Pamwla Wetterman

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 Remembered- Where Were You?



Certain events touch the core of a nation. These historic events, unforeseen and often tragic, are burned into our human soul. As America remembers those lost on September 11th, each of us has a personal story to share. Even today, ten years later, with the mere mention of 9/11, tides of tears touch my eyes. Let our stories bring tribute to those lost that day.

My career required frequent flights out of state.  A trip from Tulsa International Airport to Shreveport, Louisiana on September 11, 2001 required a change of planes in Dallas. My American Airlines flight’s first leg to Dallas that morning was uneventful.

As I climbed onto the airport tram to change gates, I couldn’t help notice the number of fellow travelers receiving cell phone calls. A woman sitting next to me shouted out, “A plane just hit one of the twin towers.” I assumed, as many of the other travelers that the media had reported a horrible accident.

But as torrents of cells rang across the tram car, reports of a second plane and the screams of horror around me caused the reality of what had happened to hit home.  I exited the tram into Terminal C already nauseous.  I raced toward my gate and realized there were no American Airline employees anywhere in sight.

Thousands of passengers bundled together in front of televisions mounted high on the walls. I stood motionless as reporters told how two American Airline’s jets crashed into the two twin towers in New York and exploded. The media footage as the buildings smashed to the ground left no hope for survivors. The reports cautioned of additional eight to ten air planes unaccounted for. Would there be more attacks? 

After what seemed like an eternity, airline employees returned to their work area. With pale faces and memorized scripts. They informed anyone who inquired, “They have called for immediate grounding of all air flights for an indefinite period of time. You will need to arrange your own mode of travel. We have no other information.”

I suddenly felt so alone. What might happen next?

With no available pay phone and my cell phone tower unable to handle the emergency load. I searched for a familiar face. Finding none, I approached a middle-aged man dressed in a suit and tie.  I reluctantly inquired if I could borrow his cell phone and he kindly agreed. My first phone call was to my fantastic admin,  Jackie.

She efficiently responded to my call on the first ring. How reassuring  it was to reach her.

“I’m so glad you are okay. I’ve sent your entire staff home. We were told that we are at war and only priority staff was to stay.”

At war? No, it couldn’t be. I had to get home.

I took a deep breath and attempted to match her unusually calm voice.  “I’m stranded at the Dallas airport. There are no rental cars left. No air lies are flying, and I’m not sure I can get home.”

“I’ll get you home. You catch a cab to the corporate office and wait for my call there.”

Relief filled me. “Thanks,” I said. “My cell is not getting out. Will you call my husband and let him know what’s going on?”

“Sure. You hold tight. I’ll find some way to get you home, even if I have to drive you myself.”

As I hurried out of the terminal to catch a cab, I ran into two co-workers. Warmth and a sense of family filled me. I wasn’t totally alone. Their eyes held the same haunting terror I felt..

One of my co-workers called out, “Pam. We’re stranded. Our flights were cancelled.”

“Yes, but if we can get a ride to our corporate office, there will be a way home. Let’s go.”

Fifteen minutes later the three of us were headed to our corporate office across town.  When we arrived the building was vacant. The only person on duty was the front desk security guard. The executives had all been evacuated

I was frustrated until I looked out the front window and saw my regular Dallas cab driver pulling into the parking area. Jackie had outdone herself. She’d arranged a cab ride from Dallas to Tulsa.

No one had a map. None of us were familiar with how to drive from Dallas to Tulsa. But we took off planning to drive straight north on route 75.  The four of us talked of nothing but the Twin Tower attacks. The death, the unknown, and the shock we felt deep in our souls. We had the radio on listening for any updates. Once we missed our turn and drove for at least fifty miles before realizing we had to turn around. 

Our four hour drive turned into seven. We experienced price gouging along the way, paying over $5.00 a gallon for a tank of gas. But our guardian angel drove us to the Tulsa Airport, where our cars were parked, and then started his long trek back to Dallas. He’d earned his sixty dollar tip. We all hugged our goodbyes and parted ways.

I spent the next four days frozen to the television listening to news reports. At times I couldn’t get enough of the media coverage, other times I felt so overwhelmed, tears wouldn’t stop.

Reports spoke of a national depression affecting many Americans. Had I become depressed? It was time to turn off the television and rejoice in the rising American spirit. I had to celebrate the bravery of those lost on 9/11 and begin the healing process.

American citizens’ resilience created a resurgence of national pride not seen in years. We’ve learned that life is a precious gift and so is freedom.

God bless America.

Please share your memories by adding a comment on my blog.