispatches and oral histories provided by rescuers after the attacks recount the harrowing and grim moments when thousands of people were trapped and died in the flames and debris of the twin towers."
I've only listened to the first few minutes, parts where firemen are still operating under the assumption that this is a horrible accident. You can hear the first responders calling for every available ambulance and emergency vehicle to come to the World Trade Center. It's chilling to hear the voices and realize that those calls brought more victims to the ultimate collapse of both towers.

Like those of an older generation who will always remember where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot, this generation will always remember September 11th.

I was in the process of getting my kids ready for school and was taking a shower. It was my habit at the time to turn on Fox News' "Fox and Friends" program for background noise while I drank coffee, read email, and tried to get ready for the day. I went to take a shower and my son lay on the couch dozing before I hustled him off to High School.

When I got out of the shower, Jeff told me "Dad, I heard a plane crashed into a building." I glanced at the news, but this was after the first crash, into the North Tower, and just before the second plane hit the South Tower. At the moment, I believe, I didn't do much more than glance at the news where the hosts were talking about the crash in terms of a bizarre mistake. I don't think I even realized where the crash had taken place. I snapped the TV off and we took the drive to FoHi.

Even though I'm a news junkie I don't remember listening to the radio on the way to the school. I fought through the traffic, always bad at this time of the day, as parents like me tried to get our kids to school on time. After dropping him off I do know that KFI-640 was on and host Bill Handel was talking about the tragedy in New York. At that point I didn't realize that he was talking about two seperate crashes. I thought he was only talking about one plane into one building. With the traffic and just fiddling around I only really paid attention when Bill announced the crash at the Pentagon. His words were something like "My God - a plane has just crashed into the Pentagon. We are under attack."

That got my attention.

I wasn't going into work that day - I was having a garage door installed. I turned on the TV and only then began to realize the enormity of what was happening. For the first time I regretted leaving the USAF. I called up my unit and spoke to someone I knew at maintenance control. He didn't have any more info than anyone else at that point and promised he'd call me if I could do anything. At the time I was still in the ready reserve and could, theoretically, be called back into service if needed. I don't think I even had a uniform.

I also called a friend of mine who worked for the National Guard Bureau at Andrews Air Force Base at the time. I just wanted to be sure she was okay as her duties took her to the Pentagon on a regular basis. All of the phone lines were tied up and I ended up calling her cell phone and leaving a voice mail. Eventually she returned my call and we both shared our shock over the phone. My relief that she was okay was shortlived - we both knew others that, as it would turn out, weren't so lucky.

My father-in-law, himself a retired Chief Master Sergeant, came to my house and we sat on the couch and watched with dumb astonishment and fascination as events unfolded. We spoke very little.

The garage installers called to be sure I was home. The lady I spoke with confirmed that I was there and then was silent for a moment. "Can you believe what's happening?" she asked.

"I really can't - this is like, like..." I struggled for words to describe what I was feeling and couldn't come up with any.

"I'm praying," she said. "I'm praying for all of us."

It was, I thought, an incredible admission for one stranger to make to another. She was sharing her humility, in the noblest sense of that word, with someone she'd never met and would never meet. I was fairly overcome. It was all I could do to choke out my thanks and with tear filled eyes join her in a brief plea for God's graces for us all. It was moment of life reaching out to life in the midst of great turmoil and an incredible gift. I still can't describe what I felt or thought at the time - only that this wasn't the end; it truly was just the beginning.

Listening to these tapes, as far as I could, I'm taken back to that horrible day. I can't help but feel that September 11th was a turning point, certainly for me if not for an entire generation. I'll always think of my life as before and after September 11th.

I'm sure that I'm not alone.

No comments: