9-12-01: Thoughts Regarding 9-11-01

I was home yesterday waiting for a washer/dryer to be delivered. I was watching television about the NY catastrophe and talking on the phone about it to friends in London (Alfie and Charles), when I heard an explosion that shook our house. I went onto the deck, and off in the distance I saw smoke above the rooftops, and a few minutes later heard the announcement that the Pentagon had been hit. Aggie was at the Pentagon working. A call to her office was left unanswered and I couldn't get through on her cell phone. My sister (Harriette, in Lexington) and nephews David (in DC) and Rob (in Boston) both called; and minutes later as I was leaving to get into the car and drive to the Pentagon, Tipper Gore's office called to ask about Aggie.

Aggie's office is, fortunately, on the opposite side of the Pentagon from where the plane crashed. Earlier she and several in her office had gone down the hall to see the NY news coverage. Ironically, minutes after they talked about what an open-target the Pentagon was, they heard a tremendously loud "thud-type" sound and felt the air being sucked-out of and poured-back into the building – the air pressure literally and fully changed twice. The entire structure shuddered. Within a minute they were being directed to leave the building and were informed that there had been an explosion of some magnitude. (Someone she was leaving with had seen a huge fireball roll through the Pentagon's inner courtyard.) She feared for the lives of her colleagues and friends, as well as for her own.

Aggie only had time to snatch her purse, and was out of the building in short order, but it seemed like forever, she said. Once out of the building, she saw the clouds of dark smoke -- billowing, roiling, and pungent. She said that no sooner than they were out, security personnel with bullhorns urged everyone to run away from the Pentagon as fast as possible because another plane was on its way. She said that they ran across the massive parking lot and across I-395 -- women, men; civilians and military; literally running out of their shoes and in their stocking feet to cross the numerous lanes (as you know, it is extremely wide there), ramps, ravines, concrete barriers, and guardrails. Aggie was scared and totally out of breath when her cell phone rang (amazing, because cell phones just weren't working) and on the other end of the line was David in DC. She was able just to tell him she was okay and that they were running from the Pentagon when their connection ended.

I was in our car being diverted off of I-395 by police and security personnel a few miles from the Pentagon when, at last, I was able to get through to David on my cell phone. He had just spoken with Aggie: I was totally relieved, but still had no idea where (outside the Pentagon) she was. I found I could get nearer the Pentagon from Colombia Pike and drove unimpeded to very near the Navy Annex just adjacent to the area near the Pentagon that had been struck.

Here, the cell phone didn't work, but I was able to go into a little auto repair shop where they gladly let me use their phone. I left Aggie another message about where I was and could meet her, and I called David to let him know where I was -- he said if able to call Aggie again, he'd let her know.

I went toward the Pentagon as smoke rose from just over the hillside: at the crest of the hill, I had my first glimpse of the building, the dark gash, fires along the roof, and charcoal colored smoke rising, pouring into the sky.

Near the Navy Annex is a Sheraton hotel (less than a half mile from the Pentagon) where a lot of military-related conferences are held. I went there and saw a conference television monitor tuned to CNN and a lot of stunned conferences attendees who had filled a ballroom. Lines of people were at the pay phones calling their homes and offices; a few lucky ones were able to use their cell phones. A while later my phone worked, and I left Aggie another message that I was at the Sheraton. My phone showed a message too, but I couldn't retrieve it. Then, my phone rang, and it was Aggie! Was I relieved to hear her! She was in a car nearing Old Town Alexandria, in lots of traffic. She and I had gone to opposite sides of 395. She was on her way home.

I went home immediately ... and met her there when she arrived. I was very, very pleased to see her. I'm grateful and relieved, to say the least. But I don't know anyone not deeply saddened by all this.

Aggie and I are both back a work today. It was very sad passing a still- burning Pentagon this morning on my way into DC and thinking about those unfortunately still in the debris there (and in NY) and being grateful about one (a very brave one) who got out and back home safe and sound

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