Today marks the twelfth year since the 9/11 attacks. None of us can forget where we were that morning, especially my father who worked in tower 2. He was on the 73rd floor when the second plane hit the building and was one of the lucky that made it out alive. I later learned that my father had volunteered for the role of office fire warden, which he put into practice seamlessly on that day. He didn’t want anyone left behind and understood the severity of the circumstance. There was no time to be wasted. My father is a natural born hero – selfless, brave and loyal. Around the tenth anniversary of the event he wrote a memoir describing his experience. It took him that long to find the words. I feel so incredibly fortunate because life without my dad is unimaginable. He is the man who has taught me everything I know about soul and style. I dedicate this post to him.
Let’s all take a moment and remember the lives lost. My heart is with their friends and family.
Here is my father’s story…..
To All My Friends and Family:
Now it’s July and I still haven’t organized my thoughts of my experiences of September 11th, 2001. This is typical me, the procrastinator, waiting to the last minute and cramming it all in. But this doesn’t have to be learned. This story is real. These are the memories that I’ve held with me for almost ten years. The events that took place at the World Trade Center and the days that followed will be with me forever.
It is hard to believe that ten years have gone by. It is a pleasure to see that friends who came to sit with Phyllis and who watched the buildings come down now have married children, and even grandchildren. My younger sister, Rhona, has a son, Jason, who is married and has a daughter. Her other son, Craig, is about to be married. My children, Jeff and Jenny, are married and with partners. I am so happy with them and pleased with their choices: Gayle and Dina. I love them both, dearly. Of course you know the two who have lit up my life, my precious Max and Zoe. There are no words to describe my feelings towards them. They have enriched my life to no end. As for Phyllis, I could not imagine going through life without her. She has given me strength, hope, love, and support. She is my best friend, companion, partner, and lover. We have never been as strong as we are today. We have been through so much together and I will love her for eternity.
So now is the time, this July morning, as I sit on this magnificent Ruby Princess sailing the Mediterranean. I am thousands of miles from home and as I watch the calm of the sea, the thoughts come.
Tuesday, September 11th, started like any other day. I was up at 6: 00 A.M. like usual, singing tunes in the shower, shining up the teeth, and searching for the right tie to go with the right suit and shirt. Out the door on this beautiful, sunny morning, I hopped into the car and revved up my engine, ready for my ride to the Oceanside Train Station to meet Andy, Joe and the boys for our trip to Midtown. What fun we had. We took our usual five-seater. We talked up some sports, argued over politics, flirted with the young girls, and laughed at our own stupidity. At Penn Station, I caught the E train to the World Trade Center where I had been working for the past 12 years. I got off the Subway, crossed the underground plaza and headed for the elevators.
Morgan Stanley was the largest company in the world trade center. There were approximately 3,800 employees working on 23 different floors of the South Tower. The company also occupied most of building five, which was also a part of the World Trade Center complex. The highest floor that Morgan Stanley occupied was the 74th. I worked on the 73rd. My title was First Vice President- Financial Advisor. That entitled me to an outside-window office. The office faced west toward New Jersey, overlooking the Hudson River. I often times would use the binoculars that my dad had given me and would view the sights of the Hudson. These sights included the tall ships that sailed the harbor such as Cruise Ships and Liners, Military Vessels, and Aircraft Carriers on weeks leading up to Memorial Day and July 4th extravaganzas. Sometimes I would just snoop around and watch the lunchtime strollers on West Street or peer at the babes near Battery Park.
My office was filled with so many mementos- great stuff! Presents and gifts from so many people. My college diplomas were on the walls as were the accolades from Morgan Stanley. But the things I cherished most were these: Paul’s stupid big cheese poster, the dartboard the Brodskys had given me, the Kelly’s tic-tac-toe game, and the picture of the Duke climbing Ebbets Field Wall. Looking right at me was the big “R” from my 50th birthday party and John’s caricature of me at the Silver Point Beach Club in the cabana with a Volleyball and a big bottle of Absolut. On my desk was my millennium 2000 snowflake music ball and of course pictures of Phyllis and the kids. Oh, those Puerto Rico pictures. Right behind me was my fire gear. After the bombing in the early ’90s, the Port Authority, which ran the World Trade Center, instituted fire drills and appointed a fire marshal for every floor. My manager asked if I would take the position. I accepted. My gear consisted of a WTC red fire safety cap, a red flashlight, and a lanyard with a whistle as well as a key to the emergency phone.
I took the express elevator to the Morgan Cafeteria on the 44th floor. I got my usual bagel and Diet Coke and then rode the local elevator to the 73rd floor to my office to start my daily routine. The next 18 minutes changed my life forever. Hell, they changed all our lives forever.
At around ten minutes to nine (8:46 to be exact), I heard an enormous explosion. I didn’t know where it came from, but I knew it was big. I sensed it was outside my building, almost an echo effect. Within seconds, I saw a fireball stream down past my window. My first thought was that it was the window cleaning machine being blown off its track, and that somehow caused the explosion. But that couldn’t be. I moved away from my desk and into the bullpen area of my office. I told the people there to move away from any windows and to move toward the center of the floor. Instinctively, I went back to my office to grab my fire gear. Getting it, I then ran to the emergency phone, which was located in the middle of the floor, not far from the elevators. There was no telling how many people were working on the floor at that time. Our office housed around 150 people, composing of brokers, support staff, and operations personnel. My guess was that about half of the workers were on the story. As I passed the center corridor, some were already leaving. They worked on the north side of the building and had seen the first plane hit Tower 1. The plane had been sticking out of the building on about the 96th floor.
Waiting on the emergency phone, which seemed like forever, I finally heard the other end of the line say, “It looks like a small craft hit Tower 1 and with the debris coming down, it’s a better idea to stay where you are.” It is easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but it seemed like that was a good call at that moment in time. Who would have anticipated what followed?
I left the phone and went back to my office to call Phyllis. The girls in her office told me that Phyllis was at an appointment. I had told them that I was ok and if they heard about the WTC, it was the other tower that was hit. I told them to tell her not to worry. David Schwartz, a friend, called me on the phone, telling me of what he had just heard on the news. I reiterated what I had just told the girls at Phyllis’ office.
A few minutes passed and I told Josh, my partner, to check around to see if anyone were in the bathrooms. I then went back to the emergency phone and again, the instructions were the same. Now it was time for me to see this small craft. As Josh and I were heading toward the north side of the building, we started to direct people to leave. “Don’t take the elevators, just the stairs!” We instructed. When we got to the north side, we looked up and couldn’t believe our eyes. This was no small craft. This was a full size jet sticking out of Tower 1 about 20 floors above us. Flames were shooting out of the hole that the impact made and debris and jet fuel were spilling onto the plaza below. Thinking, I asked myself, “Doesn’t Will work in Tower 1?”
Josh and I, again, moved through our office. Nobody was left except for Lindsey, a fellow co-worker. Seconds later, a tremendous explosion rocked our building. This huge blast happened on the 76th floor, about 3 floors above me. Little did we know it was another plane. We didn’t know where it came from exactly but we ran to the side of the floor where we thought it came from. The southeast corner of the office became a warzone. I thought to myself, “What the hell is going on?” The place where I have spent so much time and that I have taken so much pride in appeared to be under attack. Desks, chairs, and papers were thrown everywhere. The office mailroom was dismantled and smoke started to permeate everywhere. It felt like a bomb went off. Ceiling tiles were falling down, electrical outlets were sparking, and some interior walls were breaking apart. I even saw areas where fires were starting. We were in the center corridor and the need for survival overtook us.
Josh and I began to run to the other side of the floor where our office was located. One corridor was blocked off by a garbage bin. In panic, I ran right into it and tore my pants from hip to knee. Another 8th of an inch and my leg would have been gashed open, which would have lessened my chance for survival. What luck. As we passed Josh’s office, I grabbed his WTC red fire hat, went to his water cooler and doused it with water. I already had my hat and did the same. Keeping on the move, we saw Lindsey putting on what looked like an oxygen mask, one of those 15 minute survival tools. Josh asked if he had another one but there was no reply. Sprinting past Lindsey, we yelled, “Lindsey let’s get the f**k off the floor!!” Josh and I ran to the south corridor and turned to the stairway in the center corridor. Looking back, we didn’t see Lindsey.
We knew that we had to get off the floor but the emergency exit had smoke coming out of the cracks around the door. We realized that we had no choice. This was our only way to make it out. We had to try. Thinking quickly, we planted the wet watered down WTC hats against our faces and jumped down the stairs, many at a time. They were dark and smoke filled. My heart was pounding and I was afraid.
“Phyllis, my kids, my god.” There is no telling how many floors we jumped down until the smoke started to dissipate. At that point we were below the smoke. Josh and I met the backup of people coming in from lower floors. We urged them to make two lanes: one for those able to run down quickly and one for those who needed time because they were slower. Only Josh and I knew the dangers above since we came from an upper floor. Nobody cooperated. Snaking down the stairs, I thought I was going to die.
Josh was a true champ. He helped others by carrying their briefcases and pocketbooks. Audrey, our operations manager, was draped all over him. She recently had knee surgery and was struggling greatly. All 200 pounds of her and all 125 pounds of him. Macie, Lindsey’s secretary, stuck her fingernails in my arm. To this day, I can still feel the fear she had through that touch. Another girl from our office told me to stay with her forever and as she grabbed onto me, she begged, “Please don’t let me go.” It was quite an ordeal going down and I was not really sure if I were going to make it.
People were deathly afraid of what was going to happen next. Some shoving and pushing broke out as more people entered the stairway from lower levels. It took us about 35 minutes to get to the bottom of the stairs. We finally made it down and a Port Authority security guard led us out. I will never forget going through the revolving door and seeing firemen going in the opposite direction and entering this towering inferno. God, how brave and amazing these men were.
Josh and I exited and crossed the street. There was chaos everywhere and true panic in the air. Smoke and fire bellowed from both towers as glass shattered all around. I only looked up once as I saw bodies fall from the sky. Josh sat on the curb, exhausted. I was spent. He wanted to rest but I knew that this was not the place to be. I grabbed him by the shoulders, stood him up and told him that we needed to get as far away as possible. We started north toward Jeff’s apartment. “S**t, where was Jeff? Where was Jenny?” Phyllis didn’t know where I was. I couldn’t get in touch with her as my cell phone was left behind on the 73rd floor and crowds were 50 deep around the payphones. “Let’s just get away from here!” I shouted. We were a group comprised of 5 Morgan Stanley Employees: Josh, myself, Macie, a sales assistant, and of all people, my ex manager. He wasn’t even in the building and it looked like he just posed for Gentleman’s Quarterly as he always did. But I knew he was extremely frightened just like the rest of us and now needed our support. Moving north, I couldn’t even tell you what street I was on but sirens were blaring all around. The streets were a mess. People were on roofs watching and crying with dazed looks on their faces. Doorways were crowded and shops overflowed with people seeking safety.
Maybe six or eight minutes passed and then it happened. I didn’t actually see the tower fall but it was my building that collapsed first. I was in the caverns of the city streets and many buildings blocked my view. I was far enough away and luckily I was not caught in the plume of smoke, rubble, and debris of the building. People cried in horror of the moment. Faces peered out of upper floors of buildings to witness the collapse while many were on rooftops staring in amazement of what just occurred.
Josh had his cell phone and left a message for his brother in law saying that he and I were safe moving uptown. I asked him to leave a message, requesting that Phyllis be notified that I was ok. A few minutes later Josh left, heading back to his neighborhood. My ex manager left as well. I was still with the others from the office and they followed me uptown to Jeff’s apartment. “Where was Jeff? Jenny? Gayle?” Phyllis still didn’t know my fate. As I later learned, Phyllis watched the building fall on T.V. My house was filled with friends, consoling her, fearing the worst for me. She didn’t know until several hours later that I was alive and well as Josh’s brother in law was finally able to relay the message to her.
I continued uptown until I arrived at Jeff’s apartment. Fortunately, the doorman recognized me and let me in. I didn’t know how it happened but soon after, the apartment began to fill with young people. Some I knew, some were friends of the office girls, and some were strangers. The word was out that there was a safe house so people came for comfort. The crowed swelled to around 20 but we were all nice and cozy in the house on 33rd street. Jeff finally arrived, then Gayle, then Jenny. A sense of relief ensued as I saw their faces. At last I had my family by my side. The only one missing was Phyllis but I knew she was safe at home. When we talked on the phone, a while later, we both cried.
The TV was turned on immediately. It was then that I learned that Tower 2 had collapsed. It was hard to watch as the news was repeated over and over again. It became more horrible to watch each time. I asked Jeff to go out to get platters of food. A few bottles of Vodka were added to the order. Everyone needed a few, especially Rick. Marc Hudes, Gayle’s father, called. He wanted to call a pharmacy in Manhattan to prescribe Cipro- an antibiotic used to combat Anthrax in the event of an attack. I later learned that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney took doses that day. Jeff found a pharmacy, Marc called it in, and we were able to get some of the last remaining doses in the city as there was a run on the medication. Opportunely, we never had to take the pills. The crowd thinned out as evening came. Many of the men and women in the apartment were calming down and needed to be with their loved ones. Jeff and Gayle decided to remain in Manhattan, much to my displeasure. The Hudes were also unhappy that they were staying in the city. They even wanted Phyllis, me, and Jenny to come to their home in Monticello.
At around 9:00 P.M., Jenny and I left the apartment and ventured across town to Penn Station where we learned that the trains were beginning to run back to Long Island. It was eerie walking across on 34th street. It was almost as if the Earth stood still. There were no people and no traffic. Barricades lined the streets. We were alone and the only sounds we heard were the sirens from police and fire vehicles.
As we rode the train back to Oceanside, we heard people on the train reliving their experiences of the day. I couldn’t wait to get home. The visitors in my home were so happy to see me. They hugged and kissed me overwhelmingly. The story of my day was told, a story that has been told countless times and will be told many more times to come.
The days that followed were chaotic. The fear on the faces of many, the uncertainty of life, what would happen next? The most difficult day in my life came two days later when I went to see Will’s wife, Sue, and stepdaughter, Rachel. Rachel’s husband, Josh, also worked at Cantor Fitzgerald. I knew that their house was filled with friends
and family trying to console them. I had a feeling of guilt knowing that I was alive while Will and Josh were not. At the same time, I knew that Sue wanted to know my experience of Tuesday’s events and the possibility of Will’s survival.
When I entered the door, all conversation halted and silence filled throughout. It was as if everyone was waiting for my words. As I walked in, an uncomfortable awkwardness came over me. A few minutes passed and I knew it was time to speak to Sue. There was no way I could color the truth. For her and Rachel, the most unthinkable occurred. I could not bear seeing their pain as I told them what happened. They cried immensely. I held and hugged Sue as she wept. A few moments later, we parted and she went to her bedroom to lie down. I stayed a few minutes longer, spoke to others in the house, and went home to my bedroom.
I never stop thinking about Will and the terror he went through that morning in the Cantor Fitzgerald office. Lindsey also did not make it out alive that day.
The memorials and funerals went on for months. My condolences and sympathies will continue to go out to all families who lost loved ones. We should never forget our losses that day.
I am forever grateful to Jenny who was by my side the following days. She came to the city with me and helped reestablish my business. I hold dear in my office the statue of the New York City skyline and my New York City yellow taxi bank that she bought me on that Thursday as reminders of Manhattan. But really, her efforts were to start a new collection of knick-knacks in my new office so that I can begin a new chapter of my life. Jeff spoke to me constantly. His concern for my well being, even to this day, touches me more deeply than you can imagine. Phyllis was and still is my support. She is the one who saw me cry nightly as I watched on TV, over and over, the terror of the planes ramming into the trade center. It was Phyllis who consoled me, saw my pain, and cuddled me to sleep.
My office is now in Uniondale, NY neighboring the Nassau Coliseum. I work for UBS Financial Services. My team is called “The Century Group”. Josh is my partner and is still with me. He is happily married and has a baby girl. He is intelligent, bright, and is like my second son. I am always trying to instill my thoughts into him but he never listens. Steve, my other partner, is like my younger brother. I have known him for over 20 years. I know the story of his life and the love he has for his wife and his 3 daughters. He is the driver of the business. Ana and Marc are also a part of the team. They take care of me daily and it’s so unbelievably appreciated. I could not have picked a better group to be associated with.
I have replaced my lost items from the trade center. I bought a dartboard to remind me of the Brodskys. I framed Paul’s tower picture taken from the Hudson before the event. I have hung the airplane made from coke cans that the Kellys had given me. I have adorned the office with big candles and chachkas just like 2 WTC. On a glass shelf within easy reach is my red WTC fire safety cap and red flashlight.
My windows still face west and sometimes on a clear day I take out the new binoculars, that I redeemed from Coke Rewards Points, and scan the beautiful NYC skyline. I always look toward lower Manhattan hoping, but knowing that I will never see the towers again. On my desk there is my 2001 Radisson Hotel picture-paperweight. Will and Sue were with Phyllis and me on that Aruba vacation in February 2001, seven months before the attack.
As I approach this ten year anniversary of September 11th, I reflect and see all of the things I am thankful for and all of the accomplishments that have been made. To my friends, I wish you all of the things that you wish for yourselves. Take pride in what you’ve accomplished and have belief in the days ahead. Hold on to all the love, peace, and happiness that you can. It is with great pleasure, gratitude, and thanks that I am able to know all of you. I pray for you and your families to be enriched with health and happiness.
I am so proud of my children. The success in their careers, their responsibility, their maturity as independent thinkers, and their growth as productive individuals has overjoyed me. As for my Max and Zoe, there can be no brighter light for me. I can only wish for your health and happiness. You will live in my heart for eternity and my love for you will endure forever. Phyllis, the ride so far has been amazing. I look forward to seeing it continue and prosper. You have provided me with an amazing family. I am extremely proud of your accomplishments as a wife, mother, and businesswoman. As an individual, you continue to grow. You have scaled many hurdles but you are at the top of your game. You are my rock and I love you.
Let us all take a step back, reflect, and realize what we have. In this period of uncertainty, we should realize who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. No collapse of buildings, no government infighting, and no economic downturn should stop us from keeping our focus and our eye on the ball. We are a great people with great ideals and a rock solid foundation. We will continue to move forward and we will get it right.
I wish you all Peace and Love,