September 11, 2001 was to be just another day on the road in Fairbanks Alaska. As on every other morning I awoke with the TV still on from the night before; a noise to awaken to; a way to get myself oriented to the oncoming day. Except this morning was to be so different.
As I slowly awakened from my groggy sleep, the image on my TV reached out and tried to stop my heart; an image of the Trade Center towers in flames, filled with people at work, struck by an airliner filled with passengers traveling to business meetings, vacations and reuniting with loved ones.
Soon the stark reality came to me that my son Don and his wife Stephanie, and my new daughter in law, could have been on one of those American Airlines planes that crashed into the towers. They were flight attendants working the LA to NY flights on a regular basis.
I was afraid to make that phone call, and did everything I could to delay it. I made and ate some breakfast; shaved and showered in preparation for work at nearby Eielson AFB. Finally I took a deep breath and made the call. Stephanie answered the call and said “we’re OK, we’re home and we’re OK…” I don’t remember the rest of the conversation other than that we were both crying.
It’s funny, but after almost 10 years I still remember the layout of that hotel room; the kitchen off to the right of the entry door, the living room just beyond the kitchen, the bedroom to the left with the TV facing the bed, the bathroom just to the right of my bed.
Somewhere in the fog of that September morning I remembered that my daughter JoAnne and her family lived in nearby New Haven Connecticut and it was not uncommon for them to visit “the city”. I called them and all was well with them as well.
A day or two later I got word that my niece Beth’s husband Mike was also OK. Mike was an Air Force officer stationed at the Pentagon. Beth got word of the Pentagon attack while shopping at Wall Mart that morning, and was frantic in worrying and wondering about Mike. It turns out that Mike was at an off-site meeting and was OK, but it was an agonizing several hours before Beth heard from Mike.
We went to work that day, or at least we tried. The base was closed to all non-essential personnel and we were turned away at the gate. The next day, September 12, it took several hours to finally get on base and to work; by then the base had taken on an entirely different atmosphere despite the fact that we were far removed from potential attack. Security was tightened to the point that you had to show an id to buy a hamburger at the base Burger King. One day we were evacuated (twice)from our secure cinder block building because of a suspicious package at the enlisted man’s barracks several blocks away.
September 11, 2001. A day that changed my life.