9/11 Remembered: Paradise Interrupted

9/11 Remembered: Paradise Interrupted

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(On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Tales Told From The Road ran stories from its readers and other sources about their experiences traveling in the days surrounding 9/11. Over the coming days we will re-run many of those stories to commemorate a day in the history of the United States and the world that will long be remembered.)

“9/11 Remembered: Paradise Interrupted” By Tom Wilmer

I was in Washington, D.C. days before 9-11, then flew to Hawaii one day before 9-11.

(Wikipedia Commons photo)

I was on Oahu. Powerful stuff: No aircraft in the sky; typically there are more than 1,000 take-offs and landings daily on Oahu so a plane free sky was a real stark anomaly on the island.

No boats on the sea other than a lone Coast Guard Cutter.

We had previously been invited to a military dinner celebrating the surviving P.O.Ws who were living on the islands. The event was not cancelled. Many other planned affairs were shut down. The Marine Corp Band played. Gomer Pyle sung. Division and unit flags stood tall with tassled battle-campaign manes flapping gently in the soft island breeze. Red white and blue bunting dripped from every cornice and crevice. Talk about a tearful evening. And this on top of intel reporting a possible secondary target, surmised to be Pearl Harbor, along with the commonly known targets such as Disneyland and Las Vegas. There is a military owned resort hotel in Waikiki. If you did not look close you’d just think it was another civilian resort, but not on 9-11 and for the duration. Armed military M.P.s stood at the ready out by the sidewalk entry with M-16s slung, locked and loaded.

The strangest part of the day for me was waking up at the Mandarin Oriental and walking about the property and not having the faintest clue that anything was amiss. 90% plus of the occupancy at the Mandarin was Japanese corporate types fresh inbound from the homeland. Not one “suit” evinced even an ounce of expression, they were literally, each and all, flat without any emotion showing whatsoever. So I thought it was just another day, that is, until Debbie Bridges the Director of PR found me around 11 am and said with horror in her eyes, “You don’t know what’s going on do you?” She led me in to the bar and sat me down in front of the TV and that’s when my day shifted most dramatically from ho hum to “Oh My God!”

Yes, I was outbound from the D.C. frying pan and inbound into a very strange and memorable day in the Pacific Island of Oahu all without a hint, just like the rest of us, that anything was brewing. Although, I do recall motoring around in a boat at the edge of the runway at National Airport in D.C. and thinking just how easy it would be for a terrorist to aim a Stinger missile and blow up a jumbo aircraft on its final approach. And I do recall thinking just how peaceful and “unarmed” our Capital City appeared on that sleepy day at the end of August. Unlike many capital cities one had to look long and hard to find a seriously armed cop or military man.

While on Oahu, I received updates from NPR news department in Washington DC via the general manager at my affiliate that 30,000 body bags had been ordered for the Twin Towers. So out in the mid-Pacific we were as dumbfounded and confused as everyone else, but a tad more isolated.

Numerous International air flights from around the globe were diverted to Honolulu International and local hospitality was charged with finding accommodations for more than 16,000 stranded air travelers. They did a masterful job.

It would be a week before I could fly home, but not a bad place to be stranded.

Tom Wilmer is an award-winning travel writer, video and podcast producer.

He is the host of the Lowell Thomas Award-winning NPR digital media travel show, Journeys of Discovery with Tom Wilmer. Tales Told From The Road publisher, Dick Jordan, was a guest on the show in April of 2016.

Tom Wilmer’s 9/11 story, Paradise Interrupted, was originally published by Tales Told From The Road on September 11, 2011.  When he submitted the story he said “On 9-11-2011 I will be inbound from Guam to Honolulu—I hope not prophetically.”



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