Jack Strayer: Sept. 11, 2001: A blissful morning turned chaoticPublished 9:46pm Wednesday, August 24, 2011
During the next few weeks, we will be reliving the horrible tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 and commenting on how our lives have been changed by international terrorism. It has been a while since I reflected back on what I was doing on that beautiful blissful Tuesday morning in Washington D.C.
I arrived by cab at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace near Dupont Circle for an elegant 8 a.m. breakfast with the heads of all the major economic-based research institutes. It seemed like the pinnacle of my career. As the morning program was winding down in the zen-like garden of the (now ironic) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the executive director appeared and urged us all to leave as “the city is under attack by a number of hijacked planes and one has already hit the Pentagon and more are headed to the White House and the Capitol Building.” My blissful smugness evaporated instantly.
As I walked back to my office at 15th and Pennsylvania, I did not yet know about the attacks on the World Trade Center. The streets were clogged with cars and people and I remember the tremendous chaos. I thought to myself that Steven Spielberg could never capture the terror of entranced Americans trying to figure out what was happening as smoke from across the Potomac drifted from the Pentagon.
As I reached Lafayette Park across from the White House, two blocks from my office, I saw the most chilling sight I would see all day. Hundreds of un-manned television cameras were aimed at the White House, their red lights flashing as they filmed, awaiting the arrival of hijacked passenger jets, filled with jet fuel. A policeman informed me that the block where my office was located was sealed for security reasons. He also told me the subway was closed and I then realized my car was parked in my building’s garage and I had no way home to Alexandria, Va.
I finally made it to the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. It was 10:30 a.m. when I found out about the attacks on the World Trade Center and I watched in horror as the bar’s television replayed the attacks and the aftermath. After I called my parents back in Niles on the hotel’s phone, I sat glued to the television like the rest of the world. If something bad was going to happen to me, I would rather be in the Round Robin Bar in the historic Willard Hotel than anywhere else in D.C. The subways reopened at 3 p.m. and I finally made it home. It would be three more days until I could retrieve my car.
The week that followed was a blur of Capitol Building evacuations, false alarms from suspicious packages and funerals for friends Barbara Olsen and Norma Steurele, passengers on the plane that hit the Pentagon. The smoke from the Pentagon lingered for weeks. Everyone wore American flag lapel pins.
Life never returned to normal. My appointments in the U.S. Capitol Building now included armed U.S. soldiers escorting me to meetings and waiting outside offices until my meetings finished. I would see my colleagues walk by with their soldier escorts. Everyone wore grim faces. We will always wear grim faces recalling Sept. 11, 2001, and American flag lapel pins.