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Tuesday, June 4, 2013
911 CHANGED US ALL
I am confident that there is no American, of a sufficient age, who does not remember what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. I departed Lambert St. Louis airport that morning enroute to Cape Town South Africa. My flight was nonstop to Atlanta where I was to meet an associate and fly together to Cape Town. My plane landed in Atlanta at the same time as the first plane impacted the first tower in New York.
At the gate and in the concourse I neither saw nor heard anything, the news was still not out. In the South African Air lounge I settled in with a cup of rich black coffee to watch the news. As I sat down I saw the second plane crash into the second tower live on CNN. I frantically tried to call home, but it was too late all of the phone lines were busy. My experience of being deserted on an urban island began.
My friend arrived from Detroit, I filled him in and we watched in horror as the events of the day played out before our eyes. Within hours the airport was closed, our luggage was already in the belly of our departing aircraft, where we were informed it would stay, and we were on our own. Outside the terminal it was a mad house; not a single taxi was available. With the help of a couple of Ben Franklins we commandeered a limo and made our way to a restaurant somewhere between the airport and downtown Atlanta. We discussed our options over a half-hearted lunch and finally decided to try and wait out the air travel shut down. We located a hotel and with only our carry-on’s, we checked in.
The next couple of days were identical. We met early for breakfast, discussed our options, watched the news in the bar until noon, ate lunch, and discussed our options. We spent the afternoon and evening in exactly the same pattern. We never ventured out of the hotel. We called rental car companies to check car availability and we waited. Finally on Thursday morning the news came through that the airport would likely open that day. We hurriedly packed, checked out, and shuttled directly to the airport. We arrived to find yellow crime scene tape still sealing the doors in giant X’s. Through the glass we saw encouraging activity inside. We pulled the tape down and the airport was officially open.
After several stages of unusual activity we boarded our scheduled flight to Cape Town and departed Atlanta. Ours was the first commercial flight to leave the continental United States. By the time we reached the African continent we were informed that our plane was being diverted to Johannesburg. We never did find out why.
We spent ten days in Africa. There were plenty of questions regarding what we had seen and how it made us feel. In retrospect the whole trip to Africa feels surreal and I recall the conversations as more polite than probing.
We returned to the United States on schedule. I remember the news regarding our campaign to find the perpetrators, the Dow Jones’ devastated stock values, and the ghost town, which was the Atlanta airport.
I thought a lot about what I would do when I returned home. I considered how I might make a difference. Admittedly, the fact that I am a Missourian from a small town played greatly in my thought process. “After all,” I considered, “how can I possibly make a difference?” When I arrived from the St. Louis airport I went straight to my place of business where an employee meeting had been organized at my request. I announced additions to our benefits program and vacation packages. I told everyone that we must stick together and look to the future. I reminded them that we are Americans and above all we survive and prosper. I am sure I used the word persevere.
Later I learned what else I could do when my brother, son, and nephew were all sent to the Iraqi battlefield.
911 changed me, I remember it well. We are Americans, we are free, and we do have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our country. In the face of our enemies, both foreign and domestic, we must not allow them to negatively affect our financial markets, hamper our trade, or change our society. We must not allow them to send us frightened to cover.
Together we must preserver!
Your comments and questions are always welcome.
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