By DON SEVERE ’56
“Can we go to the top of the World Trade Center today, Gramps?” It was a sunny morning in Bethpage, Long Island, New York, on September 11, 2001. Our 9-year-old grandson, Scott, was with us for a momentous tour of New York City to be followed by several days in the nation’s capital.
Scott and I had been in lower Manhattan the day before, but the weather was overcast and rainy, preventing a scenic view from the top of the World Trade Center. We settled for a boat trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, followed by dinner in the mall at the base of the two World Trade Center buildings before boarding our subway train back to Penn Station. Around 6 p.m., Scott took a picture looking up at one of the WTC towers. Little did we know that it would be one of the last pictures taken of the standing WTC tower.
We were moving a little slow that 9/11 morning, so we missed an earlier Long Island commuter train from Farmingdale station for the 53-minute ride into Manhattan to connect with the subway train to the WTC. Consequently, we caught the 8:06 train scheduled to arrive at Penn Station around 9 a.m.
While onboard, my wife Lynne received a cell phone call from a longtime friend who knew of our plans to visit the WTC that day. Her words were, “Get off of the train. There is something going on at the World Trade Center.” We were nearing Jamaica Station and elected to get off the train for the return to Farmingdale. From the platform of Jamaica Station, we could see the smoke rising from lower Manhattan.
We returned to our RV Park in Bethpage and began remedial planning for what might occur next. This included fueling our vehicle, withdrawing a significant sum of money from a local bank branch, stocking food and bottled water for what might be a long stay or a run for our lives. No one knew what to expect next. All roads from Long Island were closed to civilian traffic.
What do you do with a 9-year-old loved one who barely grasps the severity of the situation? His mother wanted him back home ASAP. But that was not to be. At least for a couple of days. Grandma Lynne, a native of Long Island, grasped the situation and arranged for visits to old haunts and fun places of her youth.
Jones Beach became the spot of serenity for Scott and, to a great extent, for us as well. While building sand castles, we observed U.S. Naval vessels entering the waters off the coast of New York, though their exact purpose was unclear.
Commonplace sights and locations became suspect to us when we realized that an enemy intent on disabling our nation could easily do so. Power plants, airports, railroads, water sources, and highways became targets in our minds as concern for our safety and our future became paramount. Many of those potential targets were around us.
As the days passed, the interstates were reopened to civilian traffic. We hurriedly left for New Jersey and points west. Sadly, as we crossed the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, we looked south to see the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center. What had once been a skyline trademark of Manhattan was now reduced to ashes, taking with it the lives of nearly 2,800 people. Only days earlier, we had taken many pictures of the Manhattan skyline from the island circle tour boat.
For a few days, we immersed ourselves in the Amish culture of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There, Scott announced that he would become Amish—the reason being that they had horses and he had ridden in a horse drawn buggy. Thus, we had the thinking of a 9-year-old boy.
As we drove westward from the unbelievable terror of 9/11, we traveled the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Drawn to a rest stop by the call of nature, we found ourselves near Shanksville, the site of the demise of United Flight 93. Flower arrangements and messages of condolence were everywhere. Was this stop fate or simply coincidence? Of course, we will never know for sure, but it was eerie to say the least.
In our scrapbook of that fateful vacation, we still hold the unused tickets for admittance to the top observation deck of the WTC. Other reminders are the before and after pictures of the World Trade Center that we had taken.
Of December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt stated it to be “a date which will live in infamy.” The attack on 9/11 was of equal horror, where, in an area of about two city blocks, plus the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, 19 insurgents were responsible for one of the greatest attacks on continental U.S. soil by a foreign enemy in the history of our nation and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
Each year, the date 9/11 holds a special meaning for us. As with many others who did not arrive at the World Trade Center early that morning, it was not our time. PROVIDENCE?
Lynne and DON SEVERE ’56 live in Green Valley, Arizona.