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Guide September 11: A Memoir

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I sighed, and saved the work I had barely started. Just when I got up to leave, the phone rang again, and this time the conversation was even shorter. Pandemonium, chaos: our most ancient forms of terror. They both refer to a collapse of order and the panic that rushes in to fill the void. At the moment of the worst terrorist attack in US history, the staff of the NSA — the major signals-intelligence agency of the US intelligence community — was abandoning its work by the thousands, and I was swept up in the flood.

The NSA director, Michael Hayden, issued the order to evacuate before most of the country even knew what had happened. Subsequently, the NSA and the CIA — which also evacuated all but a skeleton crew from its headquarters — would explain their behaviour by citing a concern that one of the agencies might potentially, possibly, perhaps be the target of the fourth and last hijacked airplane, United Airlines flight 93, rather than, say, the White House or Capitol.

I remember escaping the panicked crush of the spies fleeing Fort Meade just as the north tower came down. Once on the highway, I tried to steer with one hand while pressing buttons with the other, calling family indiscriminately and never getting through. Finally, I managed to get in touch with my mother, who was working as a clerk for the federal courts in Baltimore. Her voice scared me, and suddenly the only thing in the world that mattered to me was to reassure her. The breath went out of me. By , my maternal grandfather had retired from the coastguard and was now a senior official in the FBI, serving as one of the heads of its aviation section.

This meant that he spent plenty of time in plenty of federal buildings throughout DC and its environs. Before I could summon any words of comfort, my mother spoke again. It might be Gran.

The new cable modem we had was proving more resilient than all of the telecom satellites and cell towers, which were failing across the country. She arrived in tears, but we were among the lucky ones. Pop was safe. He was at the coastguard headquarters in Washington DC when the towers were hit, and he and three of his fellow officers left their offices in the operations directorate to find a conference room with a screen so they could watch the news coverage. People in my neighborhood put up new US flags, as if to show which side they had chosen.

I used to go to a shooting range. Americans lined up to buy mobile phones, hoping for advance warning of the next attack, or at least the ability to say goodbye from a hijacked flight.

Lesson Plans | National September 11 Memorial & Museum

Nearly , spies returned to work at the agencies with the knowledge that they had failed at their one and only job, which was protecting the US. Think of the guilt they were feeling. They had the same anger as everybody else, but they also felt the guilt. An assessment of their mistakes could wait.

What mattered most at that moment was that they redeem themselves.

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On stories about passengers on the planes that have stuck with him. One is from And I spent time with Lee and Eunice Hanson in their home, in Peter's boyhood bedroom, talking about those. Peter was actually first telling his father, 'Please call someone, let them know what's happening. On people in the first tower to be hit thinking they didn't need to evacuate. Some people were being told, 'It's over in the other tower. And when the plane cut through, it knocked out the telecommunication system within the building that would have allowed people down in the basement and in the first floor to communicate to them.

A Widow's Walk: A Memoir of 9/11

So the confusion began immediately, and people — some of them stayed in place for well over an hour. They didn't know there was a ticking clock for the survival of the building. They haunted by them still. And they are recorded calls, so I can hear them, I can see the transcripts.

They're remarkable in that they're trying to keep these people calm, they're trying to hope for the best.

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But there is no way up, and there's no way out. And when the South Tower collapses, Jay realizes, 'I gotta get my guys out of here, quick. But they slow their exit to help Josephine, and as they're going farther and farther down through the building to get to the lobby, the North Tower starts to collapse. They're inside this center stairwell, and they just huddled together, hold on for dear life, and the building literally peels away around them, just keeping a few floors of Stairwell B — which is exactly where they are.

And Jay realizes that having slowed to help Josephine ended up saving all of them, because had they been in the lobby, the lobby was completely destroyed. Had they been just outside, they would have been wiped out as well. So it truly was a miracle. But there in Shanksville — and I tell the story largely through Terry Shaffer, who was the volunteer fire chief there, who had been planning for something his whole life, and he thought it might be a pile-up on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

And he races toward the scene expecting to find casualties, expecting to find people he can help. The story of the people in Shanksville and how they came together, and sort of embraced the families of the Flight 93 victims, is I think one of the most beautiful stories I've ever heard. On the difficulties of determining what exactly was happening on the planes. All of that material became available, and it was a mountain of material. But for me, it was priceless.


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  3. THE LOVE THAT BINDS.
  4. Remembering 9/ A Day That Changed the World - Biography.
  5. A Memoir of 9/11.

But you don't connect names to it. And I felt if I could do that, if I could give people the story as it unfolded through the people that they could connect to, then I would have done something worthwhile. November 2. October 2. September 5. August 3.

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June 2. May 4. April 8. March 4.

February 5. July 1.

June 1. May 2. April 3.