by Ernie and Mary Ann Albanese
Mary Ann Albanese: Stationed with the 141st Signal Battalion in Göppingen, near Nuremberg, Germany in 1972 Ernie and I had the opportunity to make the trip to Munich to attend the XX Olympiad. It was several hours away but we enjoyed the ride on the Autobahn in our 1969 Chevy Camaro.
It was a crisp September day, but we were comfortable. Ernie was in a tan suede sports jacket while I wore the latest “midi” coat, covering a still in fashion “mini” skirt.
We attended a soccer match. I remember large, colorful flags blowing in the wind. We drank beer and ate bratwurst; probably too much. For us it was a fun day. We thought it a once in a lifetime opportunity to attend the Olympics. It turned out to be much more.
We left for Goppingen that night, September 4th, 1972 and the Black September Terrorist Group struck a few hours later. We learned about it on Armed Forces Radio. Terrorism became real to us that day.
This was not our last or our closest encounter with terrorism. We were living and working in New York City on September 11, 2001. Ernie was home that morning and I had just arrived at work. I knew immediately something was up because two senior attorneys were looking out the corner office window on the 30th floor. Although almost two miles away, given our high vantage point, we could clearly see one of the massive World Trade Center towers with smoke billowing out of it.
As the rest of the events unfolded, watching the second plane hit, the Towers falling, the Pentagon hit, we all knew life would never be the same again. The Managing Partner gathered everyone into the conference room, and we prayed. People made arrangements to stay in the “City” because transportation was at a standstill. I walked the 40 blocks home to our apartment, almost two miles. It was a walk I often made, but having no contact with Ernie, it seemed to take forever. When I got home you could smell the smoke from the WTC blaze.
In the ensuing weeks and months, I would see posters with pictures marked “Missing 9-11-01” on poles in the downtown area as a ghostly reminder of how many had not been recovered.
During the days to come, there were endless funeral marches with bagpipes along Fifth Avenue to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for lost firefighters and policemen. Ernie and I didn’t lose any friends that day, but it felt like we did. I will never forget the picture of five men carrying from the rubble the lifeless body of Father Mychal Fallon Judge, Roman Catholic priest and legendary Chaplain for the New York City Fire Department. Refusing to leave “ground zero”, he had been killed by flying debris as he prayed over and administered last rights to fallen first responders.
Ernie Albanese: It was about 9AM and I was home, in our second-floor condo on 14th Street and 9th Avenue.
Mary Ann called me from work and told me to turn on the TV because a small commuter plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. My first thoughts were “Now that’s one dumb SOB”. I continued to watch on television until I saw the second plane and knew immediately, unbelievably, what it was. I went down to the street and looked down 9th Avenue where I could see the WTC.
When I saw the North Tower fall I decided to move south to see if I could help in any way. Some others did the same thing including a couple of men with shovels. By their dress I knew they were everyday citizens just like me; people knowing that something terrible was happening and just wanting to “march to the sound of the guns”, as Field Marshall Grouchy failed to do at Waterloo. The further south we went the thicker and blacker the smoke. At this point, most people were walking and running north. Some seemed panicked, some seemed dazed and some were covered in soot. Blocks from the WTC police had already established temporary barricades and we were turned back.
At this point, unable to contact Mary Ann by phone, I headed back uptown to St. Vincent’s Hospital to give blood. The lines were stretched around the block. It was blood which would not be needed. I remember many of us that day kept looking at the skies for more planes. Munich flashed in my mind and I remembered an awards dinner I had attended years earlier at “Windows on the World”, on the 107th floor of the North Tower.
I received a glass trophy that night. I later dropped and shattered it, an omen of the future, perhaps. A future in which there would be no more memories created at that iconic restaurant; instead, a lasting realization that New York City and our nation had been changed forever.