The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Zachary Hubbard

September 8, 2011

ZACHARY HUBBARD | 9/11 anniversary stirs memories of fateful day

Morning routines disrupted by terror-filled hours

— I retired from the U.S. Army in August 2001 and took a job with a small software company in Hampton, Va.

It never occurred to me that my scheduled drive from Hampton to Arlington, Va., on Sept. 11, might be of interest to anyone.

This changed when a group of mostly Saudi Arabian, Islamic extremists hijacked commercial airliners and used them as weapons to attack our country.

On that fateful morning, I had been scheduled to attend a meeting at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in downtown Arlington, only a few minutes from the Pentagon.

My occasional drives from my home in Yorktown, Va., to Arlington normally took about three hours.

It was during the drive on that fateful morning that I first heard on the radio that an airplane had crashed into one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.  

This was tragic news for sure, but not particularly alarming at that point.

I stopped at my company’s branch office in Alexandria to make some photocopies needed for the meeting.

Shortly after I arrived, the receptionist informed me another plane had struck the second tower of the World Trade Center and yet another had struck the Pentagon.

Stepping outside to the sidewalk in front of our office building I could see smoke billowing up over the Pentagon, about five miles away.

I knew that several of my friends worked in that massive building and I worried about each of them.

Only several days later would I finally learn that all were unharmed.  

Upon seeing the smoke rising over the Pentagon, I realized my scheduled meeting at DARPA would never happen on that particular day.

Shortly thereafter, I got in my car and drove back to my office in Hampton.

I later learned I had chosen wisely.

Many people working and/or living inside the Washington, D.C., Beltway were trapped in massive traffic jams that lasted for hours as panic set in and many people attempted to flee the national capital region.  

My normal route from Alexandria to Arlington would have taken me past the Pentagon near the very spot where the aircraft struck.

It took some time for reality to sink in, but I soon realized our country was under attack; we were at war, and it was taking place on American soil.

My 26 years of military experience had never prepared me for this.

I, like so many others, had been taken totally by surprise.

During the weeks following 9/11, I fully expected to be recalled to active duty in the Army, but it never happened.

Two of my Army buddies who were scheduled to retire in October and November were both retained on active duty through the Department of Defense’s “stop loss” policy implemented after the attacks.

They were not allowed to retire until the fall of 2003.

In a classic example of the “six degrees of separation,” it turned out that the pilot of the airliner that struck the Pentagon was a friend of the executive vice president of the company I worked for in Hampton.

Zachary P. Hubbard is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army and owner/senior consultant with Laurel Breeze Consulting, Johnstown. He serves on The Tribune-Dem-ocrat’s reader advisory committee.


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