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Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 7

by  BobCurby

Posted: Saturday, January 5, 2008
Word Count: 3327
Summary: Where were you on Sept 11th 2001? This chapter relates my feelings and reactions to that catastrophic day, especially as I thought my son was on the Boston flight (UA271).
Related Works: Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 1 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 2 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 3 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - CHAPTER 4 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 5 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie - Chapter 6 • Let Sleeping Lions Lie {SUMMARY/ SYNOPSIS} • 

Chapter Seven – Down Came the Sky

I was weary from my long drive to Swansea. The M4 has no real interest to a traveller, and once over the Severn Bridge and wanting to get to Swansea, I found it a tedious journey. I was glad to arrive at the Marriott hotel down by the harbour and to get my things out of the car. It took only a few minutes to check in and I was soon up on the 7th floor.

I looked out of my room at the harbour below and sipped the hot chocolate I had made a few minutes earlier and wondered what would be the outcome of my visit to this bustling city; would I get everything done in time? I had only booked into the hotel for one night as I was off to Cardiff the next evening and would have to check out after breakfast. I watched the last glow of the September sun slip below the horizon, my thoughts went to my eldest son who had left for the USA the previous day to start his twenty one day holiday. I was thinking that he would be flying from Heathrow to either New York or Boston with United Airlines, and then on to Los Angeles, before finally landing in Honolulu, Hawaii. I could not help envying him out there in the hot sun, scuba diving in the Pacific, surfing and going to ‘Luau’ parties in the evening. I held that thought as I flopped onto the bed and was soon asleep.

Morning came and I was soon out of the hotel; placed my luggage into the car, and walked into the Town Centre. It was a warm sunny morning, about 8:30 a.m., September 11th, 2001, and I was looking forward to the day’s business ahead. Lots of people were in the town centre all nodding and smiling. Not one of them would ever forget that day, a date that the world has come to know like no other date in history!

I finished the operation early and thus walked away from the city centre at just after 2:00 p.m. that day; there was a lot of activity around one of the very big buildings nearby, sirens were sounding and police cars were speeding across the city centre. People came pouring out of the building. My mobile phone buzzed as it vibrated, I glanced down. The text message was from my office, it said “Get away from any large Government Buildings and out of City area.”
“Government building - Bomb Threat!” I thought to myself and hastened to my car outside the hotel – I wanted to get out of Swansea before it ground to a halt.

In a few moments I was driving out towards the M4 motorway and flicked on the radio. At that moment, the sky fell in on me, the news that a United Airlines aircraft from Boston, bound for Los Angeles had crashed into the World Trade Centre hit me like a sledgehammer. I couldn't stop, I was by now on the M4, heading for Cardiff. Quickly I reached out to my mobile phone in its dashboard holster, and against safety rules, I pressed the ‘1’ key to autodial home. Using the handsfree option I heard the ringtone through my car stero; the microphone was on my sunvisor. There was nobody at home and all I heard was my own voice on the answering machine, telling me no-one was in.

I spoke slowly, trying not to let my emotions effect my voice, “Hi, it’s me; I have just heard the terrible news that an aircraft has hit the World Trade Centre. Don’t know if it was an accident or not. Please find out Joe’s flight number on UA and confirm that he wasn’t on that one – ring me back in half an hour”.

I terminated the call and I concentrated hard on driving to my next hotel in Cardiff, which seemed to take forever. It was just twenty five minutes later that, after checking, in I rushed to the room and immediately turned on the television. I switched on my laptop, connected to the telephone port and sent an e-mail to my son’s friend in New Jersey asking for information. Before my eyes I saw the horror that millions were now seeing unfold on the TV screens. There had been a second aircraft hit while I was driving up, and I watched now, live as the two huge towers collapsed. I did the same, in a heap on the floor, sobbing at the shock of the tragedy.

I lay face down, screwing up the shag pile rug into my face, my breath came in gasps between huge sobs. What if Joe was on UA271, he was a young man, looking forward to a wedding in the next year, with all of his life ahead of him? I could not at that time even think about what we would do if he was one of the passengers on that aircraft. As I watched the horror continue, a feeling of dread and despair began to engulf me. I began to think about all the little things he did as a child that made him our Joe, and how proud he'd been when he first rode a bicycle. I thought about how many times we had watched our favourite football team win, and the trips to the Formula One Grands Prix. I remembered too the harsh words I had spoken to him just the day before he left, I had regretted them the minute I said them, it hurt to think I may never get a chance to say I'm sorry.

A sudden ‘blip’ sound from the laptop alerted me to an e-mail arriving. Immediately I struggled to my feet. I leaped to the table and clicked onto the ‘inbox’, It was from Joe, my son. He was already in Hawaii and had woken up to this tragedy. He wanted to assure the family of his safety and had rushed to a cyber café to log onto the Internet. He went on to explain that he had not flown via Boston or New York, but direct from London to Los Angeles, and had been in his hotel for nearly eighteen hours already. There is no way to describe the feeling knowing that someone you thought may have gone forever is safe. I was still sobbing, I couldn't work out whether this was relief, or still shock. Just seeing his words there on the screen, knowing that he was safe was almost euphoric; whilst I felt such compassion for those whose relatives were on the two aircraft or in the buildings, I could not help a leap for joy.

Then the phone rang, it was Sara, she was beside herself, said that the airlines were not releasing any information. I quickly assured her that Joe was o.k. and safely in his hotel in Hawaii. Although there was a brief silence on the other end of the line, I knew she was so happy to hear that. There was a slight shake in her voice as she spoke again, “I wish he hadn't gone! I won't be happy until I know he’s home!”
“I know, sweetheart”, I replied, “We are amongst the lucky ones – there could be as many as 7,000 people in those buildings, not to mention those on the aircraft. You know, we have some of our own people on the 110th floor, oh what a tragedy.”

We talked for a few minutes more, and then I rang my office and spoke with one or two there who were equally stunned even though they had only heard the very basic details. I later learned that the building in Swansea that had hit the panic button was indeed a government building, possibly the DVLA, who had obviously been advised to evacuate just in case there was an escalation within the UK mainland.

Nothing I had experienced in my past could equate to this global tragedy that had struck at the very heart of New York, the biggest city on the North American continent. I had many friends in that city, some of whom were fire fighters who I later learned had lost their lives in that tragedy. As I looked at the unfolding events on the television, I knew that this was going to start a huge retaliatory ripple as it was becoming firmly established that these were no accidents but part of a deliberate attempt to hit the USA where it hurts.

“Whoever is behind this is going to regret that they ever thought of it” I said to myself, and seconds later the US President, George W Bush, said almost the same words, but referred strongly to the ‘act of terrorism’. It was compulsive viewing, I could not switch off the television, and I fell asleep with it on, waking up at odd times during the night and absorbing more of the unfolding news. Although tired, I set off to do the day’s business I was sent to do in Cardiff, and like many, had to try and put the tragedy in perspective and get on with the business at hand. That night I slept very badly, disturbed by nightmares and flash backs to events of my more recent past. Seeing such an act of terrorism awakened visons in my mind.

It brought back memories I had tried, with some success, to bury in my memory, until now. During the night I awoke with a start, in a heavy sweat, vivid images played about me as if seeing them on a huge screen, of windows exploding and flying glass going everywhere. I was remembering a bomb in Bristol, alleged to have been planted by a member of the IRA. It was early evening and I was at that time working for a government department, and on training at one of the buildings in the city centre. My lodgings were in Clifton, and I was walking back there when I stopped to look at a three-piece suite in a shop window, it was leather and a very solid construction. I wanted one just like that, and had promised Sara that one day soon I'd be able to afford one. I sighed and walked on up the steep pavement. No more than thirty or forty paces had passed under my feet when the bomb exploded, throwing me to the ground and showering me with debris, including pieces of leather from the suite. I remember getting up from the ground, and stumbling off into the darkness. How I managed to arrive at my lodgings I cannot say, but I was dazed and traumatised when I got there, and nearly naked. Later the Police were calling for eye-witnesses and I gave what little help I could, which at least established the exact time of the detonation. However, there was no car or van parked anywhere in the road so I couldn't give much help in that direction. I had mentally buried that event and got on with my life. Now it came back to haunt me with a vengeance.

On more than one occasion after that day in Bristol, I had been in London and either just left, or not yet arrived at, the location of a bombing. I remembered the shock of driving through the traffic in Knightsbridge when Harrods, a well known West End shop, had been bombed, and I was then close enough to feel the rush of air, see the shop front blow out and hear the deafening sound.

Yet again I recalled the terror of being blown backwards down the stairs by hot air from the Mulberry Bush bomb as I was making my way out of New Street Station in Birmingham. I had just journeyed up from Banbury on the train and the last thing I expected was to be part of the bomb attack. I fell down a flight of stairs and lay for some time in a semi-conscious state. No-one came to my aid, they had far more serious injuries to cope with six metres above me at street level.

As I looked back at these events I reached a crescendo of emotion. My eyes were wide and my nostrils flaring; air was being gulped in and blown out by my heaving chest. I looked down at my palms, they were sweating, I could feel my heart thumping and the adrenalin flowing. It took all my inner strength not to jump out of the window and run yelling across the lawn of the hotel.

I sat up, looked at my watch, it was 2:00 a.m. on September 13th, 2001 and I was not feeling very happy with the world around me. After turning on the television, I filled and switched on the kettle and flicked to a news channel. The newscasters appeared as if revelling in the boost to their ratings, trying to appear shocked and horrified and speak solemnly about the unfolding events. There was a representative of the US Senate revealing who intelligence sources thought was behind it all, and producing pictures of him and others who they were sure were pilots etc. I listened with interest as facts were given, explanations and findings offered and theories expounded.

I wrote in my diary that early morning “The suspect is a man who attended University at Oxford, England, he was then trained and funded by the West and sent to a country with boundaries on the USSR, Afghanistan, to help push the communist elements back out of the area and set up a working pro-West government. I perceive that if this man DID mastermind this tragedy, then he did not stay in that country to watch it unfold. Anyone in his position would have packed their bags on September 10th and, using the wealth the USA says he has, flown to somewhere like one of the many islands in the Maldives and gone to ground. I doubt he is in any of the countries nearby either.” I noted the time as 06:20 a.m.

A few weeks later I would look back at that diary note, when the US bombers had devastated every area that the wanted man could be in Afghanistan, a statement to the press admitted that he wasn’t there, and the US spokesman was not able to suggest where he might be; I would then think back to my diary note and wonder if they would ever catch the suspect. I began philosophising on the human nature and decisions of mankind. In a world full of turmoil when logic does not seem to dictate any direction, politicians and others in power seem to make decisions that the man in the street cannot fully grasp. Sadly, the man in the street sometimes can see the error of the direction being taken by the ones in power, but yet has no way of preventing the inevitable. In my philosophical way this certainly appeared to be one of those instances.

As I contemplated the events of September 11th 2001 I wondered how it seemed so logical to me that the course of action being taken by those seeking revenge for the attack was going to end in heartache and fruitless achievement.

I had a logical mind and working as I had done for many years in an analytical arena, I could see what would have been effective and less costly to all sides involved. I had mentioned my thoughts to one or two people and received a warning to keep those thoughts to myself. I thought back to my teen years when I had on several occasions seen a better route to the satisfactory conclusion of delicate problems and had almost predicted the disaster that had befallen the ones taking the route I mentally condemned. No, I was not a prophet or a soothsayer, a predictor of doom, but rather just someone who thinks on his feet and seems to make good judgements on critical matters when it’s needed.

As I reflected on the events of the previous 36 hours or so, I sat staring out of my hotel at the wide bay before me and thought about the way I would choose if I was making the decisions. Well, bombing a country would not have been my first choice, nor would granting authority to the one time rebel guerrillas be my option. I knew that my instinct would involve a little more thought, preparation and use of military intelligence, all the while saying nothing to the press or any media. Oh certainly, statements would be of the nature that would serve to assure the populace that a “net was being woven”, but admitting that no clues were yet found to establish the perpetrator of the terrorist acts. I knew that just as it was initially reported that the intelligence services had no idea terrorist organisations were planning the tragic attacks, so the suspects should not be aware that anyone had the slightest idea that they even existed, until it was too late to prevent themselves from being caught. Learning later that many in intelligence positions knew about the pending attack I wondered why they had not gone down this route inside of the ‘bull in a china shop’ approach.

I sighed, it was all too late now for anyone to think that way or go down the ‘softly softly’ route, and I was just a face in a crowd, saddened by the events that had happened and the events that followed. It occurred to me then that this may have been masterminded by someone in the US, just like the Kennedy assassination and the attacks on Afghanistan and others might be just a diversion to keep the world from thinking about that possibility. I turned, took the last sip of the coffee I had made, and got back into bed and was soon asleep again.

When I would look back, within just a few months, my instincts would prove to be right about the alleged mastermind as the bombing and overthrowing of the government of a country deemed to be hiding the suspect also achieved nothing.

Morning came and I checked out before heading up into the ‘valleys’ to conduct the business of the day. It was fine weather with very warm sunshine, didn't seem in the least like early Autumn. I managed to put out of my mind the events of the last few days, and had put my analytical mind once more into the job I was paid to do. As the day’s business concluded, I said my farewells and returned to my car, without any thoughts on the world events. I drove home to be with my wife and daughter, and logged into the Internet to see what my son had to say. For a short while we had a conversation over the ‘net’ and then I went to bed as Joe was about to set off for a day’s diving. Sara was still working, not returning home until about midnight from the hotel she worked at, when I placed my head on the pillow, glad to be back home once more.

Like many people around the globe, the past few days would be in my mind for a long time, my dreams came and went as I tossed about and eventually kicked off the bedclothes, so that when Sara came in I was once again awake and feeling cold. I got up and joined her in the kitchen for a hot drink. She too had been listening to the hotel guests all talking about the past few days and the horror of terrorism. Neither of us wanted to talk about it, just to hold each other and be thankful for our own position.

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