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Paul Gross recalls September 11 attacks: ‘A plane just hit the World Trade Center’

A beam of light is seen over the Pentagon, as part of the Towers of Light Tribute marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
A beam of light is seen over the Pentagon, as part of the Towers of Light Tribute marking the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Ironically, I was off that day.  I was in my den doing some consulting work when my wife called.  “Do you have The Today Show on?” she asked.  “No,” I replied, “why?”  “A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” she said.

So I rushed into the family room and turned on the TV.  I knew that the weather was good on the east coast, so I didn’t suspect anything from that perspective.  “Must have been some catastrophic mechanical failure where the pilot had no control of the plane,” I said to my wife.

A short time later the second plane hit, and that instant before anybody speculated on TV, I knew exactly what was going on:  we were under attack.  Like everybody else at home, I was glued to the TV.  Late that morning, I heard a report that my kids' school district was sending kids home early, so I rode my bike up to their elementary school (we rode our bikes up to school that morning).

When I got to the school, I was told that the report was erroneous...the kids were not being sent home early.  I stood there talking to some other parents who had come up for the same reason, and then saw a number of parents come and take their kids out anyway.  I really didn’t understand this...an elementary school in the middle of suburban America was not a target.  I never did ask any of them why they took their kids out of school but, oddly, this is one of my more prominent memories that day.

That afternoon, I got a call from my cousin Julie...she was a GM engineer and had landed in New York that morning, and was in a car on her way into Manhattan when the planes hit.  She got to her destination in the city, but didn’t know what was going on, so she called me to ask what I had been hearing in the news.  She ended up stranded for three days in the office she was at...sleeping on a couch and buying food at those street food venders you see all over NYC.

And I then heard from a close friend about his brother who worked in the city, and was walking to work that morning.  He stopped to get his shoes shined...by a guy set up at the base of the World Trade Center.  Fifteen or twenty minutes later, the planes hit.

And I later heard about another acquaintance who, with his business partner wife, were supposed to be on one of those planes into New York that morning.  But they decided to sleep a bit longer and take a flight an hour later.  That decision saved their lives.

Reflecting back on that day and the weeks that followed, my overriding thought is UNITY.  This entire nation was united.  I now contrast that feeling to what we have today.  I pray that we can somehow get back to that feeling of national unity we had after 9/11.


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