A New Yorker Recalls 9/11/01

september-9-11-attacks-anniversary-ground-zero-world-trade-center-pentagon-flight-93-smoke-tower_40014_600x450Our phone rang and it was my children’s grandparents on the line.  Usually they did not call this early so I was a bit worried something may have happened to them.  I had just dropped of my two girls at school and was feeding my baby daughter breakfast.

My husband at the time groggily told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center.   My response was, “Don’t worry, it was made to withstand planes hitting it.”  You see several months earlier I had spoken with my friend, Taesun Hong, a world-renowned architect who at the time was a partner at Yamasaki Associates with Mr. Minoru Yamasaki, the architect had designed the World Trade Center.  I had asked him the question about “what if” an airplane hit the World Trade Center and he had explained to me the core and the way it was built.

We told the grandparents not to worry and started getting ready for our day when the telephone rang again.  Another plane had hit the second Tower.  I rushed out of my chair to turn on the television as my heart started racing, muttering, “Something is not right.”  As the television came on, we saw the Towers on fire and the replay of the planes.

My heart pounded, watching.  This was not right.  Something was not right.  It was all wrong!  My eyes stayed glued to the television, watching the scene, looking for my friends.  I had worked in both Towers during the late 80s for two different banks and the third company I had worked for had offices there as well; thus I had been in and out of both buildings quite frequently.

I watched as the people came running out of the smoking buildings, the firemen and policemen. I watched in horror as they showed human beings jumping out of the windows to their deaths, thinking over and over “this can’t be real” while at the same time praying that my friends were safe.

As we watched the replay over and over, they began reporting that there was another plane that had been headed for D.C. and had just hit the Pentagon.  My heart quickened.  We lived just 20 miles away from the Pentagon.  My neighbor, one of my good friends, worked there; I was her emergency contact.  My husband went to check on my friend and, thank God, she was home and had taken the day off! I started calling my friend at the Samsung building directly across from the Towers and no one was answering the phones.

I was barely holding it together as they flipped back to one of the Towers as it started falling down–and I couldn’t hold back anymore.

My daughter clung to me as I sobbed, not knowing what was going on or why I was crying.  My husband came over and we all held each other in shock as my body just shook, tears streaming down my face.  We saw the people running, ash clinging to their faces and bodies.  I could not take my eyes off the devastating scene–and then my body almost went into shock as we saw the second Tower burn.

I sat in front of the television all day crying listening for any bit of news I could get.  President Bush had come on and he had broken down in tears, too.  This was crazy.  What world are we living in?  Will we be alive tomorrow?  The questions, the uncertainty running through my brain and my heart, about our future and our lives began hitting home.

All day, I thought of the faces of all my colleagues and the people I had met during those days working in the Towers.  I thought of the walk down pathway from the subway to the news shop in the downstairs mezzanine, where the sunny smile of the beautiful man from Jamaica used to greet me every morning as we chatted about how the day would go.  The jokes, the office parties, the office breaks and hanging out after work with those friends at South Street Seaport…I thought of Christmas Eve day when it started snowing and the way it looked out of my office window, looking at the other Tower.  So many memories hitting me like a hurricane.

My husband pointed out to me that it was September 11.  The only significance that date had held for me was that it was my friend’s daughter’s birthday. But by now we all knew this was no accident.  This was deliberate.

Who were these people?  Who were these awful people that wanted to kill so many innocents?  And for what purpose?  Wives, sisters, mothers, brothers, fathers, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, and friends–all beloved by someone.

Later of course, we found out it was the same people that had tried bombing the Towers before by putting a bomb in a truck in the parking garage.

When you live in NYC and work in certain buildings, you get used to the bomb threats so it’s no big deal and things happen all the time and you go on with your day.  This was not the ordinary day.

As I continued watching the news coverage that day, I again tried calling my friend and colleague at Samsung where I was an events contractor.  She finally answered and told me how everyone was at the windows, crying, and you could still hear her tears as my tears started flowing again.  Neither of us could believe it but we knew the reality of what had just happened.  She said the smoke and the fire was still going on but everyone was afraid to move.  They had all checked on their families but were told to remain in the office until they knew if it was safe to leave.  We hung up the phone.  I had a meeting there on September 12 but we canceled it to the 13th.

On the 13th I drove up to NYC to pick up my friend.  It was quieter but you could see the devastating effects on people’s faces.  You could still see the smoke and the ash.  We drove across the GW Bridge then went on to Samsung Headquarters office building in Ridgefield Park.  I stood at the window looking over the river to the smoke and the missing outline of a place where I had once spent the majority of my waking hours.  Again, the tears came quickly.

We did our business and I drove home.  It was a long drive full of memories.  Thousands of people had just perished.  Time could never wash that away.

As I write this, my stomach is churning and hurting again.  My tears are streaming down my face.  The faces of my friends are running through my mind and heart and I feel such a terrible loss.  I also feel like, it could have been me, if I had not decided to take a different course in life.  I also feel guilt at being alive and they are not.  Once again, 12 years later, my head feels the weight of the knowledge that thousands died.

Last year, still burdened by the pain of 9/11/01, Americans experienced yet another tragedy—again at the hands of al Qaeda—on 9/11/12. You would think things would have changed and gotten better; that we would have made the world safer—but it seems to be the opposite.  And on the eve of 9-11, Hillary “what difference does it make” Clinton will be receiving an award from the National Constitution Center, the Liberty Medal.

Now we have the explosive situation in Syria in which the majority of Americans are opposing an attack.

On this 9-11, do you feel safe?

Jin Ah Jin

Virginia PolitiChick Jin Ah Jin has been the lead in campaigns for many politicians, including Ken Cuccinelli for both State Senate and Attorney General and she was appointed the Honorary Chairman for the Fairfax County Asian American Coalition for the McCain/ Palin campaign. Jin also assists in local minority grassroots politics in her state of Virginia. She believes if we can elect and support good officials whose root is the care of their constituents, then we can change things. In her past, Jin worked as a volunteer fundraiser for Mercy Corps raising awareness and money for the health and poverty of women and children in North Korea. She was also a volunteer fundraiser for the Korean American Association of Greater Washington, D.C. area and led the Education Committee to teach English for newly arrived legal immigrants to the area. In conjunction, she worked with the office of former Congressman Thomas Davis, who took the lead on reforms in the welfare bill for legal immigrants. Jin was a former Vice President of Resources, board member and Fundraising Gala chair for the Korean American Coalition of Washington, D.C. in 2001. She was on the Scholarship Committee and the co-chair of the golf tournament fundraiser for the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce 2003-2006. More importantly, Jin is the mother of 6 children. She says her passion for service is led through her children's eyes: "I want change for my children. I want them to have a future where their dreams can become reality and where they can succeed without prejudice."

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