9-11: a La Portean reflects

 

This Associated Press photo shows throngs of people walking across one of New York City’s bridges to leave downtown on 9/11.

Editor’s note: Jen Boardman worked in New York City just 2 miles from the Twin Towers at the time of 9-11. A La Porte native, she now lives back in her hometown with her daughters, Lily and Lucy. WNLP’s editor (and Jen’s aunt) interviewed her on 9-11 for the Herald-Argus newspaper, and 20 years later has asked her to reflect on that day for WNLP.

As we reach the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, I thought it would be cathartic to sit and once again reflect on that day. It is, but at the same time it’s still painful.

Jen Boardman

I moved to New York City in 1998. I had a job on the 36th floor at 1251 6th Avenue, Manhattan. The building was one block west of the famous Rockefeller Center.

My daily routine was to get on the subway earlier to beat the rush-hour masses. I was sitting at my desk at 8:46 a.m., listening to a local radio station, when they announced that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My initial thought was a little Cessna must have somehow veered into it. It had happened in the past to the Empire State Building.

I decided to go down to the lobby of the building where there was a huge TV hanging on the wall. I got down there just in time to watch the second plane hit the South Tower. Many of us gathered around that TV, watching in horror and disbelief. It was obvious we were being attacked.

I went back up to my office. I tried to call home and couldn’t get through. I didn’t realize that the cell towers were on fire. It took me a solid hour before I finally got hold of my dad to tell him I was OK. I could hear the relief in his voice when he answered the phone.

I was experiencing so many feelings all at once. None of us at work quite knew what to do. There was no way we could just go about our day when something so horrific was happening just a couple of miles down the street.

Several of my friends gathered in my office, listening to the news and wondering what was next. We were still listening when the Pentagon was hit. It was about then that the company’s owner said they were evacuating our building because we were so close to 30 Rock, which could very well be the next target. We also learned at this time that all subways in and out of Manhattan were shut down and all bridges and tunnels were closed to vehicle traffic. There was no way in or out of Manhattan except on foot.

One of my friends lived on the upper East Side near the 59th Street Bridge, so my group of friends and I set off for his place. It was one of the most surreal walks of my life.

One of the things that I had to get used to living in New York was the noise. It’s always noisy. Even in the middle of the night, you still hear cars honking and subways moving. When we left the office to walk to my friend’s place, the first thing we noticed was the silence. NYC was silent. No air traffic, no cars honking, no subway rumblings. It was eerily quiet.

The next thing we noticed were the thousands of people with the same dazed looks on their faces that I’m sure we had on ours. Some of them were covered in gray dust. Many were crying. Many were on their cell phones trying to call their loved ones to tell them they were OK. Many who lived in the outer reaches of the boroughs were wondering how they were going to get home.

I stayed with my friends for most of the day, watching the news. None of us wanted to be alone. Finally at about 8 p.m. I decided to walk home. I was living in Astoria, a neighborhood in Queens. It was about a mile and a half from where I worked and a straight shot across the 59th Street Bridge. One of my friends who lived in Long Island walked with me. We joined hundreds of people walking across the bridge. There were no cars, so we walked in the vehicle lanes. It was a sea of people.

I finally got home to my tiny apartment, sat down and sobbed.

Another thing about living in NYC is that people aren’t like they are here in La Porte. When you pass people on the sidewalk here, you often get a smile and a “hello” or “good morning” or a “nice to see you.” In NYC you don’t really engage much with people you don’t know. You usually keep your head down and go about your business. The days and weeks after the attack, there was a sense of camaraderie that wasn’t there before. Neighbors were checking on each other. We were helping each other get through this. We were searching for ways to keep our minds occupied. I, myself, watched hours of “The Andy Griffith Show.” It transported me to a time that seemed easier. More peaceful. We were all still trying to process what happened. We felt helpless. We felt guilty because we were still alive. We felt angry. We were scared. We flinched when military jets flew overhead.

Manhattan was shut down for days afterward. It was still silent. Debris from the collapsed towers were floating around the streets. Most people were staying inside, watching the 24-hour news cycles.

I decided one morning a couple of days later to walk down to visit my Aunt Pammie. She was an artist and photographer who lived in Soho at the time, which was very close to the towers. She and her husband, Craig, had grabbed cameras and walked to the World Trade Center after the planes had hit. She showed me her photos; they were graphic and devastating.

On my way to their place, I walked through Union Square where thousands of pictures taped to every surface asked, “Have you seen this man (woman) (child)?” There were makeshift memorials around the photos. Candles, teddy bears, toys, flowers were everywhere.

I didn’t know anyone personally of the almost 3,000 people who died that day. A friend of mine had been at work in the South Tower that morning. He was in the basement of the tower buying coffee when the plane hit the building. Buying that coffee probably saved his life.

So many lives were lost that morning. So many first responders lost their lives that day. So many of them are still losing their lives as a result of their heroic acts on 9-11 and the days following. They are dying from heart failure, cancer, pulmonary diseases and suicide.

I was one of the lucky ones. I am still alive. My friends are all still alive. I don’t like to think about it often, but I will always remember.

8 Responses to “9-11: a La Portean reflects”

  1. Charlie Maslankowski

    Sep 10. 2021

    My wife Chris and I were working in Japan when this happened. I was watching the morning news and when they aired the footage of the towers, I stood in shock thinking this must be a disaster movie.

    I woke my wife and told her to come and see this news broadcast. The reality soon set in as the English subtitles rolled across the bottom of the TV detailing this tragic event! We were just as shocked as the millions of others in the world watching this as we were!

    Tomorrow is the 20th anniverary of this tragedy and we pray for those who lost loved ones that day. Just like everyone that gets up each day starting yet another day in their lives, only this one was unimaginable! Godspeed to all who were touched with the horrible news that day.

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  2. Julie Kessler

    Sep 10. 2021

    It’s hard for many of us who weren’t in the city that day to grasp what it was like for people like Jen who were just trying to get through that day and the days afterward. Thanks for this glimpse into her experience.

    Reply to this comment
    • Lisa

      Sep 10. 2021

      No matter how many times I read a story about this horrible day I get chills. I remember what I was doing when I saw the broadcast, and the confusion about what was happening. This tragedy has changed our world so much.

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  3. Carol A Swanson

    Sep 10. 2021

    I was working at Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson at the time. I had the TV on as I was getting ready for work and heard that a plane had hit the North Tower. I thought, as Jen did, that it was a small plane. When another plane hit the South Tower, I said out loud to myself, “Oh my God, we’re under attack!” Not much work was accomplished that day…some people brought in small TVs and we would gather in small groups to catch up on what was happening. It was heart wrenching to watch. Raytheon in Tucson is composed of several huge buildings that house the thousands of employees that make up the work force there. The building I worked in is located on the north edge of the plant site which is adjacent to Tucson International Airport. Those of us who worked in that building were accustomed to planes taking off and landing all day. As I’m sure everyone remembers, all flights, except military, were banned for about a week after the attacks. Not hearing the planes taking off and landing was a stark reminder of what had just happened to our country. I can only imagine the horrors the people of NY experienced. So sad…..

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  4. Bryan Tilling

    Sep 10. 2021

    I was in Las Vegas Nevada that morning returning from a five day visit. I was listening to a rock music station when I was taking a shower. I noticed was talking which was unusual, I’ve never heard before and I made out the words, plane crash. I just thought it was at the airport when I got out of the shower I turned on the news. Of course it was a 3-4 hour behind New York after it happened, with the time change. I seen the footage of the planes hitting the towers and no one was saying anything on the television. I realized what happened. I called home and found out they grounded all the flights. I didn’t fly out until two days later. We flew to Minnesota on a large packed plane.Then to Chicago Midway with ten people total on a plane that seats 80 to 90 people, including two flight attendant in the back. That was the first time I’ve ever been in Midway airport in Chicago only seeing 15 to 20 people in the airport, when I was walking to get my luggage. At the time I felt I left the whole memory in Las Vegas and I will be there again a week from Thursday to see the iHeartRadio music festival concert and I’m sure I’ll remember that unfortunate day.

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  5. Richard Pate

    Sep 10. 2021

    A child hood friend that I grew up with in La Porte and with whom I had recently reconnected told me she worked in one of the Twin Towers and was there that day. She lived across the river in New Jersey and commuted to work every day. She got out of the Towers when they were hit and had to walk across the bridge back to New Jersey. She still suffers from PTSD and has flashbacks. We were with her family when she told me this and they had not heard all of it until she verbalized it. She had recently retired and moved back here with her husband to be close to family. I was thankful she felt comfortable enough to share with me about her experience. She could only go so deep because of the memories she was still suffering from. On the surface, she was functioning well in life which is a good sign. But, the memories of that experience will live with her for the rest of her life.

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  6. LLS

    Sep 10. 2021

    Jen, I’m glad you are alive. I understand why you don’t think about it very often. I was living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia at the time. I thought the children in the play room were watching a movie on the TV. It was all in Arabic. Their Nannies took me aside and said they didn’t know how to tell me– my country had been attacked. There was no answer at the American Embassy and all phone lines to the States were all “tied up”. I’ve never felt so alone in my life. It was hours before I got through and found out my family was ok. Because of the after-effects It took a few months before I was able to get back to the States. By the time I returned things here were back to a strange “normal”. I felt disassociated– like a loved one had died and I’d somehow missed the funeral and wasn’t allowed to grieve. I’m so sorry you all have gone through this.

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  7. Jan Boardman

    Sep 10. 2021

    I was in a passenger van, along with 6 other women, headed to Cleveland, Ohio for a loan training seminar. Someone called the manager and told her to turn on the radio. We listened to the horrors of the second plane hitting the towers. My daughter was living in Queens and working somewhere near Rockefeller Center. We hadn’t been to NYC to visit yet and I had no idea where she was in relation to the twin towers. I was a total wreck. I borrowed a cell phone from one of the other passengers and kept trying to reach Jen. It was a gut wrenching nightmare for me. I called my husband and 3 other children to see if they had heard anything at all and it was a unanimous NO. I left the cell number and begged them to call the very minute anyone heard anything at all. Finally, as we were passing Toledo, my husband Mike called to say Jen had called him and she was safe. I was such a bundle of nerves that I broke down in tears. Of course, they did not cancel the seminar and I was forced to sit through six hours so completely distracted that I didn’t get much out of it. My child was safe, I spent most of the day praying and thanking God, all the while feeling guilty that my kid lived when so many died. Twenty years later, I will pray for all who died and all of their loved ones. Counting my blessings, so many blessings.

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