4: At The White House on 9/11

4: At The White House on 9/11

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

At The White House on 9/11

The red and white and starry blue is freedom’s shield and hope.

~John Philip Sousa

Our family had just purchased a restaurant with a full bar called The White House. I lived in a small apartment above the eatery and one Tuesday morning I was upstairs in the bathroom, showering and getting ready for another busy day at the restaurant, when there came a knock at my door. Since we didn’t open until dinnertime, no one had ever knocked on my bathroom door that early in the morning and even though I found it a little odd, I happily sang out, “Who is it?”

“It’s Paula,” came the reply from one of my favorite waitresses. “You’ve got to come downstairs and watch the news.”

“Umm, no I don’t,” I snapped back with doubt and suspicion. “I can’t even remember the last time I watched the news. I have a restaurant to run.”

“No, seriously,” said Paula sternly. “You have to come downstairs right now and watch the news.”

I threw on some clothes and shuffled down the back stairs.

I walked through the kitchen and as I headed for the bar, I saw Paula, my brother Dan and his wife Cindy standing with their eyes fixated on the television screen behind the counter. I could hear the steady drone of a newscast, but couldn’t quite make out what the anchorman was saying.

The four of us stood there in complete bewilderment watching the North Tower of the World Trade Center with smoke billowing from a gaping hole in the side. Then the unthinkable happened when a huge, fiery explosion ignited the second tower, showering burning debris into the air, on to the adjacent buildings and the streets below.

“Oh my God!” we all said in unison.

At that horrific moment, no one really knew exactly what had just transpired. The first plane initially appeared as though it might have been some kind of freak accident, but what about the second strike? As reports flooded the news channels, there were even more planes crashing, one into the Pentagon and another in a field somewhere in Pennsylvania. We were under attack; the United States of America was under assault by some unknown enemy.

We watched for hours. And we wondered what we should do. Should we open the restaurant? Or would that be disrespectful?

“I’m calling Patti,” I said as I darted behind the bar.

Patti owned a nearby coffee shop called The Pony Expresso, and they had already been open for hours, since long before these tragic events unfolded.

“I don’t think we should open,” I told Patti, “It just doesn’t seem right.”

“But you have to,” she replied. “You own a bar; people might want to come out and talk about all of this, and they may need to process what has just happened. You have a responsibility to the community.”

When she put it that way, we all agreed. We did open the restaurant on that horrible day, but no one came. Everyone was likely watching and re-watching the tragedy, as we all were.

As the afternoon wore on, we saw American flags flying at half-mast all over the country.

The flagpole! The empty flagpole that was in front of our restaurant. We had always said that we would fly the stars and stripes there, but the pulley at the top of the pole was jammed. In opening the restaurant just a few short weeks earlier, with everything else going on, we never got around to fixing it nor were we sure how to actually repair it since it was some thirty feet in the air.

Now we had to fix it. Right then. There would be a flag flying in front of The White House on this tragic day, no matter what.

So I raced to our local hardware store and purchased an American flag. I stopped by the fire station and begged a couple of firefighters to assist me with our dilemma. They agreed and followed me back to the restaurant in one of their ladder trucks.

Our own local, brave firefighters untangled the pulley at the top of the flagpole. I attached the stars and stripes to the chain, pulled the flag all the way to the large gold ball crowning the highest point on the pole, then slowly lowered it back down to half mast and tied it off.

~D.J. Sartell

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