9-11 remembered: a friend’s story of D.C. that day


September 10, 2011 - 12:00 AM

All of us recall where we were on Sept. 11, 2001.
I was running late for work. Just brushed my teeth and walked back into the bedroom when the usual talk on NBC’s Today show was different that morning.
Something happened. I sat on the edge of my bed, watched, listened and waited. Not long did I sit there but quickly moved out of the house, into my car and off to the Register office.
At first it appeared to be an accident then another plane, and another and another went down. We scrambled at the Register to purchase a television and had to have cable hooked up.
Later in the year as we all were still reeling from the shock and devastation of that day in September, I learned a high school classmate of mine was in Washington, D.C. I interviewed Karen (Freeman) Sifford, Linwood High School Class of 1975, five years ago. I’d like to share her story with you on the 10th anniversary of 9-11-2001.
“Seeing the black smoke coming from the direction of the Pentagon was a bit unnerving,” Sifford, who lives in Basehor, said of Sept. 11, 2001.
Sifford remembers that day clearly five years and even now 10 years following the terrorist attack. As an information technology system’s auditor for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General, Sifford was in Washington at the time of the 2001 terrorist attack.
She was within three miles of the Pentagon, when American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the west side of it.
It was 9:40 a.m. (EDT). It was a Tuesday.
“We were in a conference room in the Whitten Building. We were on a job. There was a guy from Texas and a guy from Pennsylvania on the team with me,” Sifford said. “We could hear people in the hallways talking about ‘something happened’ and they were going to rooms to watch televisions or listen to radios.”
Something had happened.
“My husband, Keith, called me and asked where I was. He was worried because until a year before this, I worked for the Government Accountability Office. I would have been in that part of the Pentagon.
“God works in mysterious ways. They closed the office I worked at in Kansas City and I lost my job. I began working for the Department of Agriculture in June of 2000.”
Sifford said her husband told her about the airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center Twin Towers and into the Pentagon.
“There was no emergency procedure for us at the Whitten Building. And it’s right across from the Washington Monument. It’s in line with the White House and with the Capitol Building.”
Sifford said they finally told everyone to evacuate the building. “We went out in the street and that’s when you could see the smoke from the Pentagon. Where do we go?”
She said they stood in the street near a subway station and watched the “war zone” as fire trucks, emergency personnel, police arrived. They knew there was another hijacked plane and it was said to have been headed back toward Washington, D. C.
“It was chaos. There were people with gas masks because of the possible threat of biological terrorism. They told us to go to our hotels and get out of the city.”
But how? “The subways were crampacked with people trying to get out of the District. The subway train doors shut on you no matter what and one time the people in the car had to pull me in or the door would have shut on my shoulder.”
Sifford said in Washington, people are on a mission “not looking up and not helping out a lot. But it changed that day. People were trying to help each other, taking the time to make sure people were alright.”
Sifford’s trek back to her hotel in Silver Springs, Md., took four hours and there were switchings of trains. “I was lucky. My train went where it was supposed to but others didn’t and were stopped and didn’t run at all.”
She said her family wanted to rent a car and drive home. The airports were closed. Tuesday night was like a war zone because of the helicopters flying over the area and search lights.
“But I went back to Washington and went to work Wednesday and Thursday. I was able to find a car by Thursday and my nephew, Chris Freeman (son of her brother Curtis Freeman), was in New York City at the time. He had flown for the first time and was in the city when the attack happened but not near the trade center,” Sifford said.
Freeman is a CPA for a company in the Kansas City area and was in New York on a job. The plans were for him to take the train to Washington and meet with his aunt and they’d drive back to Kansas  together.
“Then after he had left on the train I found out the airport (Dulles) was open and there was a flight back to KCI. I contacted Chris’ office and told them they needed to purchase a ticket for Chris for the flight.”
Freeman’s train was late getting to Union Station because “it was stopped several  times to check it and the tracks for bombs.” A harried cab ride through traffic got the pair to Dulles just minutes before flight time.
“But they wouldn’t let Chris on because his ticket hadn’t been purchased enough time ahead of the flight time. I had to go on the plane without him. I worried all the way home on the flight.”
Arriving at KCI, Sifford got as much information, which wasn’t much, about her nephew and the next flight out of Dulles for Kansas City. Fortunately, Freeman was on the next flight.
“That day and experience changed my prospective on things, on life. We can’t take anything for granted,” Sifford said. “I still fly and work as I did before. The security is a good thing. We have been reminded that we must be thankful we live in America.”
Sifford, a government employee for 25 years, was met in Kansas City by her family but also by a local television station crew. The family members were interviewed.
“Keith and I went to Washington later and you can’t get near the Pentagon like you used to. I was used to walking up, showing my I.D. and going in,” she said. “It was tough that day because I had staff members flying that route the highjacked planes took. I worried for them until I knew they were safe.”
Today, Sifford is assistant director of data analysis in the  special projects division of the Department of Agriculture. She still travels a lot for her job.
“Just a couple of weeks ago I took a family trip to New York City,” Sifford told me this week. “I went down to the memorial. I took a photos of the area. Yes, I’ve been back to Washington, D.C., and went past the Pentagon.”

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