My September 11th
By Rudy Giuliani
The opinions expressed are his own.
The following is an excerpt from an essay written by former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former NY Governor George Pataki from the recently published, 9/11: Stories of Courage, Heroism and Generosity, a book compiled by Zagat Survey CEO and former head of NYC & Co., Tim Zagat.
September 11 was Primary Day, a semi-holiday for those of us in government. So I had planned for a relatively slow morning that included breakfast at Fives, the restaurant at The Peninsula hotel, with Bill Simon, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who worked with me while I was United States Attorney. He wanted to talk about a possible run for Governor of California. But when Bill, my chief counsel and longtime aide, Denny Young, and I were finishing breakfast, Patti Varrone, a detective with the NYPD, who served on my police detail, interrupted us with news that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. As Denny and I left, Bill said, “Good luck. God bless you,” and then hugged us.
For Denny and me, this was business as usual; at least twice a month, I got called out to major emergencies such as a big fire, subway derailment or hostage situation. A plane crash was bad, but this is New York, and along with its greatness, serious incidents do occur. As our car approached Canal Street, we saw a big flash of light, and within seconds we got a call from the police that a second plane had hit the towers. The situation was no longer business as usual. We had been attacked.
Despite the chaos outside, the mood in the car was calm and deliberate. With Patti in the front seat next to my driver, and Denny and me in the back, we tried to get through to the Governor and White House, but cell service was flooded and hardly working. Everybody was doing his or her job and reinforced each other.
We still hadn’t reached the President or Governor when we stopped about three blocks from the South Tower. Getting out of our SUV; I was met by Deputy Mayor Joe Lhota and Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik right behind him. “It’s really, really bad, Mayor. It’s really bad,” Joe said, “People are throwing themselves out of the building.”
That can’t be right. Joe’s overreacting. It’s terrible, but that’s not right – I thought.
I looked up and I saw debris coming down from the building, but people? The idea was so horrendous I told myself it couldn’t be true.
We walked towards the Fire Department command post. That street-level location afforded a view of both towers, a perfect position for the Fire Department to see the whole fire. Before we made any decisions on how to proceed, I wanted to see what was happening and get the facts for myself. So we marched down toward the World Trade Center, which is when I passed Father Mychal Judge, the Fire Department chaplain. He was also headed towards the towers but in a different direction. Before we parted ways, I put out my hand and shook his hand. “Pray for us,” I said. “I always do,” he replied.
Although the priest smiled, he looked very tense. And despite the many fires and deaths the priest had been through, I had never seen Father Judge look tense.
Then it happened. A man threw himself out of something like the 101st floor. Out of all the images during the day, that one remains with me the most. It’s the one that flipped my entire feeling about what was happening. It was in that moment that truly I realized this was way beyond anything we had ever handled.
Moments later, I got to see Chief Peter Ganci, the Fire Department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and incident commander, running the show. He didn’t mince words.
“My guys can only get people out who are below the fire,” he said.
Carrying the weight of the situation, I returned to the Merrill Lynch office, which had been turned into a fully functioning communications center. There were cops at every desk. More members of my administration were there, too.
Finally we got through to the White House; Karl Rove’s deputy, Chris Henick, was on the line. There were rumors that the country had been attacked 12 times, everywhere from the Sears Tower to the Pentagon.
“Has the Pentagon been attacked?” I asked Chris.
“Confirmed,” he answered.
Chris is not a military guy – he’s a political guy – but all of a sudden the number two political director in the White House was talking like a staff sergeant.
God Almighty; we really are in the middle of a battle.
“May I talk to the President?” I asked, not knowing the President was in Florida. “You can’t right now. We’re evacuating the White House. But the Vice President will call you back as quickly as possible.”
My mind was trying to process everything: the President being rushed out the White House, the Pentagon attacked, New York attacked, people jumping out of buildings. The big question was: how many times were we going to be hit? We had no idea.
While my staff and I were discussing other possible terrorist targets, the Vice President called. I went into another office to pick up the phone. “Mr. Mayor, Vice President Cheney will be on in a minute. Please hang on,” a White House secretary said. “Thank you.”
I was waiting for the Vice President when all of a sudden, I heard a little click in the phone and the desk began shaking. I looked outside my office and people were going under their desks. I had no idea what was going on. Outside the window, a debris-filled wind moved through the streets like the cloud of some kind of nuclear attack.
The spirit of cooperation from that point forward was amazing. It started from the highest levels when Governor Pataki and I agreed on 9/11 – that very day – to have a joint command center at the Police Academy on 23rd Street with all my people and all of his. We ran the city and the state together, so that all of his commissioners sat at the same table with all of my commissioners. And every single decision we made, we made together.
Right after the attacks, I wasn’t sure we could manage what was clearly the worst crisis to his the city. But after two long days of some uncertainty, I came to realize that, working with the assembled team, we were doing it.
I wasn’t sure exactly how many were dead, how we were going to clean up the World Trade Center site, if we’d be hit with another terrorist attack, when the Stock Exchange was going to be up and running again or if businesses were going to permanently leave New York. I wasn’t even sure if I was communicating correctly to the public. Because I knew how important my messages to people were, I solicited the advice of a lot of professionals, including a group of experts on trauma and grief.
“I don’t know the balance,” I said to them. “We’re all very upset. We can talk endlessly about how upset we are. But how much of that should we convey? And how much should we convey a stiff upper lip?” “Don’t program it,” they said. “We’ve been watching you, and so far it seems to be working. Just go with it. Just be yourself” So I followed my gut, not just in talking, but with everything.
But it wasn’t until September 13 that I finally trusted it. It was the night before President Bush was scheduled to arrive in New York City to visit Ground Zero. Governor Pataki and I had encouraged the President to come, and he finally decided to do it – even though the Secret Service had understandable reservations about his coming to Manhattan, let alone Ground Zero.
I’d been working all day and into the night to make sure the President would be safe. After we finished around 10 0’clock, I returned to my office with my now wife, Judith. There I began to doubt my decision.
My God. is this the right thing to bring the President here, now? Maybe somebody’s going to shoot him, or something’s going to fall on him.
I suddenly felt a searing pain in my body.
“Judith, I’ve got shooting pains in my shoulder,” I said. I started to think maybe I was having a heart attack. A trained nurse, she asked me to show her where the pain was. “You’re not having a heart attack. It’s stress. That’s all,” she said. “The meetings are over. Why don’t you just go take a walk? Get yourself out of this atmosphere. You’ll be able to think better.”
Judith talked to a couple of my guys, who took me in one car rather than the usual two or three we were using at that point. I didn’t want to go too far so we ended up in the middle of Stuyvesant Town. The courtyard in the middle of this downtown housing complex was completely empty. Everybody was inside watching television. “Give me some room,” I told the two officers.
It was the first time I really had time to think since September 11. In that quiet space, I remembered I had banged my shoulder when someone pushed me into a car right after the attacks. I immediately relaxed after figuring out the source of the pain.
I kept walking east, out of Stuyvesant Town, and toward the East River. I passed a few shocked citizens, who must have thought the mayor had really gone nuts. I ended up at the East River. I was suddenly, and unexpectedly, completely reassured by the calming, constant natural flow of the water. I realized that a part of me wasn’t sure it was going to be there. And it was there. That’s when I knew everything would be okay.
Not too long ago, I began to think that people had forgotten 9/11, but after Osama bin Laden was killed, I realized they haven’t. When I saw the celebrating in Washington and New York, my first reaction was unease. Why are they celebrating? The war isn’t over. This will be a bad signal and could be misunderstood by the Muslim people. All of that is true. But on the other hand it showed that there is still an emotional connection to the attacks. Ask any American, and he or she can tell you where he or she was that day. No one has forgotten.
It’s human nature that we have to be challenged for the best in us to come out. For our generation, 9/11 was the defining moment.
9/11: Stories of Courage, Heroism and Generosity ($24.95) was compiled by Tim Zagat and can be purchased online at ZAGAT.com/shop/books and wherever books are sold. Copyright 2011, Zagat Survey, LLC.