As we mark the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, frequent NR contributors and other friends remember that morning.
RALPH KINNEY BENNETT
I was in my office in Washington when my secretary came to the door and told me to turn on the television. I was soon transfixed by the horror unfolding on the screen. I bowed my head at my desk and began to pray for all those in the World Trade Center towers and the hijacked airplanes. As the realization that this might be a general attack involving airplanes began to grow, my mind began scanning the names of friends who I knew flew frequently. I thought of David Beamer, a fellow elder in my church, who often traveled on business. How many more planes had been commandeered? Perhaps he was aboard one. I whispered a prayer for Dave. It was not until the next day, in a throat-catching phone call, that I learned Dave’s son, Todd Beamer, was aboard the “fourth plane,” United Flight 93. It soon became known that Todd was one of those passengers who apparently attacked the terrorists in the cockpit, thus thwarting their plans by bringing the plane down in the western-Pennsylvania mountains not far from my hometown.
— Ralph Kinney Bennett retired from the Washington bureau of The Reader’s Digest as an assistant managing editor.
I had taken the second cup of coffee into the living room and flipped on the TV to see if there was any late news. A plane had just flown into a World Trade Tower. I looked out the picture window. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It couldn’t be an accident. It had to be an attack of some sort. What to do? The best thing, I thought, was to do what I had planned and get out of town. I went down to the garage, picked up the car, and headed up the FDR drive. Within half a mile, there were streams of emergency vehicles — fire trucks, ambulances, police cars, sirens blowing, red lights flashing — streaming southward on lanes usually closed to truck traffic, headed for the disaster area. I kept the radio on and listened with growing horror. By the time I had reached Sharon, in the quiet Litchfield Hills of Connecticut, two hours later, many of those men, having charged into the maelstrom to give what help they could, were themselves, already, also dead. God rest their valiant souls.
It’s hard to know where to start in recounting what I remember most about September 11. The day started for me with finding myself sitting on the taxiway at Dulles Airport for a seemingly interminable period on a westbound United Airlines flight, thinking I was going to miss my San Francisco connection en route to the Pacific Command in Hawaii for meetings in my role as a deputy assistant secretary of defense.
My second thought was that I should’ve taken the earlier American Airlines flight that my assistant had offered up as another option, one that connected through Los Angeles to Honolulu. I later learned that the earlier American Airlines flight was the one that al-Qaeda operatives flew into the Pentagon that morning.
I was actually able to leave Dulles before it closed and return home, where I found a message on my answering machine for me to come to the Pentagon as soon as possible. I’ll never forget approaching the Pentagon through clouds of billowing smoke from the crash site, the first responders fighting the fire and the armed soldiers protecting its grounds. It was at this moment that it all really hit home that America had been savagely attacked.
— Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former deputy assistant secretary of defense.