Burnard: 9/11: Far from homeWritten by Don Burnard | | email@example.com
Everyone who was aware of anything at the time remembers where they were and the horror of events unfolding early Sept. 11, 2001.
I was attending the International Convention of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in San Francisco. At about 5:50 a.m., my phone rang. It was my wife asking me if I had the TV on. I told her that there was a three-hour time difference, so I was still asleep. She told me a passenger jet had just crashed into the Twin Towers in New York. I groggily fumbled for the remote and turned on the television, and while we were speculating as to what was going on, we watched in horror as a second jet crashed into the other tower.
Shortly after, the news that another plane had crashed into the Pentagon and one in Pennsylvania had us wondering what was happening to our nation. I hung up the phone and called some of our other delegates to see if they were aware of the events rapidly unfolding. We met in the lobby of the hotel and went to the Moscone Center, where the convention was taking place, with thousands of electrical workers in attendance. No one knew the extent of these attacks or whether they were or would be limited to the eastern United States. Much discussion centered around whether we were safe, presenting a ready-made target with thousands of people in a small area. Hundreds of police, military and fire forces were on instant alert, and when we arrived, large video screens were showing the news.
We were near the New York City delegation, Local 3. They were frantically trying to reach New York City by phone, as on any given day they had as many as 600 members working in the Twin Towers. The same was true for the DC Local 26 and its members in the Pentagon.
Chaos reigned, and no one knew what was going on or what had happened. Thousands of us prayed for the then-unknown number of victims on the four flights and on the ground. The announcement came that the Golden Gate Bridge was closed down and that all flights into and out of anywhere were canceled. Our first reaction was to see if we could rent cars to drive back to Toledo, but every rental car in that part of the state had already been rented. The convention continued more or less by default, as none of the thousands of delegates from the U.S. and Canada could get anywhere. Everyone wanted to just get back to their families, and it soon became apparent that we weren’t going anywhere soon.
I had just been blessed with the births of my first two granddaughters in May and June, and I was worried about my wife, children and grandchildren and had never felt as helpless as I did then. I had no concrete plan of action; I just wanted to be back where I belonged, with them.
9/11 was a Tuesday, the second day of the convention. The next day, we came back and tried to do our delegates’ business and watch for answers to the unfolding events. No one could say with any certainty when anything would happen (or not happen). Our hotel rooms were going to run out near the end of the week, and no one could guarantee us that we’d have any place to stay if we couldn’t get out of town. I had a good friend from high school that lived in Marin County on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, where I had stayed on the preceding weekend, but the bridge was shut down. The Local 3 delegation eventually found that the loss of its membership was limited to dozens rather than hundreds. One was a brand-new apprentice on his first day on the job.
On Wednesday or Thursday, they opened the airport just long enough for some idiot to call in and say he was sitting on his boat in the bay and could take out any departing plane with a handheld grenade launcher. Down went the airport again. Finally, we were told we would be able to fly out on Sept. 15 and to be at the airport three hours prior to our 7 a.m. flight. We stood in lines with hundreds of passengers. When they did finally show, they ran us through security, taking two 80-year-old ladies’ 2-inch embroidery scissors from them, but inexplicably letting on a man with a cane made out of a 30-inch Louisville Slugger bat. It didn’t matter; we were going home.
Email columnist Don Burnard at firstname.lastname@example.org.