Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Today is the Sept. 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance; what are your memories from that day?

Today is the 12th anniversary of September 11, a day that changed many lives. DC Government's Serve DC, the office that encourages volunteerism, is helping to mark the day with a number of campaigns marking the National Day of Service and Remembrance.

For one, they had volunteers at a few Metro stations around town staffing #ThankUniforms booths, where people can make their own honor cards to thank first responders, veterans and their families and share them on social media.

They're also promoting an online volunteer fair, where people can go and find opportunities to volunteer in town.

It's nice to see something like this from the city on a day that was frightening, emotional and really changed the world.

I'm going to share my 9/11 story here, and encourage you to do so in the comments. It's kind of cathartic, and I like hearing other people's stories.

I was a student at GW on 9/11 and was woken up when my mom left a message on my answering machine checking in with me (those still existed.) There were also anti-World Bank and IMF protests scheduled around then, which happen basically on campus, so I thought she was referring to that and fell back asleep. A bit later my roommate woke me up and told me to come watch the TV. It was shocking. 

Not having any family or friends in New York at the time, I went to find a way to get back in touch with my parents as the phone lines were busy. I saw a kid in the hall with a cell phone (still somewhat uncommon then) and asked to borrow it, but it was still busy. Then I went to a friend's room and was able to connect to the internet and I used my GW email to contact my uncle, who was online a lot. 

From then, I headed to the school newspaper where I worked, the GW Hatchet, to see what I could do. The walk across campus to the newspaper's office was one of the only times I've been legitimately scared in DC, as it just seemed like something could happen at any time. Along the way a young man rode by on his bike yelling something in a foreign language, which added to the tension. I also remember it being strangely quiet, as planes had been grounded and there wasn't much traffic on campus -- unusual, since Foggy Bottom is right in the middle of the city.

At the office, they basically said "go out and talk to people." One of the first people I talked to on campus was a student whose sister worked at the Gap store in basement of the World Trade Center, but she got out safely and contacted a relative. There were also a lot of office workers on campus, ironically based on my morning phone call, from the IMF, World Bank and other downtown offices that had been evacuated after the attacks -- it was unclear at the time what the targets were, so everyone was being cautious. I chatted with a few, they were basically just milling around, drinking coffee, sitting on benches outside dorms and looking stunned.

Classes had been canceled, and I heard a number of rumors from students, things like bomb threats on campus and a ridiculous one that GW had evacuated the basketball team to Virginia. I didn't believe it, as if that were the first thing GW wanted to protect, but figured I should check it out. I went to the athletic department office, across the street from the Smith Center basketball arena, and a single staffer was in the office with the lights turned off, looking at his computer. I asked him about the rumor and he said no, they're practicing across the street. I went outside I saw a few basketball players, which quashed that rumor.

At some point I went back to the newspaper office to update while other Hatchet staffers had headed across the bridge to photograph and report on the attack on the Pentagon. I went to GW's housing office to talk to an administrator. I later learned that the person I spoke to had a close relative die in the World Trade Center. Then I went to administration building to speak to GW's media person to talk about the university's response and plans going forward.

I must have eaten at some point, and wrote that story and a few others up for the Hatchet. It seems the main article isn't loading properly, but two others I wrote or co-wrote are. At the time, many people were comparing the attacks to Pearl Harbor, and I wrote a piece looking at GW's response to Pearl Harbor. Interestingly, they only mentioned the attack once in passing, mainly focusing on the responses. I also wrote a sadder piece about GW alumni among the victims, including the World Trade Center's head of security.

I must have gone back to my room and watched TV and maybe slept a bit, but later that night I wasn't sleepy and started to wander around campus. The DC National Guard had been deployed, so it was strange to see camouflage Hummers parked on corners downtown, and I chatted with some of the soldiers. A few days later, other seemingly scary incidents happened, like one where a truck drove up a closed road at the Pentagon. The drivers had UAE passports and a number of various visas and real and fake ID cards, including GW student IDs. As far as I know, nothing came of that, but it's indicative of the heightened concerns about security.

Anyway, that was long. That's my story, what's yours?

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