September 11, 2001 Personal Recollection

September 11, 2014.  I include here notes that I made immediately after the attack on September 11, 2001 so that I would not forget. At the time I was working at Bates Worldwide on 6th Avenue and 36th Street. I encourage anyone with a blog or web site to do the same so that historians may some day refer to these primary sources.

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September 11, 2001

Time to finally sit down and record my recollections of Tuesday September 11, 2001.

I had just got to the office and was going to the cafeteria for a cup of coffee. On the way down I met Jennifer Joshua. She said that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. My first thought was that it was some private pilot who had screwed up royally.

I went down to the staff room to watch the coverage. Whilst we were all watching a shot of the burning tower, another airliner zoomed in and crashed into the second tower. That was probably the moment we realized that these were planned acts of terrorism. In a short time we saw the report of a third airliner crashing into the Pentagon. Then there was the story of another hijacked airliner crashing in Pennsylvania. The news services quickly labelled it “Attack on America.” Impossible to conceive.

While we were standing watching the screens the first tower came down. It was a shock indescribable. All I kept thinking and feeling like was the famous recording of the radio announcer reporting the Hindenburg disaster, his voice breaking into tears of helplessness as he yelled into the mike “This is the worst thing that ever happened in the world” and “Oh, the humanity.” Finally, he just had to stop reporting. As people were dying right before his eyes, so people were dying right before ours – just a few blocks away. I felt like I should go running downtown to try to do something. But all I could do was pray for the lost, and that is what I did.

Then the second tower came down and the despair was unspeakable. They had managed to bring down both towers. Later, at 3:00 PM, 7 World Trade Center collapsed. But by that time everybody was numb.

All of us were walking around in a daze. All the television sets in the agency were turned on and people were standing in groups around the large screens. Many were crying. All were in shock and disbelief.

Throughout the day I tried to go back to work but it was impossible. My only thought was, how can a person engage in such trivia when thousands are dying just a few miles away. I have since heard that others felt the same way.

Communications were cut and all the bridges and tunnels were closed. I tried to call home and leave a message saying that I was all right, but there was no phone service. Finally, I just sent the following e-mail message which managed to get through to a lot of people.

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From: “Chris Brune” <banjoman@warwick.net

To: <All Friends

Sent: Tuesday, September 11, 2001 3:35 PM

Subject: CB OK

Just to let you know, Rachel and I are OK. Her office closed and she is at my office. The outbound Lincoln is open, so it looks like we will be able to get home tonight. Went to mass at Holy Innocents on lunch hour. What else is there?

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The masses at Holy Innocents were packed with people lined up out into the street.

Rachel’s office had closed and she had come over to Bates. She was among many friends of staff who had come to our offices. Their companies had shut down and sent people home. It was an act of kindness that somewhat backfired. By early morning everything in New York was closed. Restaurants and stores closed up so you couldn’t get anything to eat or drink. There was no public transportation – subways, buses, rail, even taxis, all shut down. The employees were on the street with nowhere to go and no way to sustain themselves.

Bates arranged for the cafeteria to stay open for dinner and told the employees we were welcome to sleep in the conference rooms and lounges. It looked like Rachel and I were in for a night at Bates.

Once I went out into the street. It was the most eerie sight: The streets of New York completely deserted on a business day. Not one car, truck, bus or cab. Only an occasional emergency vehicle. No pedestrians.

We were getting conflicting reports throughout the day on what was open and what was not. We have to remember that the bridges and tunnels are prime terrorist targets. Later in the afternoon, I had been able to make contact with Eli. One idea I had was to take the One train (which had started operating later in the afternoon) up to the GW and walk across the bridge where he could pick us up. Finally, around 5:00 PM, we decided to go out to try to get something to eat instead of staying in the building. On the way we decided to take one more look at Port Authority to see what the situation was. A policeman there told us it would not open possibly for a couple of days. He told us that Metro North was running however.

Now, my impression was that Metro North ran out of Grand Central. So, we walked over there. I asked at information and the guy said it runs from New Jersey. We had to take the PATH to Hoboken and pick up the Port Jervis line there.

Walked back down to 34th and Broadway. The PATH trains were running for free. There were police guiding people to the trains. We got on and got to Hoboken in no time. Arrived at 7:30. The next train left at 9:35. So we walked down Main street and found a nice Italian restaurant and had a good dinner. I even went next door and picked up a bottle of wine. Turns out, the restaurant had closed. When they heard of the emergency, the staff had walked back to work (public transportation was shut down) and re-opened to serve the stranded people.

At Hoboken there were plenty of police and emergency people and volunteers handing out water, food, wet towels, and there were lawn chairs and places to sit. Rachel and I were in pretty good shape because Bates was well supplied. But many people got back to New Jersey in pretty bad shape having not eaten and having been exposed to the elements all day.

When I asked about tickets, they told us that Metro North was running for free. So we took it up to Tuxedo Junction New York. On the train we noticed many people soaking wet, shivering, covered with plastic bags. Turns out, they had been in the area and had to walk through showers to de-contaminate before they were released to make their way home. One lady said they had given them nuts and snacks afterward, but it did not make up for being freezing cold and wet.

Dottie and Chris picked us up at Tuxedo. Got the biggest hug I have received since our wedding day.

My thoughts at the end of the day: This is almost too much to contemplate. I just keep praying for the dead, wounded, and missing. I am terrified of what is going to happen over the next couple of weeks as, one by one, families find out that a loved one has perished in the holocaust. It’s like Viet Nam all over again.

On Friday evening the country agreed that everyone would be outside their homes and have candles lit. It was a wonderfully comforting feeling driving home and seeing the candles on porches and mailboxes, people standing out in their yards ready to connect with others. We put out candles and the flag and sat outside. We yelled across to the Vihti’s and other neighbors. It seemed that everyone was pulling together. And the ancient light of candles brought solace to the community.

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I insert here an image of an e-mail exchange that occurred that day. Note we got the names mixed up. My message should have been signed Dad and Rachel instead of Dad and Chris. The reply should have been signed Mom and Thea instead of Mom and Dottie who are the same person. No one was thinking clearly that day.

911email0001

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2 comments

  1. Chris Brune’s avatar

    Florence –

    Thank you so much for commenting. I will get in touch soon for a cup of Starbucks.

    Chris

  2. Florence’s avatar

    Dear Chris,
    Thank you for sharing this post with me. You are right, it’s important to remember what had happened this day.
    I can still remember when I heard about the attack, like everybody else on this planet I guess. I was in France, in my car driving back from work to pick up the kids at the childminder house. I couldn’t believe it, and the first idea that popped into my mind that it was a story like the one Orson Wells did on an alien attack. It’s was too overwhelming to believe. When the lady opened the door, she whispered to me in a cheeky voice:”Did you see the news?” She was shocked and tears were in her eyes, but she didn’t want to scarred the kids she was looking after. “It’s crazy,” she continued. I just nodded. What could have I say? At that particular moment, even if we know each other for a while, we had a special bond. Something that could tell we are all together in this.

    When I arrived home, my husband called me. “Did you hear the news?” He used to travel a lot in the US, and he was upset. We were about to buy our first house and he was at the bank for the loan. There, everybody was sad, scarred and chocked. The images were already running around the world spreading their horror and despair.
    Then, my best friend called me. I finally put on the TV to wacht the news with him on the phone. I saw the towers burning like in a bad movie. I could not believe it. I held back my tears when my boys were asking about the images. I sent them to their bedroom, just saying some words about the craziness of our world.

    The next day, the most important newspaper in France, Le Monde, wrote:”We are all Americans.” And really, that day, we were. The best that came from this is how people were nicer to each other, as we cared more.

    After that, looking at my little two kids, pregnant with my third, I was wondering about the world of violence and hatred I was about to send them. Will terrorism win this war on terror?
    Now, looking back to this time, I know terrorists are not going to win because there are still people who believe in compassion and solidarity. As long as we continue to laugh, live and travel, and we teach our kids that difference of cultures, religions or skin colors are not a threat but a chance to see the beauty of the Humanity as a whole, terrorists and fanatics from all the countries cannot win.
    Like the French philosopher, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, said :” The world is round so that friendship may encircle it.”
    Thanks Chris. What you are doing with literacy Volunteer helps make this world a better place to live in.
    I hope to see you soon to share laughs and a coffee together!
    Florence

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