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Not to be Forgotten: Twenty Years ago I Saw the Attack on the World Trade Center

I would like to add my personal recollections about the events of September. 11, 2001. The background to this story is that between 2000 and 2004, while I served as the CEO of the Association of Black Cardiologists, I was one of the investigators with Astra-Zeneca Pharmaceuticals, comparing the efficacy and safety of two lipid lowering drugs (rosuvastatin to atorvastatin) in African-American patients. It was chaired by Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand of New Orleans. Other members of the study group and authors of the subsequent publication included Dr. Luther Clark, Dr. Karol Watson, Dr. Ryan Neal, Dr. Clinton Brown, Dr. Boisey Barnes, Dr. William Cox, Dr. Franklin Zieve, Dr. Jonathan Isaacsohn, Dr. Joseph Ycas, Dr. Philip Sager and Dr. Alex Gold. The final manuscript from our work was published in The American Journal of Cardiology, (2006;97:229–235) reporting that rosuvastatin improved the overall lipid (cholesterol) profile of hypercholesterolemic African-Americans better than did the equivalent doses of atorvastatin.

I was living in Atlanta at the time and boarded an early Delta flight to LaGuardia Airport for my meeting scheduled for 9:30 am at the Marriott Hotel about ten blocks from the twin towers. On my arrival in New York, I hailed a taxi, gave the driver instuctions and headed for the hotel. We were crossing the Brooklyn bridge at about quarter to nine when I saw the first plane crash into the World Trade Center. I turned to my driver and ask “what the hell just happened?” I then called my wife who was working in New Orleans and asked her to turn on the news as I just saw a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center. I learned later that this was commuter American Airlines Flight 11 that was hijacked and purposely crashed. My wife reported back to me that they believed that a small plane must have lost its way.

While we were on the phone, the larger United Airlines plane that had departed Boston and hijacked, crashed into the Twin Towers as well. The media finally recognized it for what it was. My wife instructed me to “get the hell out of New York”. The news pundits were theorizing that America was under attack. Over my wife’s objections, I proceeded to my meeting so that I could alert my colleagues. I entered the meeting room, greeted them and ask to halt the meeting and turn on the Television as something dramatic was going on just about outside our window and that I had seen two planes crash into the World Trade Center.

When the news came on, they were reporting a terrorist attack and that both towers had been completely demolished. In fact, we were able to see the cloud of dust coming from the buildings. At that moment, Dr. Keith Ferdinand, who was to chair the meeting, said: “Oh my God, Amanisha (his teenage daughter) is out there somewhere.” She was living in Brooklyn and had met up with her father and had planned to do some sightseeing while her dad was in his meeting. As tears welled up and broke its banks, this giant of a man was inconsolable. We hugged him and tried to assure him to no avail. He tried to call her but there was no cell phone service. Three hours later she came to the meeting room to the great relief, hugs and applause from the group. She then left for a long walk back to Brooklyn.

It was scheduled to be a half-day meeting and all us had planned to return home that afternoon. Obviously, there was too much happening to continue our meeting but we were at a loss at what to do. As there was no cell phone service, all the bridges were closed, no flights, no busses, no trains but we did learn that Yachts and all types of boats were transporting people to New Jersey. We decided we had two choices: get rooms at the hotel or try to get on one of the boats. When the Astra-Zeneca representatives found out that the George Washington bridge was open, they arranged for a limousine with a television and a cooler with beer and sandwiches and sent six of us on our way. The plan was to drive to Baltimore and spend the night at the home of the Drs. Elijah and Sharon Saunders who were gracious hosts. We were well fed and bedded down on beds, couches and even the floor with a blanket and pillow.

The following day, we learned that in the state of emergency, all transportation was closed. Dr. Saunders and another physician from Baltimore were home, and two of our colleagues made the decision to stay with Dr. Saunders until they could catch a train to their homes. Dr. Ferdinand and I continued our journey to Atlanta in the limousine. As all the major highways were closed (including 95), the limo driver found his way through the backroads in West Virginia. In the meantime, my wife drove her rented car back to Atlanta from New Orleans. Dr. Ferdinand then took the Hertz rent-a -car back to New Orleans. The driver of the limousine told us that he was planning to pick up passengers at the Atlanta Airport who were headed for New York.

When my wife was safe at home with me, we marveled on how God saw all of us through this trying time. The dynamics of being able to traverse the road systems of America was not lost on any of us. We praised our God that His eye was truly on all His sparrows and thanked him for watching over us. Everyone reading this article has their own memories of this fateful day. The one thing we should ALL remember is how WE CAME TOGETHER as a country to mourn with 3,000 families who lost love ones and how WE ALL CAME TOGETHER as Americans to demonstrate a common focus and common bond to all the world. During the last fateful 20 years, I think we have lost sight of the fact that we are one nation UNDER GOD, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.

This was the deadliest attack on the United States carried out by two masterminds Osama Ben Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with the help of 19 suicide terrorists who hijacked and weaponized three planes intent on killing as many people as possible. We then spent the next twenty years (our longest war) fighting the Al-Qaida in Afghanistan at a cost of a trillion dollars and sacrificing the lives of 5,000 American soldiers and contractors (20,000 wounded). Thankfully that war has ended.

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