September 11, 2001

by John Delach

September 11, 2001, should have been one of the 10 best days of the year weather wise in New York City. Seasonably warm, but clear without haze and free of humidity, Manhattan shined in all its glory living up to one of its nicknames, Babylon on the Hudson.

Overcoming my disappointment of having suffered through an opening night loss by my beloved Giants to the Chiefs  in Kansas City the previous night, I planned to travel to my company’s midtown headquarters at 1166 Avenue of the Americas to have lunch with my old boss, Steve P.  But first, I began a 45-minute workout on my treadmill to get my heart started.

Marsh & McLennan, the firm I had worked for from 1971until I retired on April 1, 2000, also had operations in World Trade Center. They occupied eight floors in the North Tower from 93 to 100. As I power walked, I watched as NBC cut away from their regular programming to reveal that an airplane had crashed into the upper floors of the north side of the North Tower. Little did we know at that moment that the high jackers managed to strike every one of the floors that Marsh & McLennan occupied expect 100. 

A longtime colleague, Jim H, had an office on 99 facing north. I still wonder if he saw the American Airlines plane as it hurtled in his direction. Flight Number 11 struck his office at 8:46 AM. Coincidently, Jim’s brother-in-law, Bill W, worked for AON on one of the nine floors occupied by that insurance brokerage firm in the South Tower. The folks who worked in that tower above the 85th Floor had 17 minutes to evacuate before United Flight No. 175 plunged into the south side of that tower. Although many workers did evacuate, Bill chose not to. Neither did Tony D, another former Marsh man who had joined AON. Tony had married late in life and his wife had recently given birth to twin girls. They would never see their father again.   

Two hundred and ninety-five Marsh employees died that day along with 63 contract employees. That total, 358, was the third highest behind the FDNY and Cantor Fitzgerald. Jeff L. was one of those Cantor Fitzgerald casualties. Before joining Canter, Jeff had worked in midtown, and I would often share an early morning cab ride from Penn Station with him.

My niece, Rita, was lucky. Employed by Deutsche Bank at their 39-story building on 130 Liberty Street close to the South Tower, she evacuated when that tower was hit. Rita set out for Brooklyn and was about to cross the Brooklyn Bridge when that tower fell wrecking her place of work. She spent the night in a convent. It would take years to demolish that building since it contained human remains from the South Tower.

Michelle G. had worked for me when I was the Manager of Marsh’s New York Marine and Energy operation. She was scheduled to attend an all-day conference at the Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th Floor of the North Tower. Michelle chose to forgo the pre-conference breakfast choosing instead to meander through the Barnes and Noble bookshop in the lobby.

When American Flight 11 struck the tower, Michelle made a run to the PATH Station to catch one of the last trains to leave the WTC Station for New Jersey. Her train was in one of the 100-year-old cast iron tubes under the Hudson River when the second airplane hit. Michelle told me: “The tunnel moved violently from side to side. The train ground to a halt and the lights went out. I have never been so scared. Finally, the lights came back on and very slowly, the train crept to the Exchange Place Station in Jersey City. I cringed when I emerged into the morning light to see both buildings were burning.”       

Our son, Mike and our daughter Beth both worked for Marsh & McLennan companies at 1166. Beth’s husband, Tom, also worked in Manhattan. The three of them met near Tom’s office on Broadway then made their way to Beth and Tom’s apartment in NoHo on Mott Street safely north of the poisonous smoke pouring from the debris. Mike spent the night with them.  

America shut down to protect the homeland. The FAA grounded every aircraft in USA airspace ordering those airplanes in the air to land immediately. Incoming international flights were instructed to return to their points of origin or find airports of refuge. If you ever see the play, Come From Away, you will discover the story of the jumble of transatlantic flights that landed in Gander, Newfoundland that day.

Emergency rooms geared up to treat the anticipated multitude of casualties that never materialized. There was only the living and the dead and most of the dead disintegrated under the massive pile of debris.

Relatives and friends of the dead created massive bulletin boards throughout the city featuring photographs of the missing with notes pleading for information about their status. Beth, a licensed social worker, volunteered at an armory to council those seeking help to cope with their loved ones who were now MIA.

A sense of loss, anger and absolute sadness blanketed the city. It enveloped me and may have consumed me except that Mary Ann and I and two other couples, the Cruises and the Markeys managed to escape to Ireland in early October on a pre-arranged holiday.

Good craic, the hospitality of Erin, rain, wind, laughter, Guinness and Irish whiskey soothed our souls and raised our morale. It feathered our anger and permitted me to be a human again.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of that dark day, next Wednesday, I will republish my piece about the Club at the World Trade Center that died on what should have been one of the 10 best days of the year for 2001.