Memories and Lessons of September 11, 2001

God Bless America

Sometimes stretching right now is not a choice. But with the realization that it’s not what happens to us but how we deal with what happens to us that makes or breaks us, stretching right now is often the key to success. Country singer Alan Jackson asks in his hit song, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)?”

I was speaking the morning of September 11, 2001, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to a citywide early-morning leadership breakfast, sponsored by the local chamber of commerce and the Health Care Hospital community. When I concluded my remarks, I was whisked to the airport to catch my flight to JFK airport in New York to catch my nonstop flight home to Salt Lake City. We boarded our Delta Airlines jet and taxied out only to be immediately turned around and hurriedly sent back to the gate. We were then firmly asked to get off quickly and to remain in the gate area.9-11-towers

When we re-entered the waiting room, television news was reporting the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. While we were standing there, the second plane hit the other tower, soon to be followed by the attack on the Pentagon. Delta’s ticket counter is next to the United Airlines counter, and soon the six United employees were in tears upon hearing the news of United Flight 93 being hijacked and crashing into Somerset, Pennsylvania, not far from Allentown.

I was taken back to my hotel, where I desperately tried to rebook a flight, rent a car, catch a bus, or take a train. However, the entire county’s mass transportation system was shut down until further notice. Stranded with the burning desire to be back home with my family, I phoned a national trucking company called England Trucking, headquartered in Salt Lake City. I talked to the dispatcher to see if he had a driver going west. He called me back and said I was in luck—that a driver would meet me in the lobby in twenty minutes.

Like clockwork, a truck cab pulled up outside. Disappointed, I asked him where the trailer was. After all, I thought that a childhood fantasy was about to come true: “E911-cloudsighteen-wheeler, roll on, roll on. This is Beaver Cleaver checking for Smokey Bears. I read you, Pork Sausage, come on.” So I asked him what was going on. He laughed, and we drove thirty minutes to Hershey, Pennsylvania, where we hooked up to a huge trailer loaded with 43,000 pounds of Hershey Chocolate Bars.

Suddenly I didn’t mind if we crashed or ran out of gas! Our route took us 76 south to I-70 west, and in the next 2½ days, we drove 2,640 miles across America the beautiful! I had never seen America this way, and with no airlines flying or trains running and with F-15 and F-16 fighter jets patrolling the skies, I would never experience anything like it ever again.

Our route took us past Somerset, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 had crashed over the mountain, and I wondered if I would have stepped up. Would I have given my life, said, “Let’s roll,” and put up a fight to save another building and thousands of lives from being destroyed? Do I911-Rescue Workers have what it takes, and is my life in order to be a hero?

The long drive took us past Terre Haute, Indiana, where Timothy McVeigh had been in prison and executed for his terrorist Oklahoma City bombing. It was then that it hit me that McVeigh had attended a Christian church in his youth and was a war veteran. He had forgotten that America is not people or buildings but rather an ideal? Yet he had attacked that which allowed him his freedoms in the first place.