9/11 Remembered

(Portions appear in “Courier-Post” – Sept. 11, 2011) [To comment: larry@larrylitwn.com]

While the timeline may be a bit off, the accounts of that Tuesday morning are as vivid as if it were yesterday:

I was recently asked to recall where I was and what I was doing on Sept. 11, 2001. I did a brain dump, refined it and here it is:

While the timeline may be a bit off, the accounts of that Tuesday morning are as vivid as if it were yesterday:

I left my Cherry Hill home just before 8:30 to arrive at Rowan University about 9 a.m. As usual, I took Evesham Avenue toward Delsea Drive. As was my norm back then, I was listening to (Don) Imus in the Morning on WFAN. In those days, the program was seldom serious.

While the time on the clock may be hazy, I know exactly where I was – the intersection of Delsea Drive and Lambs Road (Trim Rite Meats) in the Hurffville section of Washington Township – when Imus interrupted his own program to put vacationing sportscaster Warner Wolf on the air live. Wolf lived on an upper floor of a high rise in Lower Manhattan a short distance from the World Trade Center (WTC).

Wolf told Imus listeners his wife had heard a plane flying low over their building. He said she then saw what she thought was a small plane hit one of the towers. He was describing that first tragic event when his voice rose: “Another plane is heading toward the towers.” It hit precisely at 9:03 a.m. As I was parking my car, I called home and excitedly told my wife to turn the TV on. Seconds later, I walked into the building housing the college of communication. About a dozen students were watching the in-house TV in the lounge area.

It was tuned and locked into a closed circuit station. I instructed students to find the person with the pass code to change the station and informed anyone and everyone who would listen about the awful, unbelievable events of the previous 20 minutes. Within minutes we had one of the networks on the TV.  As the crowd grew, students and staff stood in stunned — almost silent — disbelief .

Later that day, several colleagues informed me that their first impression of me as I walked into the building and took control of the situation was that the story I was telling was so incredulous and unbelievable they thought I was suffering a nervous breakdown. They said that while I was composed (my former radio reporter [KYW Newsradio] instincts had taken over), no one could fathom what I was saying especially when I insisted – in a loud tone – that the TV channel be changed.

Some side notes as I reflect on that day:

  •  I remained in what was then Bozorth 31 with the TV on. I “held” my classes and invited any students to join us to watch and discuss and counsel each other. It was cathartic in a way. I felt it better to be in a group than have students back in their dorm rooms alone.

One student, I knew well, was nearly hysterical. She said her cousin, who was like a brother to her, worked at the WTC and was unaccounted for. We did our best to console her and soon a number of her classmates, from our student group the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), took over as best they could. In the end, the young man perished and to make matters worse, her grandmother died upon learning of her grandson’s death. I send the former student Jillian Tota Watson, now of Cherry Hill, a note every September 11. (To this day, I wear an American flag on my umpire shirt with Jillian’s cousin’s name Jack D’Ambrosi Jr. and that of Jeremy Glick. As a high school umpire, it is my way of showing that I will never forget.)

  •   When I heard about the plane flying into the pentagon, I called my son who was working at the Federal Reserve in DC. There was no answer at his office and all cells were busy. I started fielding calls from family and friends asking if I had heard from Adam. It wasn’t until mid afternoon that he called to say he was safe and had walked home across a bridge from DC to his Virginia neighborhood and someone was kind enough to pick him up and give him a “lift.”
  •   As my class day drew to a close, several colleagues walked into that same lobby, now relatively empty. They had with them four large boxes containing huge TVs. They had decided that never again would we experience a major story and not have immediate access to the four TV networks. Naturally, it was my hope that never again would we experience a story of such magnitude.

(Final side note:) As a co-chair of the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association annual dinner, we chose to honor all of the 9/11 responders as our “Team of the Year” and with our prestigious “Most Courageous” award. It marked only the second time in the Association’s 100-year history that a nonathlete was named “Most Courageous,” the other time being the World War II servicemen and women.

[To comment: larry@larrylitwin.com]