The air outside the New York Hilton was crisp and clean. The azure blue sky had not a cloud in sight. I took in a deep breath to fill my lungs with this refreshing taste of early autumn. Turning to James I commented, “Too bad we have to go home. What a perfect day to enjoy all that New York City has to offer.”
James actually pondered the idea. I could see his wheels spinning as he tried to devise a way to extend our stay for a day or two as a reward for a week of hard work and long hours before asking, “Should I go back in and see if I can secure a room for another day?”
It was a tempting offer I had to admit, but the fact was that we were all packed, standing with our bags by our side, under the porte cochere of the hotel and the valet had whistled for a taxi, which was at this moment pulling up in front of us to take us to the airport. Besides, without planning on extra days, we hadn’t any leftover clean clothes save for those on our back. In spite of our desire to stay on, all signs were pointing to the fact that it was time to return to our home in West Palm Beach, Florida.
The cab pulled up to JFK International and as we exited our taxi, James put the offer out one last time. “It’s now or never. Are you sure you don’t want to stay?”
“We’re here now,” I answered. “Let’s just go home. I’m sure we’ll be equally glad to be home once we’re there.”
Once inside the terminal, I was beginning to regret my decision. There was a problem with our flight and in order to get us to West Palm, they had to not only switch our flight, but also the airlines we were schedule to fly home with. Now we had to race through the terminal carrying our bags to catch the new flight which was leaving at 8:05 AM. This plane was scheduled a full thirty minutes earlier than the flight on our original itinerary. When we finally arrived at our gate, we breathlessly boarded our plane and made ourselves comfortable in our assigned seats.
The flight was uneventful; after all, what kind of turbulence would we have to worry about on such a majestic day? James seized the opportunity to grab a little nap and I read my book while sipping from my cup of mediocre airline coffee. In less than a few hours, the plane was gently gliding onto the runway at PBI. As passengers began to organize their belongings to prepare to de-board, a masculine and very solemn voice came over the PA system. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking,” he began. “I am afraid I have some very bad news for you.” Since we had already landed, we all wondered what kind of bad news he had to share.
“Shortly after our take off this morning,” he continued, “a plane struck the side of one of the World Trade Center buildings. At this point, they don’t even know what plane it was, what airline they belonged to, where it took off from, or where it was going. As we just left New York, most, if not all of you, must have family back there that may be understandably, quite concerned about your well being at this point. If you have a cell phone, I encourage you to turn it on now and call your loved ones to let them know you’re okay.”
Suddenly from two rows behind us a woman yelled out, “My son works security for the Trade Center. It’s not a fly zone. How could a plane hit into one of the buildings? It would have to be a deliberate act. This is terrorism!” All any of us could do was hope to God that she was mistaken.
As we left the plane and entered the terminal, we were surrounded by reporters. They now knew that it was in fact terrorism, as the second plane had crashed into the other tower and a third had slammed into the Pentagon. It seems that our flight had been the last flight approved to finish its course to land at its destination and they wanted to know what we thought about it. What could we think? What had been news for over an hour to the rest of the world was only just being told to us. Pushing through the barrage of reporters, James and I looked at the television monitors that showed the two mountainous towers engulfed in flames and billowing black smoke with the back of large jets sticking out from their sides about halfway up the buildings. It was still too much to comprehend and as we gazed at the monitors for a moment to somehow try to understand what was going on, we watched in horror as the first building crumbled like dust before our eyes. Too shocked to even cry, all we wanted was to get out of the airport and talk to our families. Although we had tried calling everyone back in the plane much to our chagrin, all we managed to get were busy signals.
We entered our home and dropped our bags at the door. We each grabbed a phone and James was first to reach a relative. His sister burst into tears when she finally heard his voice, as did my mother, both relieved that we were not only safe but in our own house.
Every American, and in fact every person the world over, knows how the rest of the day progressed. News of heroism began to spread the airwaves, making the bigger news about kindness and selflessness, belittling the cowardly terrorists and their actions. First, reports came in about United Airlines flight 93 and the passengers, who after learning about the destiny of the other flights and realizing that they were going to die that day, forced the terrorists to crash into an open field, spearing injury to an further innocent victims. It was clear to the world, that they were more than heroes; they were angels.
As the hours ticked by, my very family became four different statistics of the day’s tragedy. My aunt had called my mother to give her the news that my cousin had lost his wife in tower one.
Kenny was a policeman out on Long Island with the day off to care for his two baby daughters. Since the birth of their second daughter not too long ago, Debbie only worked one day a week. She was not even supposed to be working that Tuesday. Her work day was usually Monday but due to a doctor appointment, she had switched days that week. As she spoke to her husband over the telephone, Debbie was assuring him not to worry. She was alright and told him that the firemen were on their way right now to rescue the people in her office. As they spoke, the line suddenly went dead and Kenny stared at his television in shock, as he watched the building his wife was in crumble. I can’t even pretend to imagine what he felt.
A second cousin had gone missing for three days. Thankfully she had managed to escape the building but shell-shocked, she wondered the streets for days not knowing where she was or what to do. Finally she was helped by a Good Samaritan who took her to a local hospital where they were able to contact my aunt and uncle.
Then there was my cousin Joe Rabito; a first responder. A photo of him helping two women to safety was snapped and wound up on the front page of the New York Daily News. He was, is, and always will be a hero. To this day he suffers the effects of the damage that was done to his lungs as he helped others on that fateful morning. I know Joe; even knowing the consequences, he would do it all again.
My brother-in-law (also named Joe) was working in the city that day too. He repairs elevators as well as rescues people from them when they fail. Thank God, that day he was not downtown. However he had to stay in Manhattan for two reasons. First; there was no longer any transportation running that day, and secondly; without anyone being able to get in or out of the city, his company wanted all the men they had on hand, just in case they were needed. After a very relieving phone call to assure my sister he was okay, Sharon spent the next few days taking care of her two young children while like all of us, she kept her eye on the news.
When will the evil people learn that acts of terrorism like this are never able to accomplish the goal the attacker hoped for? If anything, it does the exact opposite. Good people don’t fall apart, give up, or retreat. Patriotism, that may admittedly at times be taken for granted, is renewed and strengthened. We unite stronger than ever. We comfort one another and rebuild with pride and purpose. With never fading love and faith, we go on…
May God bless the USA… May God bless the world he created