by Mark S., Modesto, California
Hard to imagine 10 years has passed since that fateful day. Seems like yesterday for us, and always will be. It had proven otherwise to be a wonderful summer vacation. One memorable point was en route back to California, we’d just got done seeing friends and family near St Louis, and got back onto I-80 just east of Omaha. Just then the radio station started playing an old Bob Seger favorite of mine, Turn the Page … opening up with the words, “On a long and lonesome highway, east of Omaha …”
Little did I realize those words would be etched in my memory forever in the next 12 hours … it was 10:30pm local time, and it was to be the last night of Peace as we knew it … and for 17 hours the next day, we would have no idea what hit us, who hit us, or even why …
Upon waking up that morning, we decided to go get some coffee. It was quite the vacation, clear to NYC, my son’s first time, and he loved it. Even met some old friends, Mike Arnold and Jerry Dominguez then at Port Authority PD. Jerry showed my son around the places and it was one for the books.
We’d wished we got the chance to go up into the WTC, but it was Sunday, and the best times to go up were Tuesday and Wednesday, so that was out, as I was already late to get my son enrolled in high school, his freshman year, too. We were out of time, so headed home then.
We really weren’t too concerned with the dazed and confused looks on everyone faces that morning … at least at first.
We just thought they were strange locals, and nobody uttered a word. Little did we know at that moment we were about to get a rude shock.
As we took off, my son, Dave turned on the radio … man, we thought the Bob & Tom Show was one sick joke, claiming the WTC had just collapsed.
I had Dave change the station – I wasn’t up for any sicko BS that early on, as I thought it very poor taste.
What we soon found out was, it was on every single station … suddenly, it sobered us up … fast. Realizing this wasn’t a joke, my son looked at me with that 1000-yard stare, scared to death, repeating “Dad? DAD!”
I took over, same thing … every station was the same voices.
I kept trying to reassure him it was ok. Somehow … it HAD to be ok. It was the last thing we needed. We almost wished our semi-denial wasn’t unfounded … somehow.
Hearing reports of a total FAA ground-stop I looked as if to verify there wasn’t a vapor trail in the sky, where normally it’d be filled with them flying cross-country, corroborating the FAA reports.
Few vehicles were on the road at all…and many more military vehicles than normal were out. I knew we were at war, but never dreamed how close, or deadly serious, it had become. We just weren’t ready for what we were about to see that day.
By then I had been flying at 90+mph, so much so that the overdrive kept cutting out on me at 95 … and knew I’d have to gas up soon. It took us to the WY state line to realize we’d need breakfast, and gas. All I knew was “get home! … now!” But home was 1200 miles away, such as it was, and we knew we had to get back there.
On approach to Cheyenne, I saw something I thought I’d never see…going by some of Warren AFBs missile silos scattered about the area, some close to the highways, and seeing them OPEN! Yes, the sliding block concrete slab had been moved away from the hatch. Right then I knew the President was in the “snap count.”
“My God! They’re actually going to do it,” I’m thinking. And I didn’t even know why … yet. I thought, my son, deserving a long and rich life, wasn’t going to get it. I tried so hard not to cry. I had to keep it together.
Still, I got gas at the TA truck Stop in Burns, just east of Cheyenne, but paused long enough to see the TV screen, along with the mass crowd of truckers standing in stunned silence next to me, and watching the towers falling on replay. Dave didn’t even want to see it – I was simply transfixed. The towers we just saw the other day were blasted off the face of the Earth – it seemed to defy logic of the possible … but it happened.
One cause for some relief-no missiles flew yet, so I knew someone had the sense to at least put it on hold, maybe get their bearings, and just what was going on, before resorting to it.
I didn’t stop for the next gas-up until Evanston WY, right at the Utah line … still watching TV screens when I could as we ate & ran like hell. We made Salt Lake by 7pm, getting dark but long enough to see what radio reported as military convoys headed for the airport. Above I could see 2 fully loaded F-16s escorting a KC-10 tanker, and the airport, with all the civilian planes pushed to the east side, were loaded up with an entire squadron of B-52s on the west tarmac, waiting for the convoys, which turned out I saw the codes on their crates – they were nuclear weapons bound for the bombers, waiting, lights on & flashing. The radio said not to interfere with them or we’d be shot…they blazed past us at 100mph, so I stayed well out of their way. Obviously, there was still a chance things would fly … I knew they would, as I knew the process. They’d fly on order.
I saw my son trying not to cry-he was just 14 … I reassured him things would be ok, that I’d never let anything happen, and reminded him we were well out of the cities and harm’s way, should worse come to worst. I wasn’t sure what else to say that would prove better comfort for him.
If he hid his grief, he fooled me well – it seemed as if my talk helped. All I knew was we had another 750 miles to go, so I knew I wouldn’t make it home tonight-maybe tomorrow afternoon.
By the time the days adrenalin calmed down, it was 2am local time, and we made it to Winnemucca NV, calculating in my head, another 350mi past SLC, 176mi from Reno, and 376 miles from home-it was all I could do being in combat mode … after 1300 miles nonstop.
We got a room, it made Dave feel safe, even for the time being-that was critical, especially at that moment in time. Bad enough at the time I’d just gotten him after a nasty custody battle, now this … My God, I thought – how the hell was I gonna get us through all THIS?
Now our nation was at war, too. Nobody needed to tell me that one.
Every possibility was flying through my head … wondering what hit us, who hit us, and why … moreover, why do this to my son, why mess up his world? The usual million things ran through my mind … was it something I did, or didn’t do right? … was God mad at me? or did he let this happen for a reason?… I got to the point where even the absurd wasn’t beyond consideration.
Too tired to think, but too keyed to sleep … I stayed up until 5am watching in total disbelief the day’s events, over and over. I watched until I couldn’t keep my eyes open further.
During the whole time, I began pleading with God … if he wanted me, to take ME, don’t take my son, should it come to that, His will be done. Turns out, he took neither.
Then, for some reason I cannot explain to this day, as I prayed … perhaps for some absolution from whatever it was that brought this on, and for aid and comfort for families of those who didn’t make it … this feeling came over me, warmth, comfort, serenity … even courage, as if a gentle hand touched my shoulder, being reassured somehow that things will be ok. I just wished I could’ve known how at the time.
Well, at least I knew that, for now, no nukes went off, and we were in one piece. It was all we had to hold onto-to go on … and for the moment, that was all we needed. Dave surprised me when he woke for a moment, knew my hurt, grief, and dilemma, and told me “Dad, it’s ok … hey, even if something bad happens, at least we made it this far together.”
He has a knack for saying the right thing at the right time … he knew we were just getting things back to some normalcy for our own family before this, as it would be a tough road alone, apart from today’s nightmare … and was glad for what we did have … the eternal optimist, he seemed.
I didn’t know why, but I knew there was a purpose for it all. It also didn’t help when we found Jerry had died at the WTC, and Mike explained it all to us the next year, when we went back to pay our respects … He died doing what he loved to do, being a cop – that just tore Dave up. He’d only met him just a month before. Mike barely survived, and now graying early … I can see why.
But all that would come soon enough … as I still had no idea who hit us by nightfall, as nothing was really clear …
For now, I was relishing that peaceful moment.
The peaceful moment, albeit short-lived, helped me fall asleep just when I needed it most – and didn’t wake until 10am, when we took off for the final leg home … and see what we had to work with to survive this round, but I knew somehow, we’d make it.
“Failure is not an option.” I’ve learned, especially now.
But for my son, it was his Pearl Harbor … he grew up a lot that day, as well as going through a custody battle, so he’d been through a lot.
It was also both our Day of Days …