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Sunday, September 11, 2016


My 9/11

by Tom Sullivan

By MarineCorps NewYork from New York City, USA Sgt. Randall A. Clinton/
Division of Public Affairs [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

On Monday, September 10, 2001, I flew into Boston on what was the oddest flight I'd ever been on.

I was working field support at a paper mill in northern New Hampshire. We were installing a gas turbine generator and co-generation boiler. The next morning, the ex-Navy boilerman working with me, an old Hoosier, got a call at the construction trailer from his wife. She said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I thought she was the victim of an Internet hoax. She wasn't. But it was impossible to get on the Internet to check. The Net was choked. Most work stopped on the site as pipefitters and carpenters huddled around radios. Other crew coming up from Atlanta got set down in Norfolk and had to rent a car to get to New England. The site boss was from Stockholm. Relatives called from Sweden to make sure he was all right. In Groveton, NH he couldn't have been more all right. We couldn't say the same for New Yorkers.

In my hotel that night, I heard the hijacked flights had originated from Boston. I watched the TV coverage and called my parents in Charlotte. I told my dad about my odd experience the day before.

I boarded early in Atlanta and was in the right window seat (27F) watching people come down the aisle, wondering who's going to be sitting next to me for the next two-plus hours. This 20-something guy with a heavy five-o'clock shadow stood out as he made his way down the aisle. His clothes I later described as "European K-Mart." What was odd was it was a bag-lunch flight. He had no lunch. And no carry on. Not a backpack. Not a laptop. Nothing. He looked like he was boarding a bus, not a flight. The man settled into the middle seat in the row behind me, only to get dislodged by another passenger when it turned out he was in the wrong row. He got up, moved forward, and sat down next to me. He looked stressed out. He immediately leaned back, put a pillow behind his head, and closed his eyes. He looked, I don't know, Lebanese. He waved away the flight attendant when she offered drinks. Never looked at a magazine. Nothing. He never said a word.

It was the weirdest feeling (and unusual for me), but on my way to Boston on September 10, 2001 I thought if there's a terrorist on this flight, this is the guy. Then the next morning happened.

On Wednesday or Thursday, the FBI called the construction trailer. My dad had phoned it in. The agent wanted a full description, flight number, seat number, etc. When did I see him last? Had anyone met him getting off the plane? (I'd seen him last walking alone through baggage claim.) Oddest thing was, somewhere over Cape Cod as we banked towards Logan, the man took the pillow from behind his head, placed it in his hands, chest high, palms up, and lowered his forehead onto it for a few minutes. O-kay. But that was it. We landed and he disappeared.

Some poor college student probably got a visit from the FBI because of that call. It was a crazy couple of weeks.

I was on a two-week rotation, so flights being cancelled was not an immediate problem. Ten days later, Logan International Airport looked like the airport of the living dead. The Hertz shuttle cruised by one darkened, deserted terminal after another before letting me off. The flight monitors at the top of the escalator well were all dark except for two. Only a handful of flights were moving. The terminal was crawling with guns. Machine guns. Boston PD. SWAT. National Guard. INS agents with sidearms.

Even weirder was getting on the plane and seeing how glad the flight crews were to have anybody flying. Only a handful boarded.

Hi. Welcome to Delta. Can I help you find your seat? Oh, sit anywhere you want. What are you drinking? I'll bring you two. (She did, complimentary.)

On arrival in Atlanta, nothing. One MARTA cop with a pistol.

Then the madness set in. I wrote in 2009:

A flood of post-September 11 articles asked how the attacks happened, what we would do next, and why terrorists hate us. One savvy pundit asked, Would America keep its head?

We invaded Iraq on trumped-up intelligence. We conducted illegal surveillance on our own citizens. We imprisoned people without charge, here and abroad. We rendered prisoners for torture and tortured others ourselves in violation of international law. All the while, millions of staunch, law-and-order conservatives supported and defended it, and still do. Vigorously.

Did America keep its head? Uh, no.
We have never recovered from the psychic hit we took fifteen years ago. A friend who lost her fiance in the towers still suffers post-traumatic stress this time each year. The whole country suffered post-traumatic stress. Republicans this year nominated Donald J. Trump for president.