By Miles Roty
We all remember where we were and what we experienced on the morning of September 11th, 2001. I was in Manhattan the day those events unfolded. This is my memory.
I arrived to my midtown Manhattan building a little later than usual that day. It was a clear morning; comfortable. I had been traveling over the weekend and into Monday, so there was plenty to catch up on. I walked into the office 5-10 minutes before 9a.m.
One of my junior recruiters already had the news pulled up on his desktop computer about the first WTC Tower. As a very young person, without knowing the extent of the incident, he mentioned it casually, almost jokingly – as just another crazy, relatively benign thing that happens on occasion in a city as big and wild as New York.
My mind quickly ran to the possibility that an inexperienced, independent pilot in a single engine plane made a horrible mistake. I asked aloud “How many casualties?” Eric paused, and realized that even if it had just been “one of those crazy things”, people were still hurt and likely killed – at least the pilot. “Oh, I don’t know”, he replied.
More people began to arrive in the office – the news was building. This was not a single-prop accident.
Then some calls came in, “Did you hear?”. Then my wife called. The second Tower had been hit. This was no accident at all.
She was frantic, panicked, screeching and crying, barely understandable. I was able to make out “there’s a terrorist attack across the city, you have to get out now”. I told her to relax, that I was fine, safe. I asked what happened, and she was able to calm down to the point where she could explain to me everything that she had seen on television.
She told me what had happened, that we were under attack, and again, that I must get out of Manhattan, get back to her and our 3 month old son. The attack did not reach midtown that day. Tucked between the Empire State Building and Pennsylvania Station, I neither saw nor heard the horror only a few stops down on the express subway line. I was spared in many ways.
I experienced a few minutes of panic, myself. My sister lived in Hoboken and worked in the World Financial Center. She took the PATH Train every morning into the World Trade Center station. She did not have a mobile phone. I called her home…voicemail. I called my mother “Hi mom, I’m OK. Where is Vicky?”, “She is OK, she’s here with us.” Family safe – check.
Now business decisions had to be made. My partner and I openly discussed how to shut down operations for the day, as the city was closing rapidly. We released the employees. My partner lived in Manhattan at the time, and was willing to put-up anyone who could not get back to their homes.
Another of my junior employees lived on Long Island, just as I did. Rachel and I ran to Penn Station. Word on the street was the LIRR and all transportation systems would not be running much longer. We got on the first available train out. It was crowded, though no worse than many rush hour trains. It was not eerie, not silent. The mood was pensive, a little shocked. People were talking, but nobody knew the extent of what was happening.
The Towers had not yet fallen.
I exited at Woodside Station, and Rachel stayed on – it was her line. I chatted with a man on the platform. He told me which floors in the tower had been affected. People were trapped. Cantor Fitzgerald was up there in the North Tower. I knew people at Cantor. One was a client, Ed Martinez. He was a good guy, a Data Communications Manager there. Ed was never too busy to take my call. He talked straight. I liked him.
I also had a neighbor who worked at Cantor, Peter Genco. Peter lived at the end of our block with his wife Diane and two little girls. A gentle, friendly man. A good neighbor. I liked him, too. Ed and Peter, they were trapped.
Miraculously, after some time, another train came by, and my mobile phone still worked. I called my wife, and told her to meet me at the station in Lynbrook – it was as close as I could get to our home, and close enough.
Once off the train I walked into the White Castle right along the station. The television was on in there. People wanted to know what I had seen or heard in the city. I did not have much to tell them. They had much to tell me.
The Towers had collapsed.
My wife arrived at the station. We embraced, we wept. All those people, their lives, their families. She had been outside, on our little block. We lived on a small dead-end with 8 houses. We all knew each other well. It’s a commuter town, most of us worked in the city.
One by one all the husbands showed up on the block. Bob was the last of us to come home. His law offices were downtown – he had a longer journey out than I did. His lower body was covered in soot – white/gray dust. His wife Beth ran down the street an jumped into his arms. Diane sat alone at the end of our block.
Peter never came home.
I spent that night knowing that my immediate loved ones were with me. The world felt less safe, to be sure – but my life was intact. People around me, many people, were not so lucky.
Everyone knows the story about what happened from there. How communities rallied, the economic fallout, the changes to our national psyche, etc. But for me, over the remaining seven-plus years that I lived in that house, all I needed to do was look out my front door to be reminded about what happened.
To be reminded to give thanks for the life I have been granted. To be reminded to honor those who were lost, those great souls who took part in a tragedy, that has forever changed the consciousness of of our world.
After reading Miles’ account of that day, please take a moment and reflect on the brave individuals who endured the horrors of September 11, 2001. Remember the many lives lost along with the heroes that rose from the ashes that day.
By Miles Roty