Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Year Anniversary of 9/11

I am flying on 9/11 to Las Vegas to speak and work at the IMX Conference.  The pilot made some very nice comments on what happened ten years ago today.
This is what I remember from that day ten years ago. My wife, Julie, shared her thoughts with me as well.  The day was divided into three parts.  The first part was a perfectly normal business day.  The second part was after the planes hit the towers, the plane hitting the Pentagon and a plane that went down in PA.  The third part was after we got the call from VA state police. 
  • I was scheduled to be at a conference at the "shopping bag" (the structure looks like a large shopping bag)  building in Tysons Corner VA.  It is the highest point in the entire DC area.
  • The sky was a perfect blue.
  • I was reading email when emails started coming in about NYC and planes.
  • I got a call (and I forget who) that just said, "Turn on the TV".
  • I decided not to go to the conference.
  • Neighbors gathered next door in Rick Allen's driveway.  Everyone was in shock.
  • When the second plane hit, it became crystal clear that this was not some random event.
  • That afternoon there were two military fighter jets that were 180 degrees apart and making large loops around Dulles Airport -- which is ten minutes from my house.
  • When our sons came home they told me what had happened at school that day.  One by one, parents were coming and taking their kids out of school.  The strong rumor was that the United States was under attack.  My sons wondered why we did not come and get them.  To be honest, it never occurred to me to go get them.  Why? Schools were not being attacked, large office buildings and military sites were.
  • I remember President Bush taking the high road and going out of his way to not blame this on a single religion.  
The second part was when I answered the phone at 11:45am and it was VA state police asking to speak with Julie Edstrom.   The trooper said they had found Julie's dad on the sidewalk in Annandale and taken him to Fairfax Hospital's Emergency Room.  Julie went to Fairfax Hospital and found out her dad had a massive heart attack and a stroke.  After Julie got there, Fairfax Hospital went into security lockdown mode and no one could enter or leave.  Fairfax was being prepared to deal with the casualties from the Pentagon.  

It turned out Julie's father had gone for a walk after he saw what was happening in NYC - his hometown.  He was born and raised in Brooklyn.   He was a brilliant man who had an engineering degree from RPI and JD (Juris Doctorate) from GW.   He was General Counsel at Electronics Industries Association. (EIA).  He was uniquely qualified as being BOTH an engineer and a lawyer.   He always wanted to be a firefighter, but his parents refused to let him.  When Princeton offers you a full scholarship at 16, I can understand why your parents might think that their son had a few more avenues to try in life.  I remain convinced that watching the towers go down with 3,000 people inside, as firefighters were going in, was simply too much for his weakened heart.

Here is what Julie sent me with her recollections from 11:45am on September 11th, 2001.

After I received the phone call at 11:45am from the Fairfax County police officer who told me that my father was in Fairfax Hospital, I made my way in the hospital.  There was so much traffic, that it seemed like it was rush hour.  I finally made it there after about an hour on the road.  I rushed into the emergency room at the hospital to inquire about my father.  As I entered, it was eerily quiet in there; nobody in the waiting room, which was very unusual for this hospital.  I asked at the front desk about my father, but they had no record of him being admitted through the emergency room.  They suggested I try calling other hospitals, suggesting maybe he had been taken elsewhere.  I did try to call other hospitals, but I couldn’t get through on the phone.  I thought I would just try driving to the other hospitals to see if I could find him.  As I was leaving the emergency room, I noticed maybe 50 gurneys lined up in the hallway, empty, but at the ready.  I thought it seemed strange, but then found out later that Fairfax Hospital was ready to act as one of the trauma centers for the victims of the Pentagon.

As a I made my way outside, I saw a Fairfax County police officer.  I told him about my phone call and the name of the officer who had called me.  He radioed the officer who told him that my father had been directly admitted to the Critical Care Unit at Fairfax.  I went in and finally found him.  He had apparently gone out for a walk around 10:30am that morning and suffered a heart attack and stroke, and he had a bad gash on the back of his head from when he fell.  After 911 was called, the paramedics worked on him for about 35 minutes and finally got his heart beating again.  The doctor at the hospital told me that he was unresponsive at this time, but they were going to run several tests.  I stayed in the hospital for several hours, waiting, watching the news of the events of the day. 

Finally, I left and went to his condo.  When I went in, the television was still on, tuned in to the news.  His books of the building of the World Trade Center were open and on the sofa.  There were also a lot of his FDNY books out.  He was originally from Brooklyn, and studied to become a Civil Engineer as well as a lawyer.  He was also a huge New York City fire buff and had a lot of books and logs from the FDNY.  I believe that watching the buildings crumble and knowing how many firefighters were in there was just too much for him to bear.  That’s probably why he went for a walk.

As she always does, my wife was the pillar of strength.  Julie's mom had died in 1994 and her grandmother was staying with Julie's aunt.  Julie had to make all the decisions with her dad with input from me.  It was absolutely crystal clear that Julie’s dad was completely brain dead, would never recover and without life support – he would not make it.   I will never forget when the decision was made to pull Julie’s dad off life support.  The Dr. comes into the room, verifies that Julie wants life support removed.  Fairfax Hospital did $35,000 worth of tests to verify the obvious.  After the Dr. signs the form he leaves.  The head nurse then explains to us what will happen next.  The nurse goes into a very detailed explanation how she will give Julie’s dad a shout to block out any pain and then order of life support devices that she will turn off.  I then ask the question, “let me see if I have this right.  The Dr. signs off and then he WALKS out of the room and it is the NURSES who actually pull the plugs?”  The nurse looks at me and gives a simple, “yes.”  I then reply, “unbelievable….”
Ray Johnson is not included in the count of those who died because of terrorist attacks on 9/11, but he absolutely should be.  He died of a broken heart watching his beloved New York City being attacked and watching the NYC Firefighters going up the stairs when everyone else was coming down the stairs.

Ten years later are we safer?  Yes.  Is the degree to which we are safer worth ALL of the US soldiers lives, soldiers coming back missing limbs and the TRILLIONS of dollars spent?  No.  To be clear, I really think that the current generation of soldiers will go down as the NEW greatest generation and maybe even THE greatest generation.  Four and five tours in Iraq and Afghanistan are unbelievable.

Thanks to VP Cheney we rushed to judgment in Iraq for no damn reason whatsoever.   It blows my mind that Cheney shows no regret at all.   Time to get the hell out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Put the money back into our intelligence agencies and the United States infrastructure.

The number one thing that just makes no sense to me is how ANYONE could push back against the Firefighters who now have a variety of diseases because of what they inhaled and/or touched at ground zero.  It is incredible to me that people would challenge them in their time of need. Thank god that Jon Stewart of The Daily Show personally got involved to help get the necessary funding to help the Firefighters through the 9/11 First Responders Bill.