10 Years After Sept. 11: Platers recall tragic day

AC Plating’s Bob McBride knew he was juggling too much when he made plans to go to Washington, D.C., for the 2001 National Association for Surface Finishing’s Washington Forum, an annual government-relations symposium scheduled for September 11, 2001.


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Bob McBride, AC Plating

AC Plating’s Bob McBride knew he was juggling too much when he made plans to go to Washington, D.C., for the 2001 National Association for Surface Finishing’s Washington Forum, an annual government-relations symposium scheduled for September 11, 2001.
His company had just installed a new line for chrome plating on aluminum, and he was worried that he should stay home in Bakersfield, Calif., to make sure things went right for his customer.
“I had purchased my tickets weeks in advance as I had always done in the past—fly from LAX to Dulles on Saturday, and fly home late Tuesday after the Hill visits out of Dulles on American Airlines,” says McBride, who was active on various committees for the South California plating association and the National Association of Metal Finishers, the precursor to the NASF.
“I was needed at the shop to help troubleshoot as we brought the line up to speed, and I had also promised I would be in D.C. for the hill visits,” he says. “I began to look at how I could try to juggle both. I came up with a plan to attend the board and committee meetings on Sunday and Monday and then catch the earliest flight out Tuesday morning on American Airlines flight 77 leaving at 8:20 a.m. and getting me back in the plant before noon.”
Ten years after that horrific Sept. 11 day in 2001, most people remember that Flight 77 was hijacked by five al-Qaeda terrorists and deliberately crashed into the Pentagon as part of the attacks on the U.S. All 64 people on board the aircraft, including the hijackers, were killed. Another 125 people in the Pentagon perished, too.
McBride’s plan to get to D.C. and back quickly seemed like a good one, but as the new line started to have some problems, the pressure to stay became more intense. On Friday night, McBride’s wife urged him to stay home. He wrestled with the thought of missing the meetings, but he finally agreed with her and notified the fellow NAMF board members the next day that he would not be attending.
He felt horrible about letting his board members down, but it turned out to be a decision that saved his life.
“I am not sure who was looking after me when I made that decision, but thank goodness I listened to my wife for once,” McBride says. “I have to say I must have had a guardian angel looking after me.”
Many platers remember that tragic day. We asked a few to share their rememberance. Here’s how plating veterans Duff Gerhardt and Mike Kelly remember September 11, 2001, in Washington, D.C., when they set out to visit their Congressional representatives and talk about the plating and finishing industry, and how they got back home after airline travel ceased.

Mike Kelly, The Asko Group

I have been asked if I might share some of my thoughts about the now infamous date (September, 11 2001) that is forever engrained in our hearts and minds.
It is fitting to take some time and reflect on that horrible date in history as we, believe it or not, commemorate the ten anniversary of that tragic day.
I must admit that at first I was not sure I really wanted to relive that day and share the many emotions that I and so many others experienced that day. However, I have concluded that we must never forget that day and how many Americans lives were lost at the hands those senseless terrorists. Just writing these words stirs my inner core as I think back to what happened and the resolve that we all shared in the days that followed, that this “must not stand” as our President shared with our Nation.
Like many other fellow metal finishers I had made the trip out to Washington DC for our annual Legislative Conference and Capitol Hill visits. And ironically, for the first time I had invited my wife Sandy to join me, as she had never been to DC before. We went out a couple days before (over the weekend) and we wore out a pair of shoes visiting all that our Capitol has to offer citizens who come seeking our rich history as well as the hollowed hall of democracy. We even were able to go on a White House tour, which probably aren’t the same any more.
The morning of September 11 we were scheduled to make our Hill visits with our Washington State Congressional delegation. It was 8:45 am when we stepped out of the elevator and realized something was not normal. In the lobby bar of the hotel large crowds were huddled closely around a few TV’s as they watched the news describing the apparent crash of a large aircraft into a tower of the World Trade Center. It was eerie and hard to believe that this could even happen.
After pondering what we should do we took the business approach and marched off to the Capitol to start our visits. Once inside the office of our first visit it was clear this not going to be a regular day with the normal protocol of interaction. We were not going to just talk about our issues and have them politely respond back to us. Things were almost chaotic and at an emotional state where even the legislative aids were not able to function. Thus our first visit was cut way short, so on to our next appointment with Congressman McDermott who planned to meet with Sandy and I. We had just started to discuss all that was going on when we felt the explosion and then saw out the window the smoke billowing from the Pentagon. At once we knew this was so big and bad it was beyond comprehension. Before we knew it the Congressman was being swept out of his office and we were told to evacuate as all others were being instructed.
Sandy has described those next few minutes as if we were in some kind of movie but it was going in slow motion. We were so focused on all that was going on around us we could see the terror and horror in so many peoples faces. It also seemed like every other person we saw was attempting to contact a loved one on the cell phone, but none of them could get through as to the system was jammed I’m sure.
As we left the Capitol buildings we were directed to head toward the Potomac River the opposite of our hotel. Needless to say we had a very long walk as we watched the security tighten up before our eyes. There were uniformed and plainclothes personnel on every street corning with automatic weapons. Sandy had her camera and she kept taking photos of the Capitol as we wondered if it might be the next target. As we know now it very well may have been the goal of Flight 93.
As evening fell we of course learned more of the whole series of actions the terrorists had carried out to one degree or another. The bottom line was they has succeeded in taking down the World Trade Center, seriously damaging the Pentagon as well as crashing a third commercial aircraft that as we now know the passengers made their heroic move to overtake the hijackers.
With nothing else to do but sit in the hotel in what almost felt like a lockdown Sandy and I thought a short walk would do us good and get our mind off the tragedy. Our walk turned out to be quite an adventure. As we walked the Washington Mall we realized that many of the streetlights were out as well as most buildings. It was like a black out of the WWII days. As we approached the Washington Monument a patrol car rushed up to us from out of nowhere and the officer asked whom we are and what we were doing. We quickly explained and then we were informed this was ‘Ground Zero’ as far as the Government was concerned and no one should be here. Back to the hotel we marched.
The following day many of our fellow metal finishers (especially those who did not live too far away) were out making every effort to find alternative transportation home or out of DC. After waiting to hear if and when Regan Airport might open again we had missed our chance to book a train out west to Seattle (a three plus day trip I might add), so we had to wait it out. Sandy felt we had to do something to help be supportive so she suggested that we go give blood. So off we went on what turned out to be a very long day with our friend Tony Revier to give blood at the International Red Cross headquarters building. We were in line 8 hours total and by the time we were done we had made many new friends as we were all there doing what we could to be helpful. We were proud to be Americans and it was so apparent as vendors came from all around to donate food and drinks to the hundreds of us in line.
To further give you a sense of the resolve of Americans across all the generations, that evening after we left the Red Cross HQ feeling rather patriotic we walked across the Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, as Tony had never seen it. We were touched to see (even thought the monuments were officially closed) many small groups huddled around candles on the monument steps either talking quietly or praying. If that were not moving enough, we noticed a large number of small flickering lights headed our way from the opposite side of the Reflection Pond. Our curiosity over took us so off we went to see what it was about. We joined a very large crowd on a candle light vigil going to the White House to demonstrate their support and resolve as Americans. What was most interesting in this crowd of more then 2,000 was the fact that most all of them were no more then 30 years old and many looked like they were young professionals or even Gov’t employees. They were waving American flags in a most respectful manner. Once in front of the White House someone started leading the song ‘God Bless America’ and then other patriotic songs. And every 5 minutes or so we would all stop and say the Pledge of Allegiance. We even sang ‘Amazing Grace’ Needless to say there were many teary eyes. It was also interesting that since we were the most mature (Oldest) citizens in the crowd a few others took notice of us, especially as we proudly wore our ‘I Gave Blood’ T-shirts. Finally the topper of that most memorable evening, the White House also was in black out with all the lights out. After we had been there for over 30 minutes all the White House lights were turned on to show their acknowledgement of our presence and purpose for being there. 
The following day was filled with more new experiences. By now most of our colleagues had been able to find ways to leave and head home. We learned the trip the contingent from Chicago took via a rented RV was quite the road trip. This day businesses and Government were making an attempt to operate again, and since we had nothing else to do, we tried to head back up to Capitol Hill to make a few more Congressional visits. We were able to see a few people though the focus was on all the current events and not much more. To share a tid-bit, we stopped by the Congressional store to by a few souvenirs and that’s where we saw the rush to buy the American flag label pins. I joined in the fray and bought a handful to hand out to friends. I now proudly wear a pin to remind me to never forget this time in history. We toped the day off going out dinner to celebrate Sandy’s birthday. Bill Wiggins from California joined us at Sam and Harry’s Steakhouse for a nice quiet evening since the restaurant was nearly empty.
Friday rolled around and we were getting a bit stir crazy wondering if the airplanes were ever going to get back in the air. We had made numerous attempts to book flights to no avail. I tried using a travel agent and due to her good efforts she was able to find the last two seats on a flight set to leave Dulles Airport at 1:00 that afternoon, and it was a direct flight to Seattle. It was 11:30 when we received this news so we raced out of the hotel, jumped in to a cab and asked that he make his quickest trip ever to Dulles. He did and was rewarded with a very large tip. Even an Airport Skycap saw that we were in a frenzy and he saw to it we got into a short line to help ensure we would make our flight.
As you might imagine with this being the first day the flights were set to resume there was a tremendous amount of chaos and even apprehension, especially by some of the flight crews we encountered. There was a delay in the departure due to late arriving cockpit crew so our timing was perfect so we thought. Once at the gate there was a real mixture of emotions by fellow passengers. Some were so excited to finally be heading home it was like a celebration. Others were showing signs of their concern to get back up in the air and whether it was really safe to do so.
Once onboard the plane our Captain made the announcement to reassure us that he would not take off unless he was 100% sure we were good to go. And that is just what he did. It was two more hours of checking and double-checking and I mean it was crazy, but we all complied. When we were informed there was some concerns about the baggage recheck the next thing we saw was the plane surrounded police and FBI cars we knew something was up. We were then asked to deplane to go through another security check. As we entered the gate area FBI agents and police surrounded us. We later learned that one person was not allowed back on the plane. 
By the way, during all this time we never saw any other planes leaving or taxing. Finally our flight was cleared and off we went. We later learned that only 3 aircraft left that day and then it was decided that things were not quite ready so flights did not really get started for another day or so. I also did not tell my wife that as we took off I could see the military fighters in the air escorting us.
Thank God our flight home was uneventful and we landed safely in Seattle at 6:00 pm, just in time for us to rush to our company annual anniversary and awards dinner. What a special reunion that was and a night I will long remember.
Thanks for allowing me to share my reflections of this historic tragedy and our experience in the Nations Capitol the days that followed. In a special way we felt proud and both patriotic to be there during that tumultuous time. I also felt as many Americans did, a deep resolve that those responsible would ultimately experience the wrath of America for striking out and killing so many innocent people, most citizens of our great Country. When someone attacks our sovereignty there will be consequences, just ask those who have done so – oh they cannot speak because they are no longer alive.
As one proud American I say to my fellow Americans – God Bless America and what we stand for. And let us NEVER forget September 11, 2001.

Duff Gerhardt, General Super Plate

We had been watching the tragedy unfolding in the hotel lobby so were aware of what was happening in New York. We had an appointment with Senator Hillary Clinton so we, (the NY contingent), decided to walk up to her office building. Along the way, Gene Nadel kept calling two of his friends who worked in the World Trade Center. He did not get through and later learned that both were lost in the collapse of the tower. 
As we were walking, we heard the plane hit the Pentagon and hurried on to Hillary’s office. The doors were open and we went through security. As we waited for the elevator, the order was given to evacuate the building.
We returned to the hotel where we learned that all public transportation had been closed down. Another New York plater, Joe Morgan, and his wife Carol, of Triple Cities Metal Finishing had driven to the conference and had planned to continue south to Myrtle Beach, SC. Their car was packed to capacity but Milt Stevenson and I, (no light weights!), squeezed in. At the time, we thought that once we got to Fredericksburg or Richmond, VA we would be able to rent a car. It was a great idea but after a drive that took three hours to go 50 miles, we found out there were no cars to be had. We then called a car rental agency in Richmond and were told that they did have cars but they could not be taken out of the State of Virginia.
I had noticed a U-Haul truck rental down the road so we decided to give it a try. “Bingo!” They had a 19 ft truck we could rent. Milt and I loaded the truck with our two overnight bags and took off on a ten hour drive to Syracuse. The two of us had been friends since we were both in college but on that day we didn’t talk about old times; we just listened to the news. Milt’s wife, Ann, picked him up at my shop and I continued home to the great relief of my family. Several NAMF members were held up in DC for as long as a week. We were fortunate in many ways that September day.