Washington, D.C., is a city I have had the pleasure of traveling to on innumerable occasions. It was and to this day is one of my very favorite U.S. cities. For a long time I thought it would a great place to live, as long as somehow the humidity was eliminated.
As a politically active couple, the hubby and I had a special reason to be in DC in September 2001. A group of us went to the nation’s capital to meet with elected officials and have some unique access through the diligent work of our organizers. We had a tour of the Pentagon on September 10th (see photo below) and listened to security advisers give a sobering talk about threats against the U.S. A highpoint of the trip was to be a guided tour of the U.S. Capitol on the morning of September 11th, at 9am. Later that day we were scheduled to visit the Supreme Court.
I took the photo below as we approached the Capitol building, Tuesday morning, 9/11/01.
I remember the events as if it were yesterday. As we were progressing through the security line at the Capitol, people started reporting a plane had crashed into New York’s iconic World Trade Center — supposedly a small aircraft. Once inside the building, the reports not only increased but became more alarming. I became obsessed with the actions of Capitol personnel who seemed to be moving at an abnormally accelerated pace. I remember saying, “Something’s not right.”
Moments later, the personnel literally screamed at us to run for the closest exit. I never even looked to see where the hubby was; I just made a mad dash outside and immediately saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon. Then I burst into tears. Our kids were all the way across the country, then just 10 and 12 years old. Our group all gathered together and miraculously our bus and driver got to us through the chaos and took us as far out of DC as possible. It was 3pm by the time we got access to our hotel and a television.
There was but one goal in mind and that was to get home. Even if a flight were available, that was the last thing I would do. We were fortunate to get a rental car and left Thursday morning with another couple for the drive across country. An agreement was made: the trip would be non-stop save for food and “pit” stops.
We reached Oklahoma City early Friday morning, September 14. The day had been declared a National Day Of Prayer and Remembrance. How fitting to arrive at the Oklahoma City Memorial, where victims of another act of terror are remembered – the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building on April 19, 1995, murdering 168 innocents. Two photos are below.
It was late Friday night when we knew none of us could drive without some sleep. We got rooms to recharge and clean up in Kingman, Arizona. The photo below is with our traveling companions Phil & Michael Anne Kurzner in Barstow.
We arrived home midday on Saturday. Neither of us had ever hugged our kids so hard nor been so grateful to see them.
Did the experience change my thinking about travel? Only to the extent that none of us knows what can happen. One thing I know for sure — the heroes of Flight 93 that took over the plane and crashed it in Shanksville, PA, averted another tragedy causing even more death.
And then a remarkable connection happened just this week after reading a column in the Wall Street Journal profiling the journey of Deborah Borza. Deborah’s 20-year-old daughter Deora died on Flight 93. The column is linked HERE. I was so moved by the column that I wrote to the author, who immediately responded with her appreciation and that she had forwarded it on to Deborah. She was hoping that was ok with me (it was more than ok — I wasn’t able to find how to contact Deborah directly).
After Deborah received the forwarded email, she called me and we spoke. Deborah was an integral part of establishing the Flight 93 Memorial* in Shanksville, PA. We visited there in 2018. It is an emotional experience, but one that provides laser focus on what’s truly important in the scheme of things. We plan to meet in person once Deborah returns to California after all the 9/11 remembrances.
We’ll never know whether the target of Flight 93 was the Capitol Building or the White House. But 20 years later, I know the passengers’ bravery is something I will never forget.
*My blog from that visit is linked HERE.