Ten years have passed since those two planes crashed into the Twin Towers in New York while another took out a wall of the Pentagon and a fourth plane crash-landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania following a passenger revolt.
“Do you remember where you when…..?” is one of those questions associated with major events in history. I was in Sixth Form when the planes hit the World Trade Centre and knew nothing of it until I returned home later that afternoon. I often think about those couple of hours, while we sat joking in our classroom and walked home with the only thing we had to worry about was homework, people were frantically trying to contact loved ones and struggled to get out of burning buildings, their lives changed forever.
As news footage was streamed around the world, I found it chilling that George W Bush sat in that classroom for seven minutes after being told of the strike, listening to elementary school children read ‘The Pet Goat’. Although the official line is that he wanted to project an image of calm and strength until he could get more information, it suggested he didn’t have a clue what to do. He was relying on aides, who were apparently holding up signs at the back of the room saying “Don’t say anything yet”. Perhaps he was hoping the book would give him an idea of what to do.
In the days following 9/11, though, Bush did appear to be the President the United States needed at the time, he made grand speeches about freezing the bank accounts of terrorists, finding them and bringing them to justice. Whoever wrote those words understood what people needed to hear but I guarantee it wasn’t Dubya.
Over ten years, we have been bombarded with the same images of that day but it never stops me hoping people get out, or that everyone is standing far enough away not to be swallowed in that giant cloud of ash. I never fail to be moved by those giant buildings crumbling. I wonder how many people knew what was happening in that split second. It is an abhorrent thought that so many people spent their last moments in terror. Just like those people on American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, as well as American Airlines Flight 77. The people on United 93, though, they may still have felt fear but they must have also felt immeasurably proud and grateful to the people who attempted to take control of the plane back from the hijackers.
Although 9/11 was a terrible tragedy, it did provoke amazing heroics in people.
Another man who gave his life in 9/11 was Rick Rescorla, Head of Security at Morgan Stanley. He wasn’t even meant to be at work on 11th September 2001 but he was covering so one of his deputies could go on holiday. Ironically, he was also due to be in a meeting that day regarding the lawsuit Morgan Stanley was filing against the Port Authority in relation to the security lapses that led to the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre.
Despite announcements from the Port Authority for employees to return to their desks after Tower 1 was struck, Rescorla put his evacuation procedures into action and evacuated Morgan Stanley’s 2,700 employees from Tower 2. Whilst evacuating his staff, Cornish-born Rescorla told everyone to “be proud to be American” while singing ‘God Bless America’ and old Cornish military songs over his bullhorn. After clearing his staff from the building, Rescorla went back into the building, telling people he’d leave “as soon as I make sure everyone else is out”. He was last seen on the tenth floor of Tower 2, moving upward, just before the tower collapsed. His remains were never found.
Thanks to Rescorla, all but three of Morgan Stanley’s WTC employees survived, two of those were Rick and his assistant Wes Mercer. The biography of his life, ‘Heart of a Soldier’ by James B Stewart, is an amazing read.
William Rodriguez had worked as a maintenance worker at WTC for 19 years before 9/11. As the only person on-site with a master-key to the North Tower stairwell, he led fire-fighters up, unlocking doors as they ascended. He returned into the tower three times and is believed to be the last person to leave the North Tower alive; he survived by diving underneath a fire engine. After receiving medical attention, he continued volunteering in the rescue efforts. Ever since 9/11, he has worked to help others who were affected by the attacks despite, due to the loss of his job being homeless for some time.
There are many other stories of amazing heroics from 9/11 and the days following. Whatever the conspiracy theories and political repercussions of the 9/11 attacks, I believe America – and everyone who saw the attacks on TV around the world – continue to take heart from these stories of bravery.