Those who are old enough to have witnessed the horror and atrocities of the September 11 attacks on American freedom relive those moments with each anniversary. I am one of them.
I was a relative newcomer to NRA Publications in 2001, having started in March of that year. In fact, many of the same NRA employees with whom I was working back then are still colleagues. We will always share the common bond of “where were you” when we heard the news that a plane had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.
As the news broke, many of us in NRA Publications gathered around the TV located in our divisional library—a room that measures about 12 x 12 feet. We watched events unfold in real time, with the knowledge that one of our colleague’s husband, a U.S. Secret Service agent on advance presidential duty in New York City, was staying at the Twin Towers Marriott, which was located on what we today call “Ground Zero.” Holly and I had become close friends, but there was little I could do in the way of reassurance. As the day went on, her beloved husband and father to her four boys, Craig Miller, never called home. He never would. Sadly, her story ended the same way it did for 2,976 other families. I wrote about it in 2003, and I re-read it once a year, so that I don’t forget.
I also realize how close I came to losing my husband that day. A Defense Department civilian employee, his agency’s offices were situated in the innermost “A-ring” of the Pentagon, overlooking the courtyard that was at one time also ironically considered during the Cold War as “Ground Zero.” Through what I believe was divine intervention, their offices, and many others in the old faithful building were still undergoing major remodeling, thus they had been temporarily relocated to another area. A simple drywall delay re-scheduled their move-in date to October rather than the planned date of early September, buying them an extra month, and as it turned out, their lives. When American Airlines Flight 77 hit the largely empty section of the Pentagon, 125 people inside perished, but the attack was designed to murder thousands who otherwise would have been at work in these renovated offices.
I was still in the NRA library watching the news coverage when ABC news anchor Peter Jennings broke in to announce that the Pentagon was under attack. I raced to my office to see my phone’s red light on. There was a message from my husband. “We’ve been hit! Gotta go!” A simple statement that left me both relieved and terrified. Cell phone towers, overloaded and inundated by the thousands trying to reach loved ones, were jammed. Calls would not go through. I had no idea if he’d gotten out of the building or was trapped inside. The second two messages were ones I will never forget—one from my mother-in-law and one from my sister-in-law. Their messages were barely intelligible through their panicked cries. Hearing their wailing pleas for me to call them, and their pleas to God to let their son and brother be OK, was one of the most paralyzing moments of my life.
Fortunately the day had a positive end, as I was reunited with my husband during the evening of September 11. The extraordinary details of his day and how he got home that night are too many to spell out here. It’s enough that I remember them all.
One of the most profound experiences that day was my commute home. We were dismissed from work at 11 a.m., and my 60-mile drive was unlike any I have ever had before then or since then. It was quiet, but not just because my radio was off. It was polite. I was acutely aware that everyone was doing the same thing as I—trying to get home. But we were all in the same surreal stupor, a disbelief that this was actually happening. People were already hanging oversized American flags from highway overpasses, while others marched back and forth across the overpasses, waving flags and signs that contained messages of patriotism and prayer.
Several NRA colleagues were out of town on September 11, and when they realized they would not be returning to work and home via airplane, scrambled to rent cars, driving back from as far as Idaho. Within a few days of 9/11, NRA employees were called out of our offices. Hundreds of us stood in the hallways of our respective floors, overlooking the atrium that span six floors of the headquarters building, where Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre spoke to us, reassuringly. Rarely had I felt more pride as an American, and as someone who worked for an organization that represented everything for which our country stands. Then, just as Mr. LaPierre finished speaking, NRA Publications employee Myra Flemister spontaneously and loudly broke into verse a capella with “God Bless America.” The rest of us joined in, many choking back tears as we sang in unison.
As time went on, the NRA connection to 9/11 continued. The service revolver of NRA member Walter Weaver, an NYPD Officer who died doing his job that day, resides in the National Firearms Museum at NRA Headquarters. This revolver was the only tangible link to Weaver, found in the carnage of the World Trade Center. Once it was identified, the Weaver family contacted NRA to request it be displayed there.
To an extent, that day stole some of our freedoms as Americans. I have visited New York City many times since 2001, looked into the giant crater where the Twin Towers once stood, and saw the rise of the Freedom Tower and the 9/11 Memorial Museum in its place, which tells the moving stories of the thousands who died on that hallowed ground, the Pentagon and in the field in Shanksville, Pa., where those aboard Flight 93 valiantly fought incomprehensible evil.
Today we have NRA employees who were only 3 or 4 years old in September 2001. The odds of them having any real memories of that day are remote. Thus it is incumbent on those of us who lived it to ensure they know about the atrocities that millions of Americans watched that day in real time.
The usual reminders of the 9/11 anniversary—documentaries, tributes, even the live Reading of the Names of the victims—are this year being overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, civil unrest—rioting, arson, murders—especially in New York City. These circumstances makes it doubtful I will ever return there as a tourist.
But as much as those trying to silence our voices today may try, no one can take away our stories, our resolve to share what we, as individuals and as a country, lost that day 19 years ago. It’s important for everyone to tell their personal 9/11 stories, not just for the cathartic effects it has on one’s soul, but so future generations will not forget that 2,977 innocent people had their lives forcibly taken from them, which is the most ironic and unfair consequence of living in a free country. Lest we forget.