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9/11 - A DC Street Cop Perspective

9/11 has always been a tough time for me.  I was a 26 year old police officer with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC.  9/11 hits close to home.

I was working midnights Sept. 10 into the morning hours of Sept. 11, 2001.  I had left work an hour early to take a co-worker of mine to Baltimore Washington International Airport.  He was scheduled to depart that morning for San Francisco.  After I did that I was on my way home to get some sleep.

Just before I had arrived at my house my dad called and wanted to know if I could help him with his business that morning.  He had retired from DC Police and could never sit still and started all kinds of businesses.  My answer was of course - he paid really, really well (best employer, pops).  This particular morning we were going to Southeast Washington, D.C. to mow grass.  Dad came to the house and picked me up.  Before we started off he needed to stop at Wal-Mart to pick up either a new weed-eater or string, I'm not sure.

As we exited Wal-Mart I had a two way pager and it went off: "Plane crashes into World Trade Center."  We briefly talked about it and my dad, being a pilot, was already thinking something wasn’t right; something more was going on.  I just thought it was a freak incident.  Shortly after that we were on the Baltimore Washington Parkway and my pager went off again saying that another plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  My dad looks at me and said, "We're under attack."

We tuned the truck to the local news stations - WTOP.  It was surreal.  Somewhere along the parkway we heard the newscaster saying there were unconfirmed reports of a low flying aircraft flying along the Potomac River.

As I pause here for a second I want you to envision the most beautiful day in September and gorgeous blue sky.  We lived in an area that was known for congestion and such beautiful days to appreciate were few and far between.  As we approached to Beltway from the parkway we scanned to the south and you could see the black smoke billowing up from somewhere down south.  The smoke was the most prominent sight in the sky.  It just kept going.  I don't remember when we learned it was the Pentagon but knew that smoke was the visible sign of death and destruction.

I called my wife and told her that if work called me to let me know.  I knew I would be working soon.  During all this we made our way to the lot of grass we were to cut.  Through it all we cut the grass.  We could hear explosion after explosion from the Pentagon.  We were really close to Andrews Air Force Base and could hear the military jets just inundate the sky.  My phone rang and it was my wife. She said, "Work just called you need to get in ASAP."  Dad loaded the truck up and off we went.

My wife had ironed several uniforms for me, not knowing when I would be home.  It was a sign of how everyone felt; the pending emergency that existed but wasn’t going to end soon.  She never ironed a uniform for me.  I loaded up the Jeep and off I went.

I remember riding down I-95 at a high rate of speed.  I didn't know what I was going to be doing when I got to work; like so many other public safety workers, I just knew I was needed.  I arrived at work and we were briefed.  We were told that the priority was to evacuate the city since there was another plane incoming.  The Pennsylvania flight had yet to crash.  We were not sure if the U.S. Capitol or the White House was the next intended target.  Regardless of which was the target I knew that I was there to help.  My initial assignment was just to get out there and help evacuate the city.

Once the Pennsylvania plane crashed the department initiated all of the Civil Disturbance Units (C.D.U.).  I was a member of C.D.U. 33.  (The best!)  Our Lieutenant was Diane Grooms who is now an Assistant Chief with DC Police.  She was able to get us to the Pentagon to assist with whatever they needed.

This is the image that is forever seared in my head.  I was there.  I saw the smoke, smelled the death, saw the destruction, and felt the sadness.  Here was the symbol of our freedom, the Pentagon.  It looked like a hot knife sliced right through warm butter.  The chills, sadness, madness, sickness, and any other “…ness” that you could think of, I felt.

We departed the Pentagon and were reassigned to protect the Vice Presidential Mansion which is on the U.S. Naval Observatory.  We worked side by side with the Secret Service.  I didn't know if the vice president was there or not but I had a mission and was going to protect that building in accordance with my orders.

It was days before I went home.  During my trip back home I remember seeing on all the over passes - American Flags flying and Styrofoam cups that displayed, USA.  I was never more proud to be an American in my life than that time.

9/11 is hard for me.  I cannot watch the tributes, I cannot watch the shows, and I cannot get through that day without thinking of the very moment we were under attack.  9/11 has changed me forever.  To those who lost loved ones - my heart goes out to you.  One day out of 365 I always ask the same question, “Why?”

Let the memories of what happened 10 years ago be a living testament to future generations in hopes that they may understand that our culture, freedoms, and way of life are targeted by evilness.  No matter what we do or say, nothing would have prevented what happened.  I was honored to work beside such great men and women that day.  It’s a true example of what Americans and America stands for.

 

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