Ordinary People Are True Heroes of Sept. 11

By and

The bus was usually pretty full and I was happy to find a seat near the back on Sept. 11, 2001. I put my bag on the floor and took a minute to look around. Although I had only been taking the 8:02 bus for a couple of weeks, most of the people looked somewhat familiar, like the people you recognize but don’t really know from school.

I had given my seat to older women a couple of times and once or twice I had shared some superficial conversation about the weather with the person next to me, but in general the faces on the bus belonged to people whose names and stories I did not know. There were also several other interns from the U who, like me, where headed to the Pentagon to catch the metro in to the district where we had work waiting.

I recall very little about the bus ride. I remember that I was reading the Count of Monte Cristo, and that I was so engulfed in my book that the bus ride flew by and I was sad when it was time to get off because I wanted to keep reading.

When we reached our destination, the sorting began. About one third of the passengers headed toward the Pentagon for another day at work, while the rest of us descended underground and took our respective metro lines to various destinations in D.C. I don’t remember anything about my metro ride to work except that I read the whole way and was so into my book that I almost missed my stop. Once at work I headed into the back room to continue the project I had begun several days earlier. I hadn’t been back there for long when Yoko, who also worked at our firm, poked her head into the back room and explained that a plain had crashed into the World Trade Center.

My first impression was that a small private plane must have strayed off course and accidently crashed into one of the towers. I thought little of what Yoko had said and continued to sort through the mountain of files on the desk in front of me.

Several minutes later I realized that the office was completely quiet. I could usually hear people talking, typing or walking around on the creaky wood floor. I headed next door to the main building. There I found the entire staff assembled in the boss’ office watching as CNN showed pictures of the first plane crashing into one of the towers. We soon saw footage of the second plane as it slammed into the second tower and we began to hear reports of the attack on the Pentagon.

The staff of our international development company was diverse in every way. There were men and women from Japan, Senegal, Nigeria, Mongolia and Sera Leon along with Americans from all over the country. There were Muslims, Christians and those who were not religious.

Several members of our office began to cry and our boss told everyone that we should carefully make our ways home and ensure that our families were safe. I was pretty sure that the metro would be a mad house, especially because my way home passed underneath the Pentagon, and I wasn’t certain of how I was going to get back to my apartment in Alexandria.

One of my co-workers, Sarah, who also lived in Alexandria, came over and asked me how I was going to get home. When I replied that I didn’t know she offered me a ride.

As we headed into the district in order to get on the freeway to Alexandria, we found the streets packed with cars driven by somber and worried drivers. Despite the thick traffic, no one honked their horns or complained. The sidewalks were packed with people quickly walking with their heads down or whispering to one another. To see so many people and so many cars and yet hear so little noise was eerie and unsettling. Sarah, who was married to a firefighter, was visibly worried about her husband and kept flipping the radio on and off.

When we finally reached the entrance to the freeway, the traffic had thinned and I realized that the freeway we were on would take us directly past the Pentagon. As we made our way toward the Pentagon, several ambulances and fire trucks sped by us and we saw fewer and fewer cars.

We could see the smoke well before we could see the Pentagon. A dark, dirty looking smoke rose high into the sky. As we drove directly past the Pentagon we could see the flames. The smoke kept us from being able to see into the building but we could clearly see the fire fighters spraying water into the huge flames.

The sight of fire fighters seemed to make Sarah nervous and she sped up a little as we drove away from the Pentagon towards Alexandria. Within a couple minutes I was dropped off in front of my apartment and I spent the rest of the day in front of the TV watching CNN and recounting my experiences to family and friends over the phone.

Just as older generations can tell you where there were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot, many in our generation will remember where they were on Sept. 11, 2001. But for me, more than the place, I will never forget the people I was with on that day. I never took the 8:02 bus to the Pentagon again and I don’t know if any of those killed on Sept. 11 were on the bus with me that morning.

But I do know that the people who took the bus with me were the type of ordinary people who lost their lives or loved ones on Sept. 11. This was not an attack on armed soldiers. It was an attack on everyday people, people who took the bus to work.

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