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My side of the story
Terrorism and security were not the only concerns at Logan Airport during the September 11 crisis. Political opportunism and finger-pointing also had their day.
By Virginia Buckingham, 9/8/2002
This story is a recounting from Logan Airport, Boston's own ground zero, of the first hours and days following the new century's most searing moment. It is a sharing of my soul and a look into the soul of a city that felt sorrow but sought solace in political revenge. It is a journey I have taken in the shadow of families that lost so much more than a job and professional reputation, as I did.
For me, September 11 was an ending of all I thought I knew and all I thought I was.
September 11, 8:45 a.m. It started as a normal frenzied day. First, drop my 2-year-old son off at day care and then head to the airport.
I was catching a 10 o'clock shuttle to Washington, D.C., for a meeting with FAA administrator Jane Garvey to discuss Logan's proposal for a new runway.
Driving to the airport with a Massport colleague, James Roy, I heard the report on the radio of a plane hitting the north tower of the World Trade Center. My first thought: "Must be a private plane, a confused pilot. I'm glad we're not flying to New York; it's going to be a mess." My assistant called, asking if I wanted to cancel my trip. "Of course not," I replied.
Almost 18 minutes later, still in the car, I heard a radio report of another plane flying into the second trade center tower. I looked at Roy in disbelief. "Oh, my God," I said, "it's terrorism." I immediately got unconfirmed reports from my office that one of the planes was from Boston, possibly both. "God, please, no," I silently prayed.
What had happened? I thought. Were any other hijackings in progress? Did I know anyone on the planes? I called my husband, David, at work to assure him that I was still on the ground. When I reached Massport headquarters, it was eerily quiet, everyone's attention riveted on the television replay of the second plane ramming into the south tower. The sight momentarily left me gasping for breath. But there was little time to take it in. I noticed employees walking by my office, looking in as I watched the television, as if to gauge my reaction. I was determined to set a matter-of-fact tone. We had a job to do, setting in motion Logan's emergency response plan, which involved opening an emergency operations center and a family assistance center.
At first, it was impossible to confirm whether the planes that hit the towers were from Boston. The Federal Aviation Administration and the airlines were focused on closing the nation's airspace and bringing the rest of the commercial fleet down safely. By 9:30, the FAA had grounded all flights out of Boston and New York. By 9:40, all US flight operations were halted. As we tried to account for all Boston-originating flights already in the air, we received word that a Delta flight out of Logan, bound for the West Coast, had lost radio contact with air traffic control.
I felt sick to my stomach. It would be more than an hour before we received word that the flight had landed safely in Cleveland. But that was little comfort, because we knew by then that American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles had been hijacked and rammed into the first WTC tower. A flight attendant, Madeline Amy Sweeney, had called the airline's control center at Logan and described the horrifying scene unfolding at the front of the plane. For the first time, I heard about box cutters, the weapon that would start a war.
While we were trying to grasp the coldblooded murder of 92 passengers and crew on Flight 11, the changing story of United Airlines Flight 175, another LA-bound flight out of Boston, unfolded. At first we were told that it was the second plane involved in the New York attacks. Then we were told that an American Airlines plane out of Washington's Dulles International Airport had crashed into the trade center tower, and United 175 was safely on the ground. I winced at the effect this uncertainty must be having on passengers' families. Meanwhile, I passed the contradictory information on to the governor's office and the mayor's office.
It was late morning before fact was separated from rumor, and we knew that Boston was doubly touched by tragedy. It was United Flight 175, it would turn out, that had been flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center, killing its 56 passengers and nine crew members.
We would also learn that it was American Flight 77, en route from Dulles to Los Angeles, that had crashed into the Pentagon at 9:43 a.m. And that at 10 a.m., United Airlines Flight 93, en route from Newark to San Francisco, had crashed into a Pennsylvania field.
Around 11 a.m., my husband called to say that the state courthouse where he worked was being closed for security reasons. Suddenly I felt an overwhelming desire to get my son out of day care. "Get Jack and bring him home," I told David, my voice cracking. Nothing seemed safe anymore.
I took over a conference room above the auditorium and gathered key aviation and security staff. We went through a checklist. A team of 50 Massport employees - from secretaries to engineers - trained to aid victims' families had been deployed to the Logan Hilton hotel, where victims' families were starting to gather. The State Police were securing the terminals and any aircraft on the ground. Massport's conference center in South Boston was opened to stranded travelers. In an incredible show of generosity, many families in East Boston, the neighborhood in Logan's backyard and the most at odds with the airport over the years, opened their homes to total strangers with nowhere else to go.
For the first time in decades, all was quiet overhead. The airport, normally moving 75,000 passengers through its doors each day and 1,400 flights off its runways, was unnaturally still. We waited for guidance from Washington as media outlets and federal investigators descended on Boston.
We established a media center at the Hyatt Harborside at Logan and held two briefings that first day. Massport public safety director Joseph Lawless was bombarded with shouted questions. Because little was known about how the hijackers had gained access to the planes, Lawless was forced again and again to cite the ongoing investigation. Neither the FBI nor the FAA had made itself available to the media, so Lawless bore the brunt of pointed questioning that would have been better directed at federal officials.
Later that evening, I joined Lawless and Massport aviation director Thomas Kinton at the podium. Row upon row of reporters, pens poised over their notebooks, literally on the edge of their seats, waited for answers. We had none. I made a statement about the horror Massport felt at what had happened and how our efforts were focused on aiding the investigation. I was exhausted and emotionally drained, stunned by the enormity of what had happened. In politics, perception often matters more than reality, and while I inwardly felt focused and calm, a reporter told me later that I had looked shaken and unsteady - an image that proved difficult to overcome.
I finally went home about 1 a.m. I leaned into David's arms and stood by my sleeping son's bed for a few minutes. I was too tired to speak and too tired to sleep and spent the few hours until dawn staring at the ceiling in our bedroom, mentally forming a checklist for the staff meeting I'd called for 7 a.m.
When we received word that the FAA would reopen US airspace the following day, September 13, a decision on reopening Logan loomed. The airlines were anxious to get flying again, and thousands of travelers, stuck at airports around the country and the world, wanted to get home. But terrorists had walked through our doors just one day earlier. Were there more out there? I wanted to wait to open. The FAA had been flooding us with new security directives, and I wanted to be certain we had complied completely with them. Moreover, many of the directives seemed to just scratch the surface of what needed to be done, such as banning plastic knives from the terminals and halting curbside check-in. We also wanted the FBI and FAA to assure us that they didn't have any intelligence information that put Logan at risk.
Others in the operations center had the "snowstorm mentality," so called because of the overriding dynamic in our nation's Snowbelt airports that defines operational competence as keeping your airport open (i.e., at least one runway) during a snowstorm. With this dynamic driving it, the operations staff was marching Logan toward a reopening the next day, in concert with other airports around the country.
I took Kinton aside and said, "Tom, this isn't a [expletive] snowstorm; that's not what this is about." Kinton agreed we shouldn't be taking the traditional operational approach. At our staff meeting on September 12, I framed the issue this way: "Opening the airport quickly is not the priority, opening it safely is. What else would you do before we reopened, to ensure we are as safe as possible?" The staff developed a working list of 35 items that we quickly adopted, ranging from checking air vents on the terminal roofs for explosives to deploying a State Police SWAT team, armed with machine guns, to patrol the airport.
We decided to go one step further by requiring the airlines to certify that they had complied with their own new safety directives from the FAA. If an airline refused to produce proof, complaining that only the FAA had the authority to demand it, Kinton said bluntly, "Fine, we'll open, but you're not operating."
I skimmed both Boston newspapers each morning. On September 13, Acting Governor Jane Swift was quoted as saying, "Terrorists got onto a plane [at Logan], so obviously there was a problem." She said this despite a New York Times story the day before quoting aviation experts as saying that Logan followed the same procedures as any other airport. I swore under my breath. The governor was the first to point to Logan as a unique problem; she wouldn't be the last.
Only a handful of airports, including Logan and Washington's Reagan National, still remained closed. In the nation's capital, the highest levels of the federal government debated when, or even whether, Reagan would reopen. I shared our own reopening strategy with Swift by phone, and she said she agreed with our approach and wanted to be kept apprised of the latest developments. But she added, "I don't think I should be involved in the actual decision to reopen the airport." I felt uneasy. First her quote in the paper, now this. The political distancing had begun, aimed at protecting the governor from political harm.
In Washington, President Bush rallied the nation with an emotional speech to Congress and took the political risk of visiting CIA headquarters to embrace and encourage the agency, under fire for possible intelligence lapses. Democratic leaders shunned partisanship and offered unconditional support for the war on terror. In New York City, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani put aside a bitter political battle with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and became the personification of a city's strength in grief. But in Boston, politics still ruled. We extended an invitation to the governor for her to visit Massport's operations center, but the offer was rejected. Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was doing television interviews down the street at the Logan Hyatt, also declined. A week after the hijackings, Menino was quoted in the Globe as saying that Logan's new runway project should be shelved. The Boston Herald quoted a Massachusetts congressman admitting anonymously, "We are embarrassed that two of the planes came from Boston."
By contrast, US Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John F. Kerry wanted a full tour and briefing at the operations center on September 13. They gave a pep talk to the federal, state, and local emergency workers manning the center, thanking them for their efforts and giving them an update on the national response. Their questions at a private briefing afterward were incisive and to the point. Kerry, with whom I had tangled politically in the past, most notably when I ran then-governor William Weld's Senate campaign against him in 1996, commented that this was a national problem, not a Logan problem. It was a statement he would make repeatedly over the next several weeks as he led the successful fight to federalize airport checkpoint security. Kennedy said he had told the media earlier that it was counterproductive to search for scapegoats. As Kerry was leaving the briefing, he asked me when we thought the airport would reopen. "I know it's hard, but at some point you just have to make the call," he said and squeezed my shoulder. I nodded. He confirmed what I already knew - the decision was mine to make, and it was time to make it.
The airport was scheduled to open at 5 a.m. on September 15. Before leaving to grab a few hours' sleep, Kinton, the aviation director, gathered his staff together. "Normally, when we get the airport reopened after a storm, we feel relief," he told them. "From now on, it should just make us feel sick." As his words sank in, the realization that the job of running an airport had forever changed began to sink in, too.
The first commercial flight departed Logan bound for Chicago at 6:50 a.m. A few minutes later, United Flight 168 arrived from Los Angeles. American and United airlines staff gathered together on the tarmac, many crying, and waved tiny American flags to welcome the crew and passengers home. Later that morning, another commercial pilot opened his cockpit window and let an American flag flap in the breeze as he taxied his plane to the gate. Patriotism, gritty determination, and a love of aviation would give the nation's airline personnel, newly aware of their vulnerability, the fortitude to take those first flights. I felt immense pride and awe at their personal victory over terrorism and swallowed my own gnawing sense of fear that rose in my throat each time a jet roared overhead.
Having served as the chief of staff for two governors, I had a good sense of what a governor did and did not need to know. Certainly there was no bigger public issue at that moment than security at Logan. So I was taken aback when Swift's chief of staff ordered me to stop calling the governor and instead communicate with a functionary in the Executive Office of Public Safety. I understood the benefit of filtering information but countered that I thought Logan's issues were too important to offload to a Cabinet department. Our conversation grew heated. "There's sensitive security information we're not going to be comfortable telling anyone else," I argued. He wouldn't budge but agreed I could call him if necessary. Otherwise, he said, a public safety staffer would be calling the shots.
At the time, I was several weeks pregnant with my second child. Only a few close friends and my family knew. Working at the operations center until midnight almost every night and dealing with the media scrutiny, I had little time to worry about the effect on the life inside me. In the wee hours of the morning I'd read and reread my pregnancy books to assure myself I was doing no harm. I also convinced myself that I could handle it if I miscarried. After all, wasn't it a small loss compared to what so many others had suffered? It wasn't until late October, my resignation decided, that I acknowledged I didn't want to lose this baby and felt a deep need for my daughter to survive. With mine in doubt, I needed her future. With so much death, I needed her life.
Death was all around us. On September 16, airport employees organized a memorial service in the Delta hangar. Hundreds of airport employees stood side by side in the open concrete expanse, seeking comfort in one another. Kinton, Lawless, and I stayed in the back. From the moment I learned of the first crash, I had not shed one tear, and I doubt that Tom or Joe had, either. There had been no time to reflect, no time to mourn. The airport chaplain led the service, and colleagues of the murdered crew members read bits of poetry and prayers. State Trooper Dan Clark sang "God Bless America." His voice, those words, finally cracked my emotional armor. Kinton put his arm around me, tears streaming down his own face.
After the service ended, people milled about, hugging one another, the macho aviation culture displaced by sorrow. Many airline employees expressed their disbelief at the backlash. For the past four days, the Boston media had focused on Massport's political appointees and security problems at Logan. One prominent story even speculated about the political danger to Swift. "What is wrong with this city?" the airline workers said to me. "They're making the airport and all of us look like we're to blame. Don't they care that we lost our friends, too?" It struck me forcefully that I was speaking for the whole airport community, a community that had no voice. Urged by my aides to point the finger of blame at the airlines, I resisted. The blame lay with 19 dead criminals and their master, hiding thousands of miles away in the caves of Afghanistan.
My mantra to the media became: "Clearly there was a system failure. It does not appear to be unique to Logan, but the priority is finding out what happened. We'll go wherever the investigation leads us." I left out the obvious point that two other major airports - Newark International and Dulles - suffered the same systems failure. I had been chastised by Swift's press office for noting the systemwide failure publicly and for saying that Logan was as safe as any other airport. Had I said that Logan was as unsafe as any other airport, maybe the governor would have approved. It would have been closer to the truth.
We desperately wanted Washington's leaders to tell us how to protect airports from terrorism. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced two rapid response teams to make recommendations on national aviation security. The teams' members were all familiar aviation industry leaders, but they lacked an obvious qualification - counterterrorism expertise.
Frustrated, I shouted at the television in the conference room: "This is the same commission on security they would have announced if September 11th had never happened!" Jose Juves, Massport's media spokesman, summed up how we all felt: "We're on our own, guys. We're on our own."
As soon as Mineta's press conference ended, I went into a private office, next to the conference room, and closed the door. "I want to call Crandall and Barclay," I told Kinton. Robert Crandall was the former head of American Airlines' parent company. He lived in Gloucester, and while I'd only met him once, he had a reputation as a maverick, willing to buck the aviation and government establishment. Charles Barclay, the president of the American Association of Airport Executives, a national trade group, was well-respected by Congress, the FAA, and airlines alike. If there was a way to get Washington's attention, they'd know how.
Barclay cautioned me on the ability of the FAA bureaucracy to respond quickly but promised to use his position on Mineta's response team to voice airports' concerns. Crandall advised us to use the media, as he was doing, to force action through public pressure. I decided to try both approaches, ordering a list of security recommendations be sent to Barclay and seeking out national and local media opportunities to call for airport security to be taken over by the federal government.
Of course, we all knew the nation's airports and Logan had reopened with nothing much having changed. Logan had one of the first of many security breaches, at Terminal B on September 17. A screener thought she saw a knife as she scanned carry-on luggage, but by the time she attempted to stop the passenger, he or she was gone. The Terminal B concourse was emptied and the passengers rescreened, a situation that was to play out over and over at dozens of airports in the months following the hijackings. In Boston, the media reported it as one more strike against Massport's competence.
I had a telephone conference call with FAA administrator Garvey and 31 US airport directors at about the same time as the Terminal B incident. I was prepared to talk about federalizing airport security, but as the call began, touching on a few relevant security issues, it became clear that there was another agenda: sports charters. Four hijackings, nearly 3,000 people dead on American soil, and a major concern was celebrity athletes boarding privately chartered aircraft without having their belongings or person screened. I was dumbfounded. Toward the end of the call, I asked Garvey if the FAA planned to seek counsel from people who understood the kind of threat we were now facing. Her answer wasn't reassuring. She said that kind of input was being handled by the National Security Council, not the FAA. The call ended, and I said out loud: "We're on our own, guys. We're on our own."
The next night, we experienced another surreal moment: the bin Laden family airlift. My staff was told that a private jet was arriving at Logan from Saudi Arabia to pick up 14 members of Osama bin Laden's family living in the Boston area. "Does the FBI know?" staffers wondered. "Does the State Department know? Why are they letting these people go? Have they questioned them?" This was ridiculous. But our power to stop their arrival or departure was limited. Under federal law, an airport operator is not allowed to restrict the movement of an individual flight or a class of aircraft without going through a byzantine regulatory process that had, to date, never succeeded. So bravado would have to do in the place of true authority. Kinton said: "Tell the tower that plane is not coming in here until somebody in Washington tells us it's OK." He then repeatedly called the FBI and the State Department throughout the night. Each time the answer was the same: "Let them leave." On September 19, under the cover of darkness, they did.
As each day brought more news accounts of security checkpoint problems, the media frenzy built. We spent a lot of time trying to separate fact from rumor. It was widely reported that a Logan ramp pass had been found in one of the terrorists' cars. A Chicago newspaper said another hijacking out of Logan was thwarted, citing a flight number that didn't exist. Yet another story reported locally said that a pilot "described as Middle Eastern" had been given a tour of the Logan tower just days before the hijackings. The first two stories turned out to be baseless, the other misinterpreted, but the perception of an airport out of control was growing.
I was on my way to Worcester to meet with local officials and review security measures for the Worcester airport when I got a call from my office. Following a media report of another security problem at Logan, the governor was ordering the newly formed Carter Commission - originally charged with conducting a sweeping review of "organizational challenges" at Massport - to do a seven-day security review of the airport and report back to her with immediate steps to implement safety improvements. I understood the impulse. There was a bad-news story, and the governor wanted to be on the offensive. But I was in the midst of hiring an Israeli counterterrorism expert to make security recommendations at Logan, and my staff was working around the clock to ensure that the new FAA rules and our own voluntary measures were airtight. Moreover, while the Carter Commission, charged with reviewing Massport operations in the wake of the attacks, was composed of accomplished appointees, not one of them was an expert in counterterrorism.
For the first time since the attacks, I grew very angry. I was a team player, but Swift and her aides had to understand this wasn't a game. I called Stacey Rainey, Swift's closest adviser, and in a tone barely concealing my outrage, made the case for letting Massport proceed with its own plans. I also asked another Swift political adviser to weigh in. A few hours later, Swift's chief of staff called me to say the governor was backing off. I'd won one, but it was a hollow victory.
Even this small token of patriotism brought scorn, however. A Boston columnist sneered that I was wearing the ribbon "like a shield." The words cut deeply. A friend wondered why I didn't have a flag on my house, as many of my neighbors had. It was a simple question with a complicated answer. Deep down, I felt some people didn't think I deserved to have a flag on my house. I guessed others thought that I, of all people, should have one. So I took off the pin, put a small "God Bless America" sticker on my car window, and sought comfort in working side-by-side with my tired but determined airport colleagues.
In the past, my faith had always helped me through difficult times. My husband and I come from different religious backgrounds, but we diverge most in our individual conception of how God acts in our world. I had always believed that God acts directly, that if you pray for help, you will receive it, that "when a door closes, God always opens a window." My husband believes in a more distant God, a God with unexercised power that leaves human beings to chart their own course. I talked with my mother, a deeply faithful Catholic, about the hijackings, and she said, as if to comfort me, "God always has a reason." I said sharply: "How can you believe in a God that would let this happen? I refuse to believe that God had the power to intervene and chose not to. I refuse to believe in that kind of God." God was still there, but out of my reach.
I often felt very alone. In politics, when someone's in trouble, the natural instinct is to stay away, lest the flying mud hit the wrong target.
I attended a City Hall Plaza memorial service for the flight crews, sitting just a few rows below the governor and other constitutional officers who were onstage. A few people I knew from the State House nodded hello, but others looked away, as if they hadn't seen me. Bette Midler sang "Wind Beneath My Wings" as white doves representing each Boston crew member who had died in the attacks were released and soared overhead.
As soon as I returned to my office, the phone rang. It was Attorney General Tom Reilly. He had seen me at the service, he said, and was struck by "the pain on your face." He continued: "This isn't your fault. I'm sorry this is happening." I quietly thanked him for calling and hung up the phone.
I have since reflected on how I would have advised the governor had I been her chief of staff, not head of Massport. The fact that politics sometimes demands change for the sake of change was no surprise to me. I had been a practitioner of Boston's tough politics for a decade, and as one reporter told me, "There are plenty of people walking around Boston Common with one kneecap to prove it." I like to think that I would have seen that this tragedy was bigger than politics and urged unblinking leadership in the face of the withering criticism. But whether I would have recommended the same course Swift followed is an unanswerable question. So, instead, I try to answer a more pressing one. Was I to blame? Thousands of people were dead. Could I have stopped it? I sought the answer in the heart of a grieving mother.
Marianne MacFarlane, a 34-year-old United Airlines gate agent, had been on United Flight 175 for a mini-vacation in Las Vegas. Her mother, Anne MacFarlane, a Logan public service representative and former flight attendant, describes Marianne as "everybody's friend." That her mom was Marianne's dearest friend was plain to all who knew them.
Marianne's first airport job was selling flowers out of a cart in Terminal D. As her mom says, "Once you work at an airport, you can't work anywhere else." Despite a college adviser's admonition that "she had no future in aviation," Marianne's career took her to Florida, Maine, and finally back to Boston and a job with United Airlines. She worked the 4:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. shift and would rise at 4:05 to find her mother waiting downstairs to drive her to work. "Otherwise, she'd never have gotten there," Anne says wryly. Although she usually tossed an "I'll see ya" over her shoulder, on September 11, Marianne said "goodbye" as Anne dropped her off at Terminal C. Anne almost stopped the car to ask, "Why `goodbye'?"
The MacFarlane family lived in the old Irish section of Revere, in two double-deckers connected by a driveway and a pool. Anne and Marianne shared one, and the two MacFarlane sons lived next door. It was George MacFarlane, a Chelsea firefighter, who heard of the first plane crash and urged his mother, Anne, to turn on the television. As a commentator spoke of the horror unfolding in New York City, a second plane careered into the south tower. Anne watched as her only daughter was murdered. While she didn't know at the time that Marianne was on the plane, an unease grew. Anne at first waited at home with her sons for some piece of news, but then felt an urge to go to the airport. She needed to know. United Airlines employees were gathered around the ticket counter. When they saw her approach, some began to cry.
The memorial service for Marianne was held at St. Rose of Lima Church in Chelsea. When I arrived, the line of mourners stretched for three blocks. It dawned on me that I might not be welcome here. I had never met Anne and hadn't known her daughter. My heart pounding, I introduced myself to Anne and expressed my condolences. She took both of my hands and looked me straight in the eye. "Don't let them tear our airport apart," she said. "Promise me." Moments before she bade a final farewell to her daughter, Anne saw far beyond her own sorrow. "I won't," I said. "I promise I won't."
It was a promise I could not keep. The chairman of the Carter Commission was openly telling my staff that Massport needed a "professional" CEO. Allies on the Massport board of directors told me that the governor's office had begun subtly lobbying them for my removal. I felt my choices were either to resign or be fired. Aides and close friends gathered in late October to discuss my resignation speech. I had been through this kind of drill before, helping three governors craft just the right words to say in times of crisis. But it's infinitely harder when they're your own words. Struggling to keep my composure, I asked, "How can I resign without people thinking forever that I was to blame for the deaths of thousands of people?" The question hung there unanswered.
Following the resolution of a major controversy over my severance agreement, I drove out of the airport for the last time as its leader on November 9. A television news crew stopped my car as it exited the garage. I answered a few questions with the spin that my spokesman and I had agreed upon: "This allowed the agency to move forward." But one final question was unsettling: "What's next for you?" I answered, "I don't know; I'm sure good things." In truth, I was sure of nothing. As I headed for the Sumner Tunnel, I gripped the steering wheel to keep control.
I continued to follow the daily news stories about aviation security. Richard Reid's alleged attempt to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight with a plastic bomb concealed in his shoe filled me with anguish and outrage. How could this happen? How could it not? The FAA's knee-jerk reaction was to say that shoes should be inspected at the security checkpoints. If Reid had been wearing the bomb under a baseball hat, the FAA probably would have said to check under hats, instead. A suitcase loaded with explosives could still be checked onto a flight at any time. Magnetometers weren't uniformly sensitive enough to catch a gun carried through a security checkpoint, even if the machines stayed plugged in. The industry was spending more time lobbying Congress to extend deadlines for tougher security rules than figuring out how to implement them. What had changed? Everything and nothing.
In June, I again sought out Anne MacFarlane. We met at the IHOP restaurant in Revere, and Anne handed me a teddy bear wearing a T-shirt saying, "Always in Our Hearts Flight 175." I squeezed the bear hard. She also gave me a laminated copy of an American flag, a certificate of recognition, and a letter from NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe. He wrote that the space shuttle Endeavour had carried 6,000 American flags to the International Space Station in December to honor the victims and heroes of September 11. Anne wanted my children to have the mementos, to use as vivid illustrations for their history lessons. Inadvertently, Anne had shared my reasoning for telling this story in the first place: bearing witness for my children to events that someday will be as distant to them as Pearl Harbor and Vietnam are to me.
Anne also gave me a Mass card with Marianne's picture on it. I had wanted to ask her to bring a picture but had felt awkward. Our meeting was already enough of an invasion of her private grief. But I wanted Anne to share with me the essence of her daughter. I wanted to look into Marianne's eyes. I wanted to know her. We talked easily, Anne's motherly ways inviting questions and confidences. Finally mustering the courage to pose the question that haunted my dreams, I asked her, "Do you blame me?" She didn't blink. "You're no more to blame than Marianne is." I felt relief but no unburdening of my heart.
"I know I didn't lose anyone on September 11," I explained. "I have my husband and two children and my health. I know it's not comparable to what you and others lost, but on September 11, I lost myself." Anne didn't look surprised. She just asked quietly, "What are you going to do now?" I answered, "Get through the one-year anniversary, write my story, try to reclaim who I am." "Then do it," Anne said. "Do it in Marianne's name."
More months will pass, a second anniversary will come, then a third. Perspectives will change, more truths will be discovered. Mindful of the agony of so many mothers, I hold my children close and, in Marianne MacFarlane's name, try to find what I have lost, grateful for what I have.
Virginia Buckingham was executive director and CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority from September 1999 until November 2001.