Reflections on 9/11: Jan Scruggs
By Jan C. Scruggs
On September 10, 2001 I was in Boston. Senators John McCain and John Kerry were attending an event at the State Street Bank. I was there to plead for help from both Senators about building the Education Center at The Wall. The CEO of State Street Corp., Marshall Carter, a decorated Marine, got me invited to make the pitch.
At the time, legislation to build the Education Center was stalled. I needed Senators McCain and Kerry to weigh in and assist the sponsor of the bill, and I needed Senator Chuck Hagel to expedite hearings.
“Of course you can count on me,” said Senator McCain. Senator Kerry said about the same words. It was a long trip to get in front of these guys, but the mission was a success. These are both honorable men.
Senator McCain left that evening to get back to DC. That night I enjoyed a nice meal with Rick Lieb, another combat Marine officer from Vietnam and a generous donor to VVMF. I got a good night’s sleep.
Hailing a cab in rush hour is easy in Boston. My driver was a tall and easygoing man from Pakistan. He told me about his life growing up as the only Muslim in a rural New Jersey town. He enjoyed baseball, but could not eat hot dogs or drink beer as an observant Muslim. He laughed when I asked him how many beers he tried. “Most of them, sir, but I have cut way back.”
At Logan Airport the hijackers and I sat on the runway, in different planes. They had chosen aircraft heading to California instead of the Boston-DC shuttle; they needed a lot of fuel to explode when they hit the target of the World Trade Center.
When I got off the plane at 10 AM I saw about 30 people gasping looking at a small TV Screen. “A plane just hit the World Trade Center,” said a college aged woman in jeans and a Georgetown sweatshirt. As I looked I saw the other tower being hit.
“Terrorists” I said to her. As I said that a large explosion rang out. “I think they just hit the runway.” It was the Pentagon. Immediately there were sirens and announcements at National Airport. “Ladies and Gentlemen, please evacuate the airport due to a security issue. There will be law enforcement officers directing you when you exit”
I do not excel at following crowds. It was a four-mile walk to my office. I walked to the highway and a car stopped for me. A talkative woman pulled over and asked if I needed a ride.
She was nervous. “I work for Senator Ted Stevens. I am what you call an Eskimo, a member of the Tlingit Tribe. Oh gosh I am so nervous. I just started this job and I am late for work. Do you have any cigarettes?” Within minutes we were happily puffing away. I have since quit, thankfully.
After we lit up I said, “I think you picked a good day to be late. I will bet they close the Senate offices.”
Meanwhile there was drama on the radio as they announced that the plume of smoke we were seeing was the Pentagon on fire. The announcer said, “We are now getting reports of explosions throughout Washington. Armed Marines are being deployed to protect the Capitol.” The announcer was giving out bad information; sonic booms from military jets were causing chaos. It was a scene from Orson Wells’ War of the Worlds.
My ride let me off on Independence Avenue. I still had another mile. Another helpful Pakistani cab driver stopped to give me a ride. After ten minutes of sitting in the cab, he looked at me. “I think you would make better time walking, sir. No charge and good luck!”
Meanwhile my wife and staff had assumed the worst for me since media reported that the hijackers left from Logan Airport at about 9AM. Cell phones did not work.
The VVMF offices were on 15th Street near the White House. VVMF staff appeared happy to see me when I arrived after dodging police roadblocks and negotiating with various law enforcement officers.
I was stuck in DC for two nights. I ran into Ron Gibbs, a VMF Board Member from Chicago who was also at National Airport. Around 6 PM one thing was clear: we both needed a couple of drinks. We taxied to Georgetown where Humvees were on street corners. Soldiers with M16 rifles were nervously looking at the few people who were wandering around.
This was a very tough day for me, but a much tougher day for America.