I was sitting in class at the Dunwoody Institute of Technology in Minneapolis. It was a regular Tuesday morning, and the professor was lecturing about some web development assignment. Being the not-so-studious student that I tended to be, I was chatting on AOL Instant Messenger with a friend of mine in New York City. We had met when ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games were held in Lake Placid New York, and she worked for the media company in charge of the website covering the event. She worked four blocks from the Empire State building. We occasionally chatted, talked about random stuff, and swapped e-mails back and forth. This morning was different. Around 8 a.m. (my time) she started frantically sending strange messages. “We’re under attack! New York City is under attack!” I thought she was joking. I asked her what she was talking about. “They’re flying planes into buildings! Go look on CNN!” I try to go to CNN.com, or any other news source I could think of. Nothing. The entire Internet had clogged from the sheer number of people trying to find out what was going on. It had bottlenecked to the point of shutting down almost completely. I told her I couldn’t get anywhere, so she e-mailed me a picture. It was a grainy image of a large passenger plane flying into the World Trade Center. I couldn’t believe what was happening.
My professor and my fellow classmates were oblivious to what was happening. I felt the need to say something, so I interrupted his lecture. “Mr. Haluska, I’m sorry to interrupt you but I need to tell you something. New York City is under attack. They are flying airplanes into buildings. I’m not making this up. I have a friend in New York City who I have been chatting with. They are under attack. I’m not making this up.” He didn’t believe me. He tried to check the Internet for information on what was happening. Nothing. When he said he couldn’t find anything, I carried my laptop to the front of the class and showed him the picture my friend had sent me. After that he said, “All right, everyone take a 10 minute break.” I ran downstairs to the student lounge where there was a TV. A large crowd had gathered. On the screen was the World Trade Center with smoke pouring out of it. Everyone was in disbelief.
We went back upstairs to class, and the professor attempted to get back into his lecture. My friend kept relaying information from New York City. For a while she was saying that a plane had hit the White House. It was later revealed that it had hit the Pentagon. A friend sitting next to me told me when the first tower collapsed. Shortly thereafter my friend in New York said that they were evacuating her building and she had to leave. As bits of information became available it spread around the classroom like wildfire. Eventually the professor gave up on lecturing and sent everyone home early. He said he couldn’t focus anyway and wanted to find out more information on what was going on. As we walked out to the parking lot, I said to a fellow classmate “This is fucked up man.” He replied, “Shit… you’re telling me man.”
As I drove through downtown Minneapolis, I remember staring up at skyscrapers like the IDS Tower, the Wells Fargo building, and all the other spectacular buildings that made up the skyline. Downtown Minneapolis was like a ghost town. Other than a couple city buses, I was only car on the road. All the buildings were empty, having all been evacuated earlier. I turned on my radio to 93X, and heard a short speech by Governor Jesse Ventura asking people to remain calm and cool in this difficult time.
I would spend the next five days and nights glued to the TV, living on the couch of the rundown campus house that we rented. The next day when I drove to class there were F15s circling Minneapolis. The Federal Reserve building that I drove right by every morning was now surrounded by concrete barriers. To uparmored suburbans were parked on the perimeter. There were men in suits and dark sunglasses carrying fully automatic machine guns.
Nothing had hit me quite like this. I was another naïve, bulletproof, twenty-something college kid. Nothing affected me in my world. Before 9/11 history was only in the past. Now I was living it.
Shortly before the two-year anniversary of 9/11, I walked to an unfamiliar armory in Rochester, Minnesota. I found my way into a Master Sergeant’s office (the recruiters were both out), sat down and said, “Sell me.” I made him give me the whole pitch. It didn’t matter what he said though. He didn’t have to sell me. The terrorists of 9/11 had already sold me. I was joining the military. Two days short of the two year anniversary of 9/11, I signed on the dotted line.
As Paul Harvey used to say, “And now you know the rest of the story. Good day.”