Ed Kennedy describes the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 as a “gorgeous, beautiful summer day” in New York.
Kennedy, Executive Officer for the Range Commanders Council on White Sands Missile Range, was participating in a week-long leadership program at a branch of Columbia University about 40 miles from the World Trade Center.
That Tuesday morning, Kennedy and the other students were practicing their public speaking skills when the news arrived.
“A fellow student, who was from the Port Authority, was sent a text message from his wife saying that a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Of course he was concerned because that’s where he worked,” Kennedy said. “We thought it was an accident and we were concerned, but we carried on with the presentations.”
The students – members of the Port Authority of New York, executives from Kodak and Mercedes Benz, and others with ties to the Twin Towers – would all be impacted later that morning in one way or another.
“A while later (the same student) got a second text message saying that another plane hit the World Trade Center and that’s when we thought about it and said something’s going on,” Kennedy said.
The presentations stopped and the group tuned in to the news only to catch the buildings falling. Kennedy remembers some of his classmates immediately leaving the campus.
“I don’t know if the ones who left immediately made it back because the traffic was controlled and congested. Those that remained were on their phones and trying to contact people basically for the remainder of the time there. They were quite somber about it all,” Kennedy said.
At the time, Kennedy worked with the Office of the Test Director, now Center for Counter Measures, at White Sands Missile Range. He also volunteered with the El Paso Police Department as a counselor to victims of crime and their families. When 9/11 happened he was asked to help counsel the course staff.
Kennedy remembers helping one program attendee whose uncle was at the Pentagon when it was hit by a plane that day.
“She was very distraught about his fate,” Kennedy said. “I distinctly remember putting my arm around her and telling her ‘I work for the Office of the Secretary of Defense. I can make some calls and see if I can find out what his status is’.”
Kennedy was unable to get the exact status of the woman’s uncle, but found that the plane hit a part of the building where he was unlikely to be.
The group considered canceling the course, but chose to continue. Kennedy flew back home that Saturday after completing the program, four days after the World Trade Center fell. He remembers seeing smoke rising from ground zero from the airplane window.