Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Father Had Worked at the World Trade Center

My father had worked at the World Trade Center and one of my fondest memories of coming home for breaks during my college years at Brown University was to accompany him via public transportation from Yonkers to the WTC so that I could join him for a cup of coffee and muffin at one of the cafes on a high-level floor before he would begin his job at the engineering firm that he was employed at. We would sometimes stop at the shops at the lowest level and he would buy me some article of clothing to take back to college.

My father died before the WTC towers fell a decade ago on 9/11. He had lived through WWI and WWII, had left his native country, Ukraine, and, as a refugee, had managed to build a new life, first in Canada, and then in the US. The towers were a special home to him and to me.

My uncle, who also was a refugee of WW II, and had helped to save my mother from the Nazis as they escaped from their home in western Ukraine and then sheltered her, first in Vienna, and, subsequently, at a displaced persons camp close to Innsbruck, Austria, also built a wonderful life for his family and himself in NYC, first in Forest Fills, and then in Kinnelon, New Jersey. My mother, after age 18, never saw her parents again.

On 9/11, my uncle, rather than taking public transportation from NJ, which included first taking a bus and then the subway to his stop at the WTC, that day, ten years ago, he had overslept, so he decided to drive.

If he had taken public transportation he would have been at the WTC when the towers fell.

He arrived at the Lincoln Tunnel and saw a lot of smoke and a large backup. He was asked whether he wanted to turn back and his intuition told him to do so. He then listened to the horrific news on the radio. The information at that point had not reached the toll operators.

On that day, ten years ago, which started out as a beautiful clear morning, I was working on my lectures at home. Our daughter was at her elementary school. My husband received a phone message from a colleague who had moved to Pennsylvania and who said to him: "Turn on the TV."

A neighbor came running to our door shortly thereafter and we just hugged and supported one another.

3,000 perished on that day and their families, neighbors, and friends, were lastingly affected.

It took me 8 years before I could visit the site of the fallen towers, and I did so while in Brooklyn at the Regional Science Association Conference. I walked the Brooklyn Bridge and then, with the assistance of a NYC police officer who gave me directions, made it to the huge pit and the tears just flowed.

A decade after, much has changed, and we still gather strength from one another. My uncle, now in his 90s, has moved to mid-Manhattan. He continues to ride the subway to the same engineering firm, where he still works a few days a week, and which is close to the WTC Memorial.

I continue to teach and to do research on topics that I love from transportation and logistics, to networks, and, of course, operations research and management science.

That morning, I was working on my transportation and logistics course lectures, while Jane Garvey, an Amherst resident, who I had even dined with, and was then head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), was leading the effort, that, within four hours of the first attack, had every civilian aircraft in the US, more than 5,000 planes, safely on the ground. You may read a recent interview with her here. This past spring, I had the honor of receiving a transportation leadership award in her name.

Thanks to all the heroes of that day, from the emergency responders, who risked their lives and to those who perished, to the individuals who helped each other, and to the government leaders who assisted in the national recovery.