Where I Was On 9/11 [BOOK EXCERPT]

I rolled over and looked at the clock: 8:55 a.m. I’d called into work about an hour earlier, leaving a voicemail that I wouldn’t be in that day. The scratchy throat I’d felt the night before had grown much worse overnight, and I felt the tell-tale aches and fatigue of a cold coming on. Hoping it was a just a 24-hour bug, I got out of bed, made my obligatory bowl of cereal, poured a glass of orange juice, and settled onto the couch to try to catch some news.

The Today Show’s Katie Couric was just recapping what had happened moments earlier: a plane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky that I could see as the camera focused on the burning tower. What the hell is going on? I wondered as I listened to Couric describe the impact that had occurred nearly 20 minutes earlier. Suddenly, the second tower exploded, and within seconds video from another angle revealed the cause: another airliner.

Oh…my…God…

I stood up and watched in horror, the resulting rolling explosion sending flaming debris and “the sides of the building.

We’re under attack.

I ran to the phone and immediately tried reaching my boss, Rick Weidman, Director of Government Relations for Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA). He was scheduled to be on the Hill that day to testify before the House Veterans Affairs Committee alongside other leaders of veteran service organizations.

All circuits are busy; please try again later.

I hung up and dialed our office.

“Ed, get Rick off the Hill…call him and get him off the Hill now! We’re under attack…” It took a few seconds for me to explain the situation to our Executive Director, Ed Croucher, but I was able to convince him to try to track Rick down and get him off the Hill—NBC was reporting that other aircraft had been hijacked and one was apparently inbound for Washington.

Over the next several minutes, I kept trying to raise Rick on his cellphone, without success. Shortly after 9:30 a.m., I heard the roar of a large jet at very high speed. I looked out the window of our apartment, which faced toward Washington. To my horror, I saw what appeared to be an American Airlines 757 jet less than a mile away, landing gear up and on a downward glidepath that was clearly taking it toward either the Pentagon, the White House, or the Capitol. As our apartment was on the second floor and a line of trees was in front of our building, I lost sight of the aircraft as it neared the Pentagon.

Boom.

The window panes shook. Seconds later, I saw a large smoke cloud rise from the area near the Pentagon. As it turned out, the plane struck the side of the building I might have been in that day, had I not been sick and my scheduled meeting with Pentagon officials charged with dealing with the Gulf War illness issue not been postponed.

Within seconds, NBC was showing images of the aftermath of the impact at the Pentagon. Like tens of millions of Americans, I spent the rest of the day and most of the night watching the non-stop coverage of the greatest and costliest intelligence failure in our country’s history. Unlike most Americans, I understood how it could have happened. I had seen multiple other intelligence failures up close.

Excerpt From: Patrick G. Eddington. Long Strange Journey. iBooks. 

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