Red Begonias, Blue Skies, and 9-11

Keith's note: When I first moved to Washington to work for NASA I lived in River House III in Pentagon City. The view outside my window was pretty much the Pentagon and its parking lot. I was quite the runner back then and used to run around the Pentagon a lot. Everyone did. Security was nothing at all like it is now. Indeed, there really wasn't any. One of my standard routes was to run on the west side of the Pentagon between the old heliport and the Pentagon itself. The sidewalk I ran on was probably 5 feet from the building. No fences. (map) Again, this was the late 1980s.

There was one window that always stood out from all the others: the occupant had red begonias in pots in the window. If you run then you know that you establish little markers in your running routine. This was one of them. As best I can tell, this window - this office - was part of the Pentagon that was destroyed on 9-11. Had I still lived in Riverhouse III on 9-11 I would have watched the tragedy unfold from my home. Were I to run that route today (not likely) I'd go past the Pentagon Memorial to the victims of 9-11.

I have lived in Reston, Virginia for 20 years, 10 miles from Dulles International Airport. On the morning of 9-11 United flight 77 may well have circled over my house as it climbed to altitude to head out on its westerly route - and perhaps again as it circled back toward the Pentagon. When you live near an international airport, the low hum of aircraft is ever present. For several days after the attack, the weather was unusually stunning and the sky was eerily silent - except for occasional fighter jets flying sorties.

A few weeks later when I drove down to Pentagon City on business I drove past the Pentagon as I had done hundreds of times. The black, horrid, gaping wound was more than I could handle. Luckily I was pulling off the highway to exit to park. I was shaking.

My old neighborhood had been attacked - and the attack was mounted by people flying over my current neighborhood. I did not know anyone who died but I still felt as if I did. Now, when September arrives in Washington and we have blue sky days, that beauty reminds me of the horror.

These days, I drive by the Pentagon a lot. I always turn my head to look at the western side for a moment when I do. It looks much different now. The wall may be new but the wound is still there.

I hope someone still has red begonias in their window.

That's my story. What is yours?

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This page contains a single entry by Keith Cowing published on September 10, 2011 12:05 AM.

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