91/11/2001: The Day That Changed America
By Suzanne McCabe
Reprinted from Junior Scholastic, October 29, 2001

"As you can see," the ferry captain said over his bullhorn the morning of September 11, "a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

It was 8:48. Our commuter boat had left Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey, for New York City three minutes earlier. It was the kind of morning pilots call "severe clear." We could see the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan—still 40 minutes away—with aching clarity.

Like everyone, I watched in horror as smoke spewed from the upper floors of the north tower, and metal strips that had encased the building unfurled like cans of tuna fish.

Then it dawned on me: my brother Michael was in that 110-story building. A week earlier, Mike had joined one of his best friends, Mike Tucker, or "Tuck," at Cantor Fitzgerald, an international brokerage firm. Before that, Mike had worked at Prudential Bache for 18 years.

Mike and Tuck traded over-the-counter stocks and rode the same boat each morning. They were always at their desks by 7:10.

I knew they would be in their office, I just didn't know what floor it was on. I tried to reach Mike—then his wife, Lynn, then my brother Nick. I couldn't get through to anyone.

When I looked up, I saw a second plane slice through the top of the south tower. Everyone gasped. That ruthless smack knocked the wind out of all of us. This was no accident. America, we realized, was under attack.

Still, we sailed on. We passed the Sandy Hook Lighthouse, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island, all eyes on those twin towers. Black smoke billowed from one. Orange and yellow fireballs, the size of zeppelins, ringed the other.

We watched in disbelief as shards of glass and paper rained down on the streets below. I tried to picture Mike and Tuck running down the stairs to safety.

A Sea of Refugees
As we approached New York Harbor, the captain announced that no one would be allowed off the boat. Instead, we would pick up those who had fled office buildings near the trade center.

Black soot and ash now cloaked much of the sky. The smell of burning plastic and rubber soured the air. Already, thousands of people had crammed the pier. Knowing better, I looked for Mike's face in the crowd.

As we headed back to Atlantic Highlands, I went up to the top deck. Lower Manhattan looked ghastly. But nothing could prepare me for what came next: the collapse of the south tower. Within seconds it seemed, a huge swirl of ash and debris took down the once soaring skyscraper, changing a landscape I had known and loved since childhood.

A friend held me as a group of us watched in silence. Almost no one could get through to family and friends.

Somewhere, though, a cell phone rang. "It's my sister," a woman said. "The Pentagon's been hit!" Faces froze in disbelief. So, I thought, this is war.

After the north tower fell, I tried to estimate the number of minutes Mike and Tuck would need to escape. I knew that many of the firemen, whose trucks we heard screaming down Broadway, would be crushed by falling debris.

Traders, Chaplains, Chefs
My brother Michael did not make it home on September 11. Within 48 hours, his body was pulled from a mound of twisted steel, metal, and concrete. He and Tuck had been on the 104th floor of the north tower, too high up to be saved. Tuck's body has still not been found.

The world lost two great guys on September 11. They were loving husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, and two of the most talented traders on Wall Street.

My brother Mike was a loyal friend and superb basketball player. He had a wonderful sense of humor and loved to bodysurf. Plus, he had no cavities!

In the span of an hour or so, maybe less, the world lost thousands of other greats. Many were traders, like Mike and Tuck. Others were firemen, police officers, and chaplains. Still others were violinists, chefs, and photographers—scholars, skiers, thinkers, and dreamers.

When terrorists sliced off the top floors of those twin towers, they took some of the best and brightest. They left thousands of children without a dad or mom. They broke our hearts, but not our spirits.

To learn more about author Suzanne McCabe, click here.