Like all Americans, I will always remember where I was the morning of 9/11/01. And what I saw.
I saw the second airliner crashed deliberately, ruthlessly into the World Trade Center that stunningly clear morning “live,” via television.
Perhaps I was unlucky to be such a witness — that image more than any other captured that sad day is seared in my brain. But I was fortunate in that I was in the same room with my wife and children when it happened.
I had returned with a cup of coffee to our motel room overlooking peaceful Amish farmland in Pennsylvania's Lancaster County to find NBC's “Today” show had a camera trained on the trade center's first smoking tower. The announcer was explaining a plane had just hit it. I stood transfixed for only a minute or two before that second plane appeared, banked, and disappeared inside the other tower.
Had I been alone, I would have remained glued to that TV for the rest of the day. Instead, we gathered up our infant son and toddler daughter and attempted to go on with our vacation in as normal a fashion as possible.
Besides trying to reach our folks back home in Connecticut over overloaded cell-phone circuits, all I could think to do was drive. Anywhere. We picked a touristy destination and I headed there, fiddling with the AM dial to find any news out there.
Then it started to happen. Within just hours of the attacks, Old Glory began flying everywhere. So, too, appeared countless signs imploring “God Bless America.”
Along with those outpourings, the biggest indication to us of the immensity of what had happened were the traffic-alert signs along one stretch of Interstate flashing this eerie message: “All NYC Access Closed.”
All the hours of TV footage of the towers and their collapse I watched over the next two days were not enough to prepare for witnessing the stark change to the world's most magnificent skyline on the ride home.
As we rolled up a nearly empty New Jersey Turnpike, passing several trucks hauling trailer-size generators no doubt specially destined for N.Y.C., we braced to see the worst once lower Manhattan came into view.
And we did. Where had stood those proud, preposterously tall monuments to free enterprise, an immense, hauntingly white plume of smoke spiraled into a silent sky. The sight is still with me.
Once back home, we thrashed around all the next day for something, anything, to do that would let us feel even slightly like we were helping to mitigate a national catastrophe that also directly affected many in our local community.
We visited a downtown church thrown open for prayer that evening. And there, inside, was a way to help out right away. Collection boxes for clothing for rescue workers were set out. But it wasn't strictly the church's doing.
A sign said they needed lots of socks and underwear and that members of a nearby Teamsters Local would pick up the goods later that night and deliver them straight to Ground Zero.
“Truckers,” I said to myself. “Leave it to them to know what to do.” We went and bought a package of supplies and dropped it off. In the scheme of things, our contribution wasn't much. But it was something. And it was made possible by anonymous, big-hearted truckers ready and willing to do what they do best.