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A Remembrance: Responders Past and Present

Shelley Buckingham
By Shelley Buckingham

People ask each other if they remember where they were when 9/11 happened. I was very aware of the horrors of that day. I was in my AARP headquarters office at 601 E Street in Washington, DC. I worked in the Media Relations Department and as a matter of routine, we monitor the news channels to stay aware of the days happenings.

CNN came on with breaking news of the first tower at the World Trade Center was hit by a plane. An accident, they suspected until the second plane hit tower two.

My colleagues and I were huddled around the tvs in disbelief. AARP management told us we could leave the building, but as I looked out the windows of my ninth floor office, there was gridlock on the streets because most of the DC commuters were also trying to exit the parking lots to find their way home.

As we listened and watched the horrors to unfold on tv a news report said that another plane was headed toward the White House, only 10 blocks from my office. The plane didn't hit the White House, but crashed into the Pentagon. Some of us still left in the office ran up to the roof to see the smoke pouring from the Pentagon. We heard sirens from all over DC heading down the expressways trying to get to the injured people with gridlock on the streets. Everyone was afraid that more planes had been hijacked and were headed for the Capitol.

I had taken the MARC commuter train to work that morning and the station was closed and service was discontinued as the fear of bombs placed all over DC was on everyone's mind. The Metro was also closed so all I could do was stay put.

When the first plane hit, I called my husband who was working from home and urged him to turn on the tv. With no way to get home, he offered to come get me from Crofton, Md, but I told him to stay where he was until I could get back to him. I was prepared to stay at the office if needed. Employees had been told that the office was prepared for disasters with cots if we had to spend the night.

I spoke with my son, Mike, yesterday and asked if he remembered where he was.   Yes, sixth grade in middle school. There were some announcements over the schools PA system that he didn't understand. Next he knew he was being called to the school office because my husband Steve was picking him up. They went home together to watch the horrible day unfold.

All morning and afternoon I was trying desperately to call home by landline and cell phone, but the lines were jammed. So, I stayed in my office staring at the tv.

My husband and son also stayed glued to the tv. Another plane went down in Pennsylvania.

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Little did I know that the bravery of the fire fighters and police would make such an impression on my 12 year old. You see, from that day forward Mike wanted to join the volunteer fire department. So, at 14 he tried to join, but their junior fire fighter program didn't start until kids were 16. On his birthday that year he became a member of the Anne Arundel Volunteer Fire Fighter station 7. For my shy son, the next eight years were spent in the company of the most wonderful men and women. Mike took every imaginable course offered by the fire department. He became a firefighter I, then II, then an EMT. When he was 21 he learned to drive the fire truck and ambulance and saw more death and destruction than any young man should. I didn't see much of him during those years. He spent whatever time he could at the fire station, especially after he was allowed to sleep there.

After high school he went to work for a private ambulance company where he continued to serve the public; all the while going to the fire house when he could.

My pride in him is enormous. Yesterday, he graduated from the Anne Arundel Fire Academy along with 69 other brave men and women. He tried for years to make it to career status, and his dream has come true. So it is fitting as we remember those who lost their lives on 9/11 that my brave young man, now almost 25 years old, that he takes his place as a career fire fighter, to serve the public and save lives.

Oh yes. I did finally get home that day. The trains started running again and Metro took me to New Carrolton where the hugs and kisses of my husband and son brought me back to the day that changed our lives forever. God bless America! I will never forget.

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