Labor Day weekend 2001 was a beautiful, late summer day. For Washington, DC it was especially nice because it was not too hot or humid. Our little military community had a neighborhood block party. It was bring your own meat and a dish to share. Boo was almost 3 years old and Pumpkin Girl was 8 months old. It was a good day.
I would later remember it as the last normal weekend.
We actually didn’t live on a base, but in a residential gated community that had been leased by the Navy and Air Force. We weren’t far from Andrews Air Force base and most of our neighbors were stationed at Bethesda Naval hospital or at the Pentagon.
Phil was stationed at the Pentagon, too. His office was in the section being renovated that was behind schedule. When he started his job there a month earlier they were supposed to move in to their new offices in September. For the time being, they were in a building not far from the Pentagon. He grumbled good-naturedly about construction delays.
I remember watching a Jackson and Perkins show on QVC that morning, shopping for fall bulbs for our yard. While transitioning from one product to another, the host said that they just wanted to acknowledge the events going on in New York and that their thoughts and prayers went out to those who’d been hurt. I hadn’t heard anything yet so I clicked over to the Today Show.
As I watched I don’t think the enormity of it all really sunk it. It was sort of surreal. As they switched over to the White House being evacuated, the phone rang. It was Philip calling to tell me that he was ok.
“Of course you are! You’re not in New York, ” I said.
“Yeah, but the Pentagon just got hit,” he informed me.
“What? They’re not saying anything about that on the news. They’re evacuating the White House, though.”
“No, a co-worker saw a plane crash into the Pentagon.”
And that’s when it was picked up by the news.
I remember that it had been a really beautiful day then, too. The neighborhood was quiet, even as the children returned home early from school. I kept the news on and went about with my day with my children as usual. We had lunch, I put them down for their naps. As I was coming back down the stairs, Philip entered the door. He had walked from his office, down the empty highway, past the burning Pentagon to the nearest still-open Metro.
We spent the rest of the day watching the news.
Late that afternoon I took a discreet walk around the neighborhood. We all assigned parking spaces, numbered with our address and I wanted to see who was home and who was not. By late afternoon, everyone’s car was accounted for. It looked like everyone on our block was ok.
By the time it got dark they were predicting 800 dead at the Pentagon. In the end though, that number was much smaller because the plane hit the empty offices that were still being renovated.
I remember that the next night a manila envelope was passed around the neighborhood. One husband and father was unaccounted for in the block behind ours. Joe Pycior, homeschooling dad, Cub Scout leader, Legos enthusiast never came home. He was one of the victims.
I remember the days that followed. The silence as commercial flights remained grounded. The sound of the fighter planes which circled Fed-Ex Field as the NFL season finally got started. The candle-light vigil we held for the Pycior family.
I remember going to Threatcon Delta, as we called it back then. We thought Threatcon Charlie was a big deal during the Persian Gulf War. Back then we thought we’d never go to Delta. Delta means we have been attacked. No, we’d never go to Delta. We were at Delta.
I remember thinking that we’d never be the same.