Remembering September 11 Through Disney Eyes

In honor of those we lost and those that survived; we will never forget…

Do you remember that day? Where you were? What you were doing? I do. It was a typical morning for me. Like any other work day really. I had woken up early, gotten ready, made some breakfast and sat down in front of the TV to eat. I tuned into the Today Show like I did every day back then. It was just after 6:45am Denver time and I was surprised to see not the usual news and weather I was expecting, but instead a tall office building on fire. It took me a moment to place it, it was still early and I was tired, that was one of the World Trade Center buildings.

I was immediately concerned. My company’s headquarters was located in the Trade Center. Which building is it? What happened? I turned up the volume to see what was going on. All they knew was that a plane had crashed into the North building, Tower 1. I felt relief and worry all at the same time. My company’s offices were in Tower 2 so my friends and coworkers were OK, but what about those people in Tower 1? I sat glued, speechless, staring in horror at my TV screen. Few details were known yet. I pulled myself away for a moment to knock on the bathroom door. I had to let my husband know what was happening. He joined me to watch.

Seconds later another plane could be seen on the screen and right before our eyes it Never Forget slammed into the South building…Tower 2…where my friends and coworkers were starting their work day. I wasn’t due at work for about another hour, but I headed straight for the car. I had to get there…to know what was happening…was everyone going to be all right…my mind was racing…my heart was pounding. The drive seemed to take forever, like time was suspended, as I listened to the radio hungry for more details…some sort of reasonable explanation as to what was taking place.

Once I arrived, I quickly parked and made my way into my office. I worked for a financial company at the time and of course the stock market was our livelihood. Working on the sales floor, we had several TVs hanging, scattered around our area always showing the latest stock information and ticker. One of those TVs was located directly next to my desk. When I turned the corner to the sales floor, I saw a crowd huddled around the TV beside my area. It was still, completely silent, as everyone looked on wondering what was happening to our friends. I was slowly filled in on what they knew, which wasn’t much.

Several of my coworkers had been on the phone with our friends in the World Trade Center offices after the first plane had hit Tower 1. They had been told to stay inside, away from the windows and that everything would be OK. The Towers had been built to withstand a lot, they were told. Moments later while still on the phone, the second plane had hit our Tower and the phones went dead…an eerie silence on the other end of the line. As we stood together trying to make sense of what was taking place, we watched as news came in that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon. Reality started to hit at that moment…this was no coincidence…this was some sort of attack…and when was it going to end.

We immediately went into emergency mode; our offices were in the World Trade Center during the bombing of 1993, so after that event, our company had put several safety measures into place. On the back of everyone’s business cards was a number that they were to call to check in after any type of catastrophic event. That number would ring into our Denver offices…to the transfer agency, human resources and my desk on the sales floor. Our sales department was a tight group, most located in New York and about a quarter of us in Denver. We started calling all of our coworkers in New York on their cell phones. As we stood with phones in one hand unable to get through, eyes glued to the images on the TV, we watched in horror as our building, Tower 2, began to collapse. There is nothing that can really prepare you for that feeling…of complete helplessness…of shock…of numbness…as you stare unable to move, frozen in time, not knowing what to do next. Some people began to cry, others became angry…who was responsible for this, and others stood motionless unable to grasp what was happening.

Moments later, more news was coming in, another plane was down, this time in a field in Pennsylvania possibly meant for the White House. There were a few more details from people who had been onboard the plane, the passengers had fought back. We had to get it together, be strong, prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We stood together one eye on the TV and another on the phone hoping that our coworkers would remember the procedures and that calls would start coming in. Surely, some of them would make it out OK.

And then Tower 1 collapsed. We watched along with the rest of the world as the debris rained down upon the city. We knew in our hearts that even if our friends had made it out before our Tower had collapsed, there was no guarantee that they could have gotten safely out of the area before the debris from Tower 1 began to fall. All eyes turned to my phone that sat silent on my desk…and time stood still. The next couple of hours crept by slowly and we watched for more information and prayed for my phone to ring. Then suddenly out of the silence, it rang. I ran to pick it up…it was incredible news…one of our coworkers was safe! He quickly explained that even after the plane had hit Tower 2, they still had been instructed to stay in the building. The fire was several floors above them and it was thought that the Never Forgetfire could be put out and the risk of Tower 1 collapsing and being injured by falling debris was greater than staying in the building. Our management in New York made the decision to evacuate anyway. Our friend told us that everyone got separated trying to get out of the building because of the crowds, smoke and darkness. He said that he got out just as it started to collapse and how he had to run to keep from being engulfed from the dust and debris. But he was OK, he made it out…that means there could be others. We hung up quickly and I wrote his name down on the list under “Safe and Accounted For.”

We heard cheers coming from nearby desks in the transfer agency, more calls were coming in, other coworkers were also safe. As the hours slowly passed by more and more names were added to the “Safe” list. Amazing stories of heroism were shared about strangers carrying people to safety and caring for one another. There were also far too many sad stories of friends who had known people who worked on the floors that were directly hit. By the time I left at the end of the day, every single one of our employees had been accounted for…all of them had miraculously made it out alive. There were some injuries, but everyone would eventually would go on to recover. That day changed us…as coworkers, friends, Americans…we would never be the same.

Every time I pack my suitcase for a trip to Disney World and think how I am going to cram all of my toiletry items in a quart size bag, I remember that day. Each time I pass through the security check point at the airport and remove my shoes, I remember why I’m doing this. When I gladly offer my bag to be inspected when I enter a Disney Park, I remember those lost. When I look at the Firefighter and Police badges displayed at Magic Kingdom, I’m reminded of those people who so unselfishly gave their lives to save my friends. And when I’m at Epcot watching the American Adventure Show and see the flag being raised at Ground Zero, I’m reminded of the strength and community that we share as citizens of the United States. I will never forget…

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