Thursday, September 11, 2008

There Are Angels Hoverin’ ‘Round...

A family member spends a quiet moment at the Pentagon Memorial, which opens to the public tonight. Victims' relatives played a major role in its completion. (Photo: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The memorial at the Pentagon is being dedicated today. It's less than two miles east of where I live. I could get on a #16 bus and be right there, but I'd really rather not. I hate going to these things alone.

I was at my office, two blocks west of the White House, on September 11, 2001. My friend on the phone was calling from Jersey, and told me to turn on CNN. Then she told me to get the hell out of town.

From the north balcony, we could see White House staff milling around, having run from their offices moments before. Then some of us saw something to the south, and ran to the other balcony to get a better look. The Pentagon was on fire.

It wasn't so much panic, as pandemonium that ensued after that. No one knew what to do. Our press office was waiting for orders to release us while supervisors were doing it on their own all over the place. Meanwhile, the story goes that the Secretary of Transportation asked the FCC if they could account for every plane over American air space. As usual, they couldn't. So the Secretary, without waiting for the President and being officially way out of line, ordered the FCC to call every jetliner, every crop duster, out of the sky immediately. Good call.

My apartment was a three-mile walk across the Potomac. I certainly didn't expect Metro to have any more of a handle on the situation than anybody else, so I walked across the Jefferson Bridge along with hundreds of other people. Made it home in an hour or so. Then I called Mom in Ohio, and told her to tell the others I was okay. Later that day, the phone lines on the East Coast weren't working, and the streets of DC, Maryland, and Virginia were all off limits.

My ex-sister-in-law worked in the side of the Pentagon that was hit. She was at a doctor's appointment that day. Many of her associates weren't so lucky. I was told later she ended up taking retirement shortly thereafter. For some reason, it hit me pretty hard too, and I ended up on medical leave for a few weeks.

The guy who hired me to come to Washington was in World War II, an expatriated Austrian Jew who escaped to England and joined the British Commandos. He told me some guys were completely messed up as a result of the experience, but that he fared better; in fact, it strengthened his character. These things affect people differently, I imagine.

At 9:37 this morning, my agency will have a Moment of Silence in the main lobby of his headquarters building where I work. I'm off today though, so I'll have my own moment of silence. Probably while finishing a cup of coffee.

I'll have more to write later today, I suppose...

UPDATE: LATER THAT EVENING... I got back from St John's tonight. We're having a Solemn High Mass this Sunday, for the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. So the priest, deacon, and subdeacon for the Mass (three priests, actually) had to do a run-through with their master of ceremonies (which would be yours truly). We followed a DVD viewed with my hand-held player, which is the only way at this point that I could possibly look like I know what I'm doing. The vestments for that day are supposed to be red, and we have this beautiful Medieval set based on the vestments worn by Thomas Becket of Canterbury. We spare no expense ad majorem Dei Gloriam.

I only wish someone had a camera for the occasion (sigh!).

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