Dale and Joann Meiners
September 11, 2001. A day my wife Joann and I will never forget. Why? Because we were on a bus tour with Hawkeye Stages of Decorah, Iowa. We were scheduled to be at the World Trade Center at 9 a.m. to meet our tour guide. He was to be our guide for the day in New York City.
As we were ready to unload the bus on Monday evening September 10 our tour guide announced that we had a very long day and the next day we were to get an extra hour sleep and we would be at the Trade Center at 10 a.m. instead of 9 a.m. How we welcomed the extra hour of sleep!
The tour group loaded onto the bus and headed out of Newburgh, N.Y., on Highway 3. Just before they reached the Lincoln Tunnel at around 9 a.m., they noticed smoke coming from a building in downtown New York. We were sitting in the front of the bus and all at once there was this big smoke.When we got closer we could see the building was on fire. At the time, we didn’t know it was the Twin Towers.
By the time we’d reached the Lincoln Tunnel, authorities had halted traffic and were instructing all vehicles to turn around for fear that the tunnel was another terrorist target.
Waylaid in the tunnel, the bus driver asked a nearby trucker if he knew what the structure fire was in downtown New York. It was then that the tour group learned that our destination was the source of the blaze.
It got pretty quiet when we found out what it was. We were in disbelief that something like that could happen in the United States, but we were thankful we weren’t there when we were scheduled to be. How fortunate we were that someone was watching over us.
When traffic began to move and the bus exited the tunnel we looked in the direction of the Twin Towers, only to see a giant void, muddled by soot and smoke. During our time in the tunnel, the towers had come down.
The driver headed toward New Jersey, enroute to a shopping mall where the bus could park.
All our families knew at the time we were supposed to be at the towers, so everyone back here was wondering if we were there when the buildings went down. Our son called Hawkeye Stages, but they had no word from us yet. Finally we were able to get to a pay phone, we had no cell phone, but in all the excitement we could not even remember any phone numbers. Finally Joann remembered the 800 number where she worked and asked them to call our children and tell them we were OK.
Hawkeye Stages gave us the option of going home or to continue with the tour. Six passengers elected to return home, but the rest of us decided to go on.
The first thing we did Wednesday morning as we reboarded the bus was say a prayer for those who had lost loved ones, and for the safety of everyone on Hawkeye Stages. Our driver and escort did a tremendous job in keeping us safe and calm. We continued on visiting Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. in the following days. At the National Cathedral we attended a church service, praying for the victims in New York. In Washington, D.C. on September 13 we were confronted with a most surreal scene. Our bus, as far as we could tell, was the only one within the tourist areas in Washington, D.C. Plazas and walkways nearly deserted and we viewed memorials and monuments in almost complete solitude. The only other humans were law enforcement authorities. There were armed guards at the national monuments, at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. We could get in, but things were pretty well secured. We were not able to tour the White House or the Capitol. Helicopters flew constantly over the White House.
Flags were at half staff at all buildings. Flags were hanging from trucks, cars, and road equipment including cranes high in the air.
We are so thankful our driver and escort had the means and knowledge to get out of the attack area.
The image of the smoke rolling out of the WTC will forever be etched in our minds.