It was cloudy today as I walked to work down 18th Street in NW Washington, DC. There was an incredibly brilliant blue sky when I walked down the same street 13 years ago the morning of September 11.
I was working at the American Red Cross in the Volunteers, Youth and Nursing Department. I was talking with Mary Etta Boesl a colleague and my counterpart in the Communications and Marketing Department.
As we were chatting she glanced up at a TV over her desk, paused and said, “Bruce a plane just flew into the World Trade Center building, (in New York City)!”
I hurried around to my Vice President’s office to let him know, he had been a director of disaster services, he turned on his TV and we watched the coverage of the hole and the smoke coming out of the Tower speculating…
It was a large plane, not a random occurrence we suspected terrorism then we watched as a second plane flew into the other tower!!
We calculated how many 10’s of thousands of people could work in this complex. We were concerned but New York was 200 miles away…
Then we learned that a third plane had flown into the Pentagon, just across the Potomac river a couple of miles at the most, in our neighborhood!!! The disaster became real and present directly in our lives.
I tried to call my wife, but the phones were jammed with calls, finally she got through to one of my colleagues. Her government agency was being evacuated. We were worried what would happen next. We were worried about our young children 17 miles away in their elementary school.
My colleagues and I, those who had young children, left to be prepared to evacuate our kids to a safer place if needed. My wife left to drive her car across town to pick me up.
I walked out the door a pickup truck was in front of my building. The federal agency employees headquartered around Red Cross Square flooded the sidewalks as they were evacuated. After all the White House was one and half blocks away diagonal across the street.
Traffic stopped, the pickup never moved. Traffic backed up. I ran down the street several blocks to meet my wife hoping to get to her before she got snarled in the traffic jam.
As we drove out of Washington we passed the Chemical Response Fire Truck coming in I 66 to the Pentagon from National Airport. We got to our tree-lined suburban neighborhood, our adrenaline still pumping. It look normal. We got to the elementary school. All was quiet. We asked at the office. The staff said they had not announced anything to the students, afraid some may have parents impacted by the Pentagon crash.
We drove home, my wife left to donated blood at the Red Cross Blood Center. I called into my office to get an update. The pick-up truck had not moved for over an hour. The plan was coming together. Get some rest they shared we are going to be busy tomorrow!!!!
9.12.01 was a new day but a very different day. I had to enter Red Cross Square through the 18th Street entrance because the rest of the block was quarantined with yellow police tape. We did not know what would happen next. A local radio station had a broadcast truck in front of the building where we set up an emergency blood collection station in a large ballroom. The crowd of volunteer blood donors queued up, quickly filling the building.
I became the designated greeter at the end of the line, thanking people, letting them know it would be a 2, then a 3, then a 4 hour or more wait to donate blood. You are welcome to stay in line and wait, or fill out this slip and we will call you to come down to donate when there is less of a wait. I repeated this welcome hundreds of times as the line grew and went around the block. The goodwill of the American people, foreign visitors, people given the day off to donate blood, stranded pilots and flight attendants, pipe-fitters, young and old, waiting in line for many hours, doing what they could do to help.
We finally announced around 6:30 PM that we were not accepting any more people in line, the Blood Service technicians could not work past 10:30. Some people left, but one woman stayed, “I am going to wait and be the last one to donate, no matter what!!!!!” And so she was.
It is amazing the difference a day can make. It is amazing the difference a volunteer can make.
9/11 – Red Cross memories – 10 years later # 1
9/11 Memories – Red Cross Blood Drive – 10 Years later # 2
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