Saturday, September 10, 2016

September 11, 2001

I was in Los Angeles doing The Early Show. The reason I was in LA was the first Latin Grammys was scheduled to be held that night and I was there to cover it.

When you do the morning show, you do it to East Coast time. So 7-9 a.m. becomes 4-6 LA time.

The city was dark, bustling, but dark. We were broadcasting from CBS News' LA Bureau and there weren't a lot of us there that early. A camera operator, makeup, me, and our guest for the morning. His name was Juanes, he's from Colombia, and he was up for a slew of Grammys that night. Juanes was there to be interviewed by me and to perform live.

Sleepy eyed yawns were the order of the day.

We finished, packed up, and my dear friend, who also handled the makeup, Barbara Dally and I went across the street to Canter's Deli to have a bagel for breakfast.

Things picked up once we got there.

As we were ordering, a waiter came up to me and said, "You're from New York, right?" I answered that I was and then he said something that was hard to process, "A plane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center." I remember saying, "A Piper Cub?" "No," he answered, "A jet airliner. And another one just hit the second tower."

We ran back to the set so we could watch it in real time. There are tvs on the set but they're not called tvs, they're called monitors. They were showing the WTC and one tower had a gaping hole in it with black smoke billowing out. I had never seen anything like that and thought, "This doesn't look good."

We turned the sound up and they abruptly cut to Washington, DC. The first words I heard were from my co-host Bryant Gumbel, "Oh my, the Pentagon is under attack." You know the deal, there were two other airliners that had been hijacked that day. One went down in Pennsylvania, the other in DC.

That was the one Bryant was talking about.

It was awful.

By evening both towers of the World Trade Center had come down, the Pentagon was in flames, thousands of people had died, survivors were shell shocked, and America would never be the same again.

The next day I couldn't get back home to New York, all the flights had been cancelled. In fact, every flight across the country was on the ground. The sky was empty. The only time I've ever seen that. I'd be fine if I never saw that again.

All the morning shows were dark as America tried to sort things out. The news was on all the time. The papers had story after story about what had happened and the stories were so sad.

A week later they opened up LAX and I was on the first flight to New York. We flew on the red eye and when we got over Wall Street, there was a stampede to the side of the plane that showed Ground Zero. We saw a big hole in the ground with lots of smoke and I remember it was quiet as quiet could be on that jet.

Our show eventually got back on the air.

It was a parade of survivors plus people who'd lost their mothers, their fathers, their husbands, their wives, their sisters, their brothers. A parade of people who held out hope that their loved ones were still alive in the rubble. We interviewed Fire Chiefs, Police Commanders, First Responders and more.

There was a photograph on the front page of The Daily News that showed firefighters in Brooklyn getting on a fire engine. You could see the WTC burning in the background. They couldn't wait to get there to do some good. Turns out they all lost their lives trying to do that good.

To this day I can't watch documentaries of 9-11. It just tears me up. I wasn't alive for Pearl Harbor but I was alive for this.

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