Many of us remember exactly what we were doing the moment we heard that U.S. was under attack on September 11, 2001. I was in my fourth year as a consultant. The day before I had put my pregnant wife and oldest son on a flight from Washington, D.C. to Dallas while I traveled to Ottawa to work with a client. We had just spent the weekend enjoying my Naval Academy class 10-year reunion. We had toured Washington on Sunday including sites near The Pentagon. September 11, 2001, was a Tuesday.
My job that day was to support a team of consultants conducting employee surveys of more than 8,000 Bell Canada employees across a number of Canadian sites. The site to which I was assigned included customer service employees on the 18th and 19th floors of a building downtown that sat across from Centre Block on Parliament Hill. I had been surveying employees for about two hours when I started to hear rumblings of something happening in the states. During a short break, I wandered to the break room just in time to see the second plane hit on live television. To say it was surreal is an understatement.
I returned to my duties – I had a job to do. Over the next hour, the streets of Ottawa filled with police and people. People were streaming out of buildings. All non-essential businesses were ordered to close and evacuate the capital. That did not apply to Bell Canada as telephone service was an essential business. The 18th and 19th floors of the office building, perhaps the tallest building in Ottawa, were the only occupied floors in the building by noon. I continued surveying employees throughout the day – stopping by the break room occasionally to catch a news report. Honestly, after seeing the city empty from where I was on the 18th floor and considering what I had just witnessed on television, I don’t remember much about the rest of the day.
I do remember walking back to my hotel across the river in Hull at the end of the day. The streets were quiet – no cars, no people, nothing. Looking back I can only assume everyone was at home absorbed with the news of the day’s events, and dealing with the uncertainty of what it all meant. I had called home earlier in the day and remembered discussing how we would handle this with our three-year-old son. I called again once I got back to the hotel and then found myself absorbed in the news coverage. I prayed. I cried. I considered whether I should return to active duty. I never felt more American than I did after that event.