“It was a day just like today. There was not a single cloud in the sky.”
Herb Alexander got up to go to work on Sept. 11, 2001, a day that seemed like any other. He worked in the financial district of Chicago in the Chicago Board Options Exchange building. He was a computer programmer at Goldman Sachs Investment Bank.
He recalls being in the break room when he watched the first report of the first attack on TV.
“We all thought it was just an explosion that may have happened. Later they said it may have been a plane.”
Shortly after 8 a.m., he watched the second plane hit the second tower.
“Everyone immediately knew this was no accident,” Alexander said. He and his coworkers were all concerned about the financial district in New York, where they had many counterparts.
“Of course we were concerned about them. We made phone calls to them, making sure they were not affected.”
About five minutes later, they received a two-word email that read, “Go home.”
“Like I said, I knew people who worked in the financial district of New York City [located in Manhattan]. They were evacuated out of Manhattan. One of the men who worked for me in the city was evacuating when one of the towers collapsed. He had to take shelter into a nook outside of the building, covering his face with his shirt and protecting himself from all the dust and debris that completely surrounded him.”
Alexander, who took the train, remembers all the train personnel, who normally were off during the middle of the day, coming back to work immediately. The trains were being loaded as quickly as possible.
“Get on any train. As soon as they’re full, they’re leaving!”
The trains were flooded with people as they headed back to the suburbs. Many people, like Alexander, had their headphones in as they listened to updates on the radio. It was then that reports came in about the Pentagon crash.
“Before we got home, we heard the report of the collapse of the first tower. Everybody on the train was just stunned… you couldn’t believe it,” said Alexander.
He arrived at his home in Shorewood and watched the collapse of the second tower on the news with his wife. Eventually, their four young children were released early from school.
Planes were being grounded for fear that there were more terrorists in the air. The Southwest Airlines traffic normally flew right over Alexander’s house to the Midway Airport. That afternoon, he took his son to the park. Without the traffic of the planes, the park was “eerily quiet.”
Back at work, everything stopped for a day. Upon return, workers scrambled around the clock 24/7 as there was much work to do to get their system back up and running. In about four to five days, they were back up on their feet.
Additionally, a van was loaded up with about 20 computers and sent out to set up a work area on the east coast, just outside of Manhattan, in an effort to try to get the business back up and running.
“Little by little, the company started to return to business as usual. But it was never going to be the same.”
Today, Alexander works as an application developer at JJC. He gave a wonderful performance of “America the Beautiful” at the school’s twelfth annual 9/11 ceremony, a day just as clear and sunny as 17 years ago.
Sept. 11 continues to be a day in which people across the nation gather to remember the loss of thousands of victims and the ones affected by their death. JJC has carried on this annual tradition for 12 years and will undoubtedly continue to do so.
Just as Alexander and his family brought out their sidewalk chalk and drew the American Flag on their driveway on that September afternoon, we today lower the flag at half-staff in honor of these tragic events.