We were on our way to Disney World to celebrate my youngest’s first birthday. We left Dayton, OH early that morning and landed at Newark around 8 a.m. After we arrived at our departure gate, we went to find drinks/breakfast for everyone. On our way back, I remember looking out the window and remarking to my husband, “That looks like the Empire State Building.” (At this point, I had no idea we were so close to NYC.) As we got a little closer to the end of the terminal, we could see a large crowd gathering around the windows. The first tower had just been hit. We could see the smoke billowing from the building.
At this point, we had no clue as to whether this was an accident or intentional. Seeing the second tower hit a few minutes later seemed to answer this question for us. From somewhere overhead, an announcement was made that all flights were “delayed”; shortly afterwards, that was amended to “canceled.” It shames me to remember that my initial reaction was a selfish thought of how our vacation had been ruined. I think at that point, all I could really think about was *my* family and how the events had immediately impacted us. All I knew was what I could see from my vantage point across the river; I had no news coverage or commentary to tell me anything more.
We had nothing to do but stand/sit and watch until the loudspeakers boomed once more, announcing the evacuation of the airport. We joined a mass exodus to the airport grounds, carrying/pulling our carryon luggage, including a large carseat. We had 2 kids in arms and 2 walking, and we were trying desperately to keep an eye on the 2 walking so that we wouldn’t get separated, when we heard a voice next to us say, “Don’t worry, I’ll make sure they don’t get lost.” A very nice gentleman could see we had quite a bit to handle and helped us keep the kids close by us on the trek outside.
Once outside, we sat on the ground for what seemed an eternity. I have no clue how long it was; it may have only been an hour or so. However long it was, we were finally told that we couldn’t stay there indefinitely, but that everyone had to leave the airport grounds. To say the situation was stressful was an understatement. Here we were in a strange city at least 600 miles from our home… and we needed to find a way back. The lines for buses were horrendous, the taxi lines even more so. Brian noticed a man with a sign that said, “limo” on it and asked the man if he had room for us. He asked us what we needed, and we told him we needed to find a rental van or a place to stay for the night. He said he could help us with that. So began our introduction to Reggie Jackson.
It turns out that Reggie was a retired NYPD officer. He led us to his Mercedes sedan and loaded our things into the trunk. He drove us to one rental place, which wanted $200 for a van that they wanted returned to that office the next day. We really didn’t want to stay in Newark… we wanted to get *home*. He drove us to yet another place (it seemed to take forever) and waited while Brian talked with the rental agents there. We were able to get a reasonable rate there (and a van we could actually drive to OH, rather than just around Newark), and Reggie helped load our things. He’d spent at least 3 hours with us by this time. When Brian asked him how much we owed him, Reggie said, “$20.” We were overwhelmed at his generosity, and thankfully we were able to get him to take a little bit more than that. I think we count Reggie as our 9/11 hero. Things certainly would have turned out a little differently without him.
We only made it to Western PA that evening before stopping for the night. There were detours because of supposed bomb threats on bridges. We were still not sure of everything going on. Somehow I think that hearing the news on the radio was different than actually seeing it on television. We made it back to Dayton the following evening. Our luggage made it there that weekend. We weren’t sure when we’d attempt air travel as a family again… we bought our luggage-totin’ Yukon XL on the 20th of September.
Brian’s leave was canceled and he went back to work at the base hospital on Thursday. We were thankful that he wasn’t deployed anywhere until much later; he spent 3 months in Oman that next March through June. By the next year, our family is flying together again.
5 years later, we remember the day we all wish had never happened.