I walked out into the Stars and Stripes newsroom in the National Press Building on Sept. 11, 2001, and asked what was cooking.
“Slow news day,” said a junior staffer. “And I’m sick of it.”
Minutes later a passenger jet flew into one of the World Trade Center towers …
Now I can’t be sure, but I swear to this day, I heard Matt Lauer say the air traffic controllers in the New York City area “(are) having a very bad day.”
That’s the weird stuff you remember before everything in the world as you know it evaporates in a split second.
Because we watched another huge plane fly into the other tower. Then we got word another had struck the Pentagon. That last lightning bolt came courtesy of one of our two reporters who worked in our bureau there.
Stars and Stripes is the editorially independent newspaper that serves our troops and their families overseas. A couple of years earlier I had been hired as the managing editor and we consolidated the Pacific and European papers into one S&S headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Editions would be put together from news gathered in our theaters overseas, supplemented with stateside news and sports, and then sent back out, so overseas readers could hear about their issues while finding out what was happening here.
On this day, their country was under attack and another plane was on the way, alleged to be targeting the Capitol or the White House. We were two blocks away.
But we had two reporters in the Pentagon, and we had heard from only one of them …
Then the phones stopped ringing. They were dead. A newsroom is no newsroom without phones.
I ran out of the newsroom, flew down some stairs to try to find out what the fuck was going on with the phones. Just then, I caught a glimpse of the streets outside the Press Building and stopped dead in my tracks. People were running around and screaming.
They were trying to be anywhere but where they were. Because planes were crashing out of the sky and they no doubt had heard more might be on the way …
I felt like I was in some Godzilla movie.
I found out our phone lines had been temporarily cut, and they were about to evacuate the building.
I ran back upstairs and told the receptionist that nobody was to get access to the newspaper offices. NOBODY.
Back in the newsroom, I learned that Sandra, our other Pentagon reporter, was OK. She was busy pulling bodies from the wreckage. … MY GOD.
Another plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. How many fucking planes were there?
I went back into my office and closed the door. I had to think quietly for at least five good minutes. Process madness.
Nope, a knock came at my door minutes later. An editor told me security folks were at our doors and wanted us to evacuate immediately. “Bullshit,” I said.
I told the folks who wanted us out that we weren’t budging. We had a newspaper to get out to the most important readers in the world.
And as I was telling them this, I considered for the first time the irony that our nation was under attack and many of the folks who were going to fight the evil that did this to us were actually safe for now overseas. We’re the ones who were catching hell …
We were ordered out again and I told them to go fuck themselves. I had the combination to the doors changed.
Then I got a gust of clear air … who the fuck was I to put these journalists’ lives at risk. So I called a meeting.
There were about 30 journalists in this room, and I said: “Helluva day, and if anybody wants to get the hell out of here and go home to your loved ones, nobody will think the worst of you.”
Nobody left. In fact, sometime later two more joined. They walked across the 14th Street bridge to get in — to get in when everybody else was trying to get the hell out …
So we went back to work. Hours went by, and for the time being, no more planes. Sandra was filing a story about her day. We were arriving at the slammer that would go across the front page of our European editions: “U.S. ATTACKED.”
We were working. We were processing. We were not even considering what it could all mean. We were reporting out what we knew our readers needed to know. We had finished up another edition. And another. And another. Sandra’s story came in. Charred bodies, tears, sweat, blood …
A gigantic flag adorned the Pentagon …
It was all of sudden very late and we had just put the last Pacific edition to bed. New front page slammer: “WHO ATTACKED AMERICA?”
The folks who wanted us out were telling us the last train was leaving the city in 30 minutes, midnight. I rode the Blue Line.
So we made our way to Metro Center, boarded the train and sat there staring into space. Foggy Bottom … Rosslyn … Arlington Cemetery … Pentagon …
The train made no stops at the Pentagon that night. It just slowly rolled through the heavy smoke and death.
Nothing would ever be the same again.
This article originally appeared as a Twitter thread.
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