Perhaps because of the nature of a small men's college founded with the purpose of producing "good men and good citizens," the tragic events of that day struck particularly hard, with one alumnus and his wife killed aboard one of the hijacked aircraft, and the wife another murdered in the Pentagon. A rather high rate of casualties for a school which boasts only 5000 living graduates.
It was only a month later, at the 15th reunion for the Class of 1986, that I learned that the latter spouse was the wife of classmate Donn Marshall. His wife, Shelley, the mother of his two children, worked in the Pentagon. Sweet girl. We had exchanged pleasantries on one or two occasions at alumni functions.
Donn spoke movingly at the Service of Remembrance conducted in the College Church on Saturday.
In memory of those who were murdered, and those brave souls who acted on United Flight 93, and probably prevented an even greater level of carnage, I am reprinting here my post-9/11 column:
Potomac NewsI hope that it holds up pretty well, over the years. Certainly, our outrage and commitment to the mission should, as well.
Thursday, 13 September 2001
Terror’s Day of Infamy
When the telephone rang at about 9:15 a.m., I was busy putting the finishing touches on this week’s column (something about Virginia’s state-wide races; stay tuned). It was my wife’s number identified on the caller ID. Having dropped me off so she could take the land yacht for an emissions inspection, I thought she was just called to let me know that she had arrived safely at work.
“Turn on the radio. The World Trade Center has been attacked again.” She was in tears. Later, she told me she’d always wanted to see it. My last two times in New York, I’d stayed at a hotel across the street. I’d had other choices for decent hotels near the Federal Courthouse, but the Millennium Hilton offered a magnificent view of the World Trade Center, the Financial District, Staten Island, and the Statue of Liberty. When in New York....
“Could’ve been an accident,” I responded. I told her that I remembered reading a story as a child about a B-25 hitting the Empire State Building. ‘Course, that was a prop plane. In fog.
“Two planes have hit. One on each tower.”
OK. So it wasn’t an accident. My assumption was, at the time, that it couldn’t have been anything much larger than a Cessna. In passing, I knew that one plane alone might have been a hijacked airliner. But two? No way.
Since there are public policy operations going on in our offices, a few people have cable feeds, with C-SPAN and CNN available. I went to the office of our VP for Legal Information, a fancy name for the Foundation’s PR guy. The pictures were, of course, incredible. By this time, footage of the second airliner hitting the South Tower were running. Some already there were in tears. More struggled to keep control. I was on deadline so, as difficult as it was, I returned to my labors.
It wasn’t the end, either.
Just before sitting down, I looked west from my office window, and heard a boom and felt a thud. Not entirely unusual, but it was already hardly a usual day. At that point, I half expected to be backlit by a flash of brilliant light, but resisted the urge to “duck and cover,” particularly since I was six stories up. Fat lot of good that would have done if it were anything reasonably powerful.
“What the Hell was that?!?!” I hollered. Nobody else seemed to hear or feel it. Occasionally, things get dropped, like large boxes of union financial records. Was I just being paranoid? Could one “just be paranoid” on a day like today?
Returned to the television. “Anything new?” I asked. “There’s now a fire reported at the Pentagon.” “Open the shades. I just heard a bang and felt a thud.” Sure enough, in an otherwise cloudless sky on an otherwise magnificent morning, a plume of smoke arose. To the north-northeast. Looked to be about ten miles away. My God.
A number started running through my head: 2,403. It wasn’t until later that I remembered its significance — the number of American dead at Pearl Harbor. By nightfall, I found myself hoping against hope that we got off that “lucky.” And answering phone calls from nervous relatives, in-laws, and friends knowing of my frequent travels. And making a few myself.
The operation has to be admired for its elegance, execution, and effectiveness.
Four virtually simultaneous hijackings. At least four trained pilots to take over the controls, since any pilot I’ve ever known would take a bullet before willingly and purposefully drive his aircraft into a building, no matter how many passengers were executed before his eyes. Three hitting marquee targets; a fourth on the ground with only the deaths of those on the plane through probably nothing more than God’s grace. And absolute security precluding any kind of forewarning. Damn them.
One piece of precious good news: they didn’t have or use nukes. With the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, and little rogue states with nascent nuclear capability, this is a real threat. And wouldn’t it have been ironic to destroy with his subsequent handiwork (he was the military leader of the project to design and build the first atomic bomb) General Leslie R. Groves’ earlier and fame-building handiwork, the Pentagon? Maybe such historical ironies are lost on the types of barbarians who perpetrated Tuesday’s attack. But one has to believe, or devoutly hope, that the fact that they didn’t use one means they don’t have one.
But what’s next? After now 26 hours (as this is written) of non-stop coverage — MTV and VH-1 were running a CBS News feed; ESPN had ABC News; Speedvision ran Fox News Channel — what do Americans do?
President George W. Bush might have hit about the right tone, though one yearns for the eloquence of FDR on such an occasion. We find the dead. We mourn and bury them. We find those responsible. We denounce their crimes against civilization, America, Americans, and the Islamic faith they corrupt in pursuit of their own power.
And put more bluntly than a President can, we blow they and all who harbor them to the Hell they so richly deserve.