9/11 – Islamic Terror Hits America

(Sept. 2008)

To commemorate September eleventh, we are re-publishing two recollections of the trauma and horrors of that day. Senior Editor Jerry Gordon recalls his experience in New York , while Act for America Northern Virginia chapter leader, Catherine Martin recalls what occurred in the terror attack on the Pentagon.

9/11 8:45AM- The World Trade Center, New York, the recollections of Jerry Gordon

At 8:45 AM on 9/11/08- seven years to the day when I first heard the ultimately devastating reports and saw firsthand the images of the death and destruction that took the lives of 3,012 innocent people in New York, Arlington, Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania.

I was finishing a diplomatic outreach committee meeting at the national headquarters of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) near Third Avenue and 56th Streets, when  the executive director of the New York City (NYC) chapter rushed in to say they heard reports of a plane crashing into one of the twin towers at the World Trade Center (WTC) complex, at the tip of Manhattan.

My first reaction was concern for the safety of a fellow AJC NYC chapter board member and friend a  whose law offices were located on the 84th floor of the north tower.

Incredibly, my cousins who live in Israel found on the internet a Los Angeles Times interview with WTC survivors that included remarks by this sobered but safe friend.

I was headed to a meeting at 140 Broadway adjacent to the WTC complex crash site, so I immediately called. There was no answer. Failing to make contact, I called my son, a partner at a New York law firm. I walked briskly down Lexington Avenue to his office.

Along the way, passing a storefront, I chanced to look at TV images of the sickening curling smoke from the first and shortly second crashes into the north and south towers of the WTC complex. A bystander who said he was from Egypt asked what was going on. I told him that terrorists had seized two aircraft and deliberately flown them into the twin towers killing themselves, the captive passengers and causing untold deaths and casualties. He said that no self respecting Muslim would do that, it must have been “others “who did that. I didn’t have the time  to rebut him, nor the inclination to waste my breath.

When I got to my son’s law offices, he guided me up to a vantage point on the 38th floor in his building that had a clear view south towards the WTC complex at the tip of Manhattan.

We watched along with other stunned partners, associates and staff, as first the south tower and then the north tower crumbled into the sickening plumes that rose emblazoned against an azure clear blue sky. We immediately speculated about how many tens of thousands of workers were present in their offices in the WTC complex or transiting below it via the PATH tubes from New Jersey and  several subway lines. We were horrified and traumatized that someone could perpetrate this heinous crime and shatter our secure and complacent world.

Our immediate concern was for the thousands of dead, injured and their surviving families. My own thoughts were for several professional acquaintances that may have been at work that fateful day at the WTC complex.

Later I would learn that several of them would miraculously survive. Unfortunately several  others were ultimately dead or missing. As the weeks unfolded the ache and burden of attending funerals and memorial services were unbearable. Even today, the memories bring back grief for the souls of the dead not easily overcome by knowledge of the survivors.  All caused by heedless, mindless hate. Hate from afar, hate from a stranger, hate from fanatic Muslim killers.

The grief was instant, somber, deep and sobering.

Turning to my son and one of his partners my initial reaction was that this Islamic terrorist event was the ‘Pearl Harbor of the 21st century.’ September eleventh was the first day of a war against the Islamic terrorists. They agreed. We also agreed that the Islamic terrorist perpetrators did this because they hated everything that we stood for: liberty, human rights, modernity, and equal treatment of women. But we demurred, when my son’s law partner said this was their way of getting back at us for not having fostered and abetted peace in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinians. I said that after the Palestinian rejection of the generous offer from former Israeli Prime Minister Barak at Camp David in 2000, this attack was unwarranted, as the Palestinians had lost their chance for peace.

We watched and listened incredulously to reports of similar attacks on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and the crash in Pennsylvania. We speculated whether the latter aircraft was on a track to “hit” either the Capitol or the White House. Later my son and daughter in law would learn that a fellow law school graduate, news commentator Barbara Olson, wife of US Solicitor General Ted Olson, died along with other captive passengers in the Pentagon plane attack.

My son  thoughtfully got me an office with a computer and a connection to the Internet. I used my cell phone to call home, the  relief at my safety was palpable. I then communicated  via email with family and friends in the US, Europe, Israel about the initial trauma of that day.

They told of teeming thousands of traumatized survivors trudging north along the canyons of lower Manhattan to safety.  

When he returned to his office, the plane came through the building. All of his friends in the Command Center were killed. He recalls how the Captain in his office screamed “it’s a f_____g plane!” and he actually saw part of the plane come through the wall. On impact, he was thrown from his desk, the lights went out and the doors were sealed shut. He remembers trying to find a door in the darkness and the smell of burnt flesh and jet fuel, screaming…crying and the panic of trying to escape. When he got out of the door, he saw a woman who was on fire and tried to drag her to the entrance. 

One of the men who perished at the Pentagon on 9/11  was called “The Candy Man” because he loved to stuff his pockets full of Werther’s Original hard candy and pass them out to the ladies. One of my office mates still keeps the piece of candy he had given her that very morning. She said she will never throw it away. 

The Military Assistant in our office recounted his memories of 9/11. He was in a conference room. On impact, the room shook and the walls came crashing down. He was thrown across the room. The heavy tables and equipment were tossed on him. He was in the dark and could smell burning flesh and jet fuel. He was able to get out of the room. Looking out of a window (that faced other windows to the outer rings of the Pentagon) he could see people trying to break the windows with chairs. All were on fire. Their clothes were burning off. They were desperately trying to get out of the window by trying to break the windows with chairs and escape while screaming and crying.

He was able to escape the Pentagon but he felt he needed to go back in and rescue people. He did. He kept telling me about the odor of burnt flesh. He dragged a few people to safety but he didn’t know if they even survived because they were so badly burned.  On the day he told me his eyewitness story, he said that he would never talk about it again. I think he was trying to rid himself of the nightmares by getting it out of his system.

White House press statement released Thursday noted,  The president would “speak about what the day means and the sacrifices of thousands, not just at the Pentagon, but in Pennsylvania and certainly and most obviously in New York,” The president  pledged to “apprehend all those who perpetrated these heinous crimes, seek justice for those who were killed and defend against all threats to our national security.”

Some of these people are family members of those who perished on that horrible day. Others, like myself, will be in mourning as well. We didn’t lose a loved one, but we were witness to a painful day in our nation’s history. One that will always be with us. 

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