Barbara Maxwell

post Sep 18 2009, 01:12 PM
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I just came across this accidentally and don't remember her name ever being mentioned....


In remembrance of 9/11 -- through a window -- an unforgettable scene

In remberance of eight years ago, I thought I would share with all of you a piece that I wrote about what happened on that fateful day when I worked in the editorial department of USA TODAY. I wrote a piece and submitted it to the letters to the editor department of the Indianapolis Star which reprinted it. It is the only public commentary I have ever made about that day. And, even though it has been eight years, it is still a time of apprehension, contemplation and sadness for me. The text is below:

On Sept. 11, 2001, I went to work earlier than usual because my husband and I were scheduled to fly to Minneapolis the next day to visit my parents. The day started quietly, like many days at USA Today. I remember looking out the window at the sky, which was clear, crisp and beautiful. It was one of those days when there was no haze, and you could see for miles. My office window looked out on the Washington monument and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. To the right was the Pentagon, just a few miles away.

The only people who came in that early were the photo librarians, one reference librarian, our fee-based services manager and our indexing staff. The library, like the newspaper, was just starting to gear up for the day. Most of the newsrooms were still empty. My boss, the executive editor, was driving over to the Pentagon for a meeting.

The quiet was quickly broken at 8:45 a.m. when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. As we watched events unfold on live TV, I directed the reference desk to open earlier than normal and alert the editor. We focused the initial research on t he premise that this was a commuter plane accident. I also called my husband to alert him that it was going to be a busy news day.

Then at 9:05 a.m., the second plane hit the World Trade Center. At this point, we knew it was not an accident, but terrorism.

About 30 minutes later, several members of my staff watched another airplane fly right by the windows of USA Today, the tallest building for miles, and plummet into the Pentagon. The plane came so close to us that some people could see inside it. The explosion was so powerful that our building shook. We found out later that its foundation had been cracked.

Because we did not know how many more airplanes were coming, or if USA Today was a target, we evacuated to the street until we could learn more.

The scene on the street looked like a Bruce Willis movie. Ambulances roared by with sirens wailing, and people ran through the street screaming and crying. I managed to call my husband on my cell phone to tell him what had happened and let him know I was OK. He said later that he could not make out my words because the city's phone system was collapsing. All he could hear was a level of fear in my voice that he had never heard before. That was the last time he heard from me for several hours, because all phones in the city stopped functioning due to the increased load.

As we waited on the street, we kept trying to call the newspaper but couldn't get through. Eventually, several members of my staff decided to head home because they were afraid of what was coming. It took them over four hours to get home because of traffic.

Working at a media company, I knew that I had to get back to work and help the newsroom, so about 30 minutes later; I walked back into the building with a sports reporter. Neither of us knew if we would ever walk out alive again. But we knew the newspaper had to publish, and we had to be there. It was the right thing to do.

When I walked through sections of the building, it looked like a ghost town. As I was heading up to the newsroom, several members of my staff met me at the door ready to work. I went up to the main newsroom to locate my boss and the editor. I informed them that we had a skeleton crew at work along with several others who would be telecommuting. I finally managed to get through to my husband and arranged to call him every hour until I was able to come home. I did not return to the house until very late that night.

Our indexing supervisor helped on the reference desk while he waited to hear if his wife was alive. She worked in the Pentagon. He had to wait several hours for news that she was OK.

As we continued to answer reporters' reference questions, we watched military helicopters loaded with missiles circling outside. We could also hear F-15s flying over us, which offered some comfort. The parking garages underneath USA Today were loc ked down, and security guards were put in new places. The only way to enter the building was by showing a drivers license and company i.d.

Later in the afternoon, the editor came to our department to let us know about the increased security in the skies and our building, and to inform us that we were free to leave if we were afraid. No one left, even though the police had evacuated our building except for the newsrooms and was clearing out most of Arlington because of security concerns.

The staff who had arrived in the morning stayed until the night crew arrived. I stayed until late that night because I wanted to be sure everyone was going to be all right. We had worked on difficult stories before, but nothing of t his magnitude. This was the hardest story I had ever worked on during my entire career in journalism.

The next day, we all came to work and continued to work on the story, as we did for many weeks afterward. I have seen many levels of integrity and courage in my career, but I have never been as proud of a group of people as I was of my staff during that event. They worked through tears and fear because it was the right thing to do. And the newspaper had a responsibility to find the truth and explain what happened and why. The Sept. 12, 2001, issue of the newspaper is evidence of that.
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