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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

My walk down Pennsylvania Avenue on September 11, 2001

Aug 25, 2023 11:12AM ● By James Patterson

I was getting ready to leave my office three blocks from the White House when a Washington, DC, radio morning presenter reported that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.

My first thought was that a small plane had unintentionally crashed into the internationally famous financial building in downtown Manhattan. As a former New York resident and frequent business traveler, I knew it was not uncommon for small planes to hit tall buildings.

I continued to pack up my things, a small plane being part of the image in my mind. Then the radio presenter said it was a jet. Now wait a minute! How could that be? Jets don’t fly low enough to hit the World Trade Center! 

I began to wonder if the radio report was a hoax. But then I turned on the TV and watched in horror as a second commercial jet hit the South Tower. I sat speechless at my desk. 

The next thing I remember is my office windows rattling—it was the rattle of another commercial jet hitting the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia. My office faced the Potomac River. I heard an explosion in the distance.

The radio presenters on the morning of September 11, 2001, practiced irresponsible broadcast journalism by reporting information from unidentified callers to the station. Such reports contributed to the hysteria in Washington 22 years ago. Radio presenters allowed these hoax callers to “report” on-air that the White House had been attacked. If this had happened, I likely would have been among the dead or missing due to my proximity to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. 

These hoax callers also claimed that the U.S. Supreme Court, the U.S. Capitol and the Library of Congress had all been attacked. The Library of Congress? Perhaps a disgruntled congressional librarian phoned that “report” to the radio station. 

As frightening—and annoying—as these reports were, in hindsight, I’m glad they were fake news. 

Washington’s mayor declared a state of emergency. He ordered Washingtonians to stay in their homes, but instead, I decided to take a leisurely walk down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the White House.

I saw no police that morning. Only a lone military convoy with U.S. troops sitting in the back. One troop was adjusting her listening device for her Walkman. I wondered if she was listening to the hoax reports I’d heard on the radio or a Michael Jackson tune. “Thriller,” maybe.

Washington’s streets are normally busy on a weekday morning, but the empty roads and shuttered shops gave me an eerie feeling that more horror and devastation was to come.

That morning, the silence was deceiving, just like the terrorists who boarded the jets with boxcutters and the intent to kill thousands of innocent hardworking Americans. 

Many of the first responders who went to the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, answered a heroic call. Many met their untimely deaths or soon faced disabling health conditions. All who responded were heroes trying to save the lives of their fellow Americans.

As for all of the people who never came home that day, their names are forever etched in memorials for their fellow citizens to honor and remember. My relationships with friends lost on September 11, 2001, did not end that morning 22 years ago. They never will.