9/11 Remembered | Roy Neal

  • Published
  • By Roy Neal
  • American
In 2001, I was working for a large interactive agency in downtown Minneapolis, Minn., building websites. I was driving to work on the morning of 9/11 when I heard NPR report that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, but the report seemed to assume it was a small plane, a Cessna. Surely it was an accident. There had been a small plane crash a few weeks before, so the assumption seemed like a natural one. Ironically, a news story had run a day or so before about how the era of terrorism and Middle East strife was becoming a fading memory--a relic of the 1980s. Progress was being made. A new world was dawning...

By the time I had parked and boarded my bus for the short trip downtown, folks on the bus who were listening to the radio called it a possible terrorist attack. A few pensive looks were exchanged, but nothing more.

When I reached my workplace on the 39th floor, about 20 people were crowded in a room. They stood in a quiet semi-circle a respectful distance from a television in the corner. No one moved closer. Some drifted further away. That's where I was when I saw the second plane hit then, unbelievingly, the first tower collapse. I recall saying, "No. It didn't collapse. It's just smoke." I felt light headed. I had to go to a conference call with an important client. I don't recall a word that was said. An executive interrupted us regularly with teary updates. I felt cut off from what was going on. I needed to know more, especially as the tinge of panic began to seep into the updates we were getting and rumors of more hijacked planes began to swirl. Outwardly, I'm sure I looked calm, but I felt vulnerable in our high office tower and fought the urge to bolt out of the room. I was surprised that a few people seemed annoyed that our day was interrupted by what was happening a thousand miles away, but it soon got closer to home when the building manager ordered us to evacuate the building. In fact, the city had told building owners to clear downtown.

When we emerged from our glass-walled cocoon, I was surprised to see that most of the office was already empty. The flashing fire alarm strobes were pulsing. From my high perch I saw airliners, ordered to land immediately, on the steepest, fastest landing descents I've ever seen, nearly 45 degrees. They followed each other in a long line, one after the other after the other. They passed below the level of my window, white darts that curved and banked, then vanished quickly behind distant office buildings. I stared, transfixed, until I felt the urge to get out return. I sped home on back streets, radio blaring, wanting nothing more than to be at home with my expectant wife. My daughter was born in October, into a post-9/11 world.

Editor's Note: Would you like to tell your Sept. 11 story? E-mail it to 28bw.pa@ellsworth.af.mil.