Guest blog by Fran Capo
Author of It Happened in New York City: Remarkable Events That Shaped History
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog
Tuesday September 11, 2001 - D DAY
A week ago, I woke up to what I thought was going to be a glorious day. A day
bright and sunny, the kind that one is thankful for but at the same time, takes
for granted, as we get on with our lives. I dropped my son at school in Floral
Park Queens, and kissed him goodbye, happy as I drove off. All was right with
But that feeling was instantly shattered with a click of the radio switch. "The World Trade Center has been hit". At first I thought I was listening to some second hand rendition of War of the Worlds. But as I listened on, I realized one of the most glorious days had just turned into one of the worst days in American History, if not for the free world. The United States was under terrorist attack.
My ears couldn't believe it, so I rushed home to a television set, as if seeing it
would make it that more real. I watched in horror, America watched in horror,
the world watched in horror, as the second tower was hit. Reports came rushing in about planes being hijacked, the Pentagon being hit and another plane crashing outside Pennsylvania. It was too much information to process. A surreal feeling surrounded me, as if I was watching some special effects in a blockbuster movie, only this time the actors wouldn't get up and walk away. I stayed glued to the television watching the tragedy unfold. Not knowing exactly where this travesty would end.
Then the unthinkable happened. The World Trade Centers, one by one came
tumbling down as thousands of innocent people ran scrambling for their lives.
People who were lying at the bottom of the World Trade Center relieved they
had escaped, and those who were attending to them, were now having tons
of concrete rain down on them. People were leaping out of windows, and I
had flashes of thoughts at the horror they must have felt before deciding to
jump to their deaths instead of being burned. The image of the couple holding
hands as they leaped is forever etched in my mind. Others were being choked
by asbestos, smoke filling their lungs, some were being trampled and others
were being injured from free flying glass shrapnel and debris. It was a site
New York has never seen.
Then in a few moments it was over. An eerie silence overtook the city as gray
soot blanketed everything, the color reflective of the mood. The two towers that
had stood and symbolized so much for New York and the world, were now gone. Demolished, and along with it, countless lives.
An evil well planned plot, played out to fruition, by calm sick malicious minds.
Seemed like a century passed but it was only minutes. I thought of how long
it takes to build something, or create a life and how easily it can be destroyed.
The media replayed the buildings crashing over and over, and no matter how many times I watched them fall, I still believed I would see them in the skyline.
Instantly, my mind raced of thoughts to my son at school. Did he know? Was he safe? Even though he was in Queens miles away from the crash, nothing felt safe anymore. Two giant anchors had been pulled from us. I called the school only to find out that the phone lines were dead. My cell phone was dead too. My
communication was cut off. I had to go to the school. Parents were pulling up in droves, feeling the need to have their child with them if the eminent was to happen.
The principal said the kids hadn't been told yet. We weretold we could take them home if we wanted to or leave them in school till three. I choose to leave him in school, trying to feign some normalcy to what was happening. I drove home and knew life as we knew it would never be the same again.
From my home in Howard Beach, two miles from JFK airport, I could see the smoke billowing from Manhattan, the same smoke I was watching on TV coming from what was once, the World Trade Center. As the fires continued, the story kept unfolding. Ambulances rushing everywhere, people talking, crying, sobbing over their near escapes and for those blown apart and missing. The hospitals were overwhelmed. The tunnels, bridges, and subways were closed. The U.S.- Mexican border had been sealed. Planes were being diverted to Canada. All airports were closed.
It took me three hours to get back to my son's school. Policemen stood with shotguns on the highway redirecting traffic. As I passed I saw the JFK ramps were heavily guarded. All firemen, policemen and 911 workers were called in. The National Guard was called in. Military aircraft was seen over head patrolling the skies. Finally, the attack ended. And we were left in a war torn zone, shocked, shaken and badly bruised.
Then all at once, a force greater than our individual selves took over. Like a giant who appears to be dead, then stands up from the ruble and shakes off the debris, New Yorkers rose and were united as one Mighty mass. Time was crucial. We needed to act immediately and we did. Rescue workers searched fevorently trying to save lives. Volunteers showed up in the thousands, people lined up to donate their blood. The focus was on saving lives. Everyone wanted to do their part in anyway they could. The day seemed endless.
That night, I hung a picture of my son and his friend with the World Trade Center in the background on my refrigerator, a reminder of something that no longer existed. I still stare in disbelief. The next day, my sister and I decided to give blood. We felt the urgency to have to do something. The streets were filled with a silent reverence...people nodding at each other knowing the magnitude and not knowing what to say. We all shared the same pain.
Stores were empty or closed as if shopping was an unspoken disrespect to those injured. I stopped at the Post Office and was asked to show photo ID for a package I was mailing. Just a glimpse of how our freedoms will change because of these cowardly monsters.
My sister and I went to the Red Cross to donate blood but were redirected to
Queens General Hospital. We left our names as volunteers with the Red Cross
before heading over to the hospital.
We were told, rescue workers desperately needed socks and sweats. Gloves
were needed as the firefighters, policemen and rescue teams worked side by
side, heroically taking the debris out by hand. The soles of their boots were
burning from the hot earth, since fires were still raging below. And as they raged
below, they raged in the hearts of the American people. Fires stirring and being
held at bay while we rescued, but knowing that the ambers that were burning in
our hearts were ready to turn into a full fledged inferno as we waited for the hand
of justice to be served.
As we walked out of the Red Cross center, I noticed a sign on the window of Bank of New York. "Please be patient, we are only letting one customer in at a time." More evidence of the fear that was now a part of our society.
We went to Queens General Hospital to donate blood. There were about a hundred people. We had to sign up and fill out forms. They were specifically looking for O negative, the universal donor, but were taking others as well. My sister, Sharon, is O negative, but because she went to Italy last year, she couldn't donate. They were worried about Mad Cow disease in Europe. We were told, "If you ever had Lyme disease, took aspirins within 72 hours or anti-histamines within a week, or were menstruating, you couldn't donate". I was O but not sure if I was negative or positive. A sad commentary, since I know the make and model of my car, but not my blood.
The wait was long. And as I looked at the long line of donors I was inspired. Beside me were every race and creed of New Yorkers, willing to give their blood to help others. I saw the tired faces of hospital workers and volunteers working overtime to make sure the job was done. To make sure the people fighting for their lives would get the blood that could save them.
It was then I decided to let my comedic spirit add to the cause. I remembered that laughter was the best medicine, which in this case had to be applied very carefully. Slowly I started to joke with the person next to me, and then the nurses. Soon I had the waiting room laughing. For the next five hours I entertained them.
I told them I was a writer, and they said, "If you ever give up your writing career you should become a stand-up comic." I told them I was, and they of course thought I was making it up. We were taken into the donating room in groups of 15. I called our group the blood brothers (not original, but accurate.) When we finally went inside to give blood, there were about 40 people. I was making the guy who was taking my blood, Carlos laugh. I saw he had this pin on, and he told me he got it for being one of the top lab technicians. I told him that I was happy to hear that he was a lab technician taking my blood, and that he didn't work in the cafeteria. After my blood was taken, I was going around to all the other people and shaking their hands.
One lady kept saying she saw me somewhere. Finally after I knew I was leaving I told them that I was the Guinness Book's Fastest Talking Female. The lady said, "I knew I saw you somewhere. I saw you on Ripley's." I smiled. My cover was blown. So of course, I did what any good fast talker would do. There in the room with 40 people, some with IV's in their arms, others waiting to give blood, doctors and nurses endlessly waiting on people,. I did the "Three Little Pigs" for everyone at warp speed. They all laughed and applauded. Then one of the nurses hugged me and said, "Thank you for making our day so easy, your making us laughed really helped." I felt like a million bucks...less one pint.
We all have gifts, and at this time we have to use them to help in any way we can. It was a slight reprieve among the horror, and the best way I knew to give of myself.
But humor only patches things momentarily, enough time to let you regroup. On the third day, my son went back to school…angry and confused. I had made him write his feelings on the day of the attack in a journal, so he could be in touch with them.
As for me, I walked in my favorite park after dropping him at school, hoping for some solitude, in a park that normally brings me great peace. The park is 15 miles away from Manhattan, in a suburb of Queens, and I thought I could snatch a moment of mindless thought. But because of the shift in winds, the air was foggy and the smell of the burning rumble that was once a twin tower of power, filled the air.
Amidst the beauty of the trees, the smell of destruction loomed. I cried for this was my haven. I cried many times, often unexpectedly last week as I heard both the stories of heroism, and last words of loved ones spoken on cell phones…till they were cut off.
But through all the tragedy and pain, the spirit of New Yorkers, Americans and all those reaching out to help each other is the beam of sunlight that is keeping us hopeful, strong and ready to find justice and rebuild.
Now a week later vigils have been held, prayers have been said for those wounded and lost, words of encouragement from preachers, and strength from the mayor, governor and president have been spoken. Emails have been sent around the world, each reassuring each other of each other's safety. Cheers of appreciation for the men and women who risked their lives saving others is constantly heard throughout the city. Funds have been set up for the fallen, supplies donated in record numbers and so many people have volunteered that volunteers are no longer needed. And we still want to help.
But now as we are licking our wounds, we want more. We want something done. We want something done to the perpetrators. To those barbaric individuals who have violated our freedom and way of life. 19 of them died, killing 5000 of us, using our planes, our knowledge and the trust of our people.
Words of Nostradamous are flying through the Internet, as people fear the possibility of the third world war. But there is a greater fear, a fear of living in fear and terror. Our society is built on freedom and we will not sacrifice that which so many of our brave forefathers have fought for in the past. They did not die in vein.
We are still in a strange state of morning and sadness as we try to get back to our normal lives, but the anger has risen. We want justice, not revenge. We did not seek this out. Our children now know war, not from history books, but from their own backyard. And in their innocence they ask a resounding "Why"? Yes, rescue workers are still searching, Sanitation, Policemen and Firemen are still working, although complete firehouses have been wiped clean of their men. They are racing against time, before the hordes of rats come to feast on the death and whatever miracle survivors there may be. There is a mall level in the WTC. If anyone is trapped there, they have access to bottled water, food and clothing. If there are air pockets its possible, just possible they may survive. Families are still hoping.
And now, schools are re-opened, as are many of the highways. The stock market has resumed after the longest closure in stock market history. Broadway has brought up its lights in hopes at these times that entertainment can lighten our thoughts. And we have yet to still know the full devastation Of this attack.
But, we have found the enemy and will do whatever it takes to search him out from whatever darkened crevice he may crawl in and bring him back, "Dead or alive." We need to think like these people, and search for their Achilles heel, for they do not value human life as we do. But everyone has a weakness, and that is what we will seek out. For we are down, but never out.
His attack may have downed our buildings but not our spirit. Like the Grinch that Stole Christmas learned, you can take away things, possessions, even lives of which we will morn For greatly, but you can never, never can take away the human spirit, the American spirit. The terrorists have failed greatly, for in trying to divide us, they have united us and sparked our love for this country and what we stand for more than ever. There is not a street that you can pass, without an American flag proudly being displayed. Makeshift posters of "God Bless America" are all over the streets.
Yes, we are angry, and yes we want justice...and we will have it. For we are a nation of freedom, and we will be damned if anyone or anything will change our way of life. The healing is a long process, but I hope however our resolve is swift.
I think however in times like these, people are moved to reflect upon their own lives and what is important...our friends, families and loved ones. Every morning as I do my walk through the park, I thank God for all the things I do have, and now I pray for world peace and for guidance of our leaders, and strength for our nation. It is not enough to be strong physically, we must be strong spiritually as well.
A day doesn't pass that I don't hug Spencer and tell him I love him...for in the end that is what truly matters...love and the freedom to share it and live your life in anyway you see fit. No one has ever sat on their deathbed saying..."If only I put more time in at the office!"
Stand up for what you believe in and fear nothing. The mark of a nation, a state or a person is not how many times they fall, but how many times they get up. We are not only up, but we are standing tall, and side by side together we will wipe out injustice, and terrorism…and then stride for a peaceful world in which we all can live.
God Bless to all, and strength to those who have had personal losses.