Close to home; a first-hand account of 9-11
On Sept. 11, 2001, the world watched in horror as the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were attacked by terrorists, resulting in a loss of more than 2,900 souls.
Former Prineville resident John MacDonald unwittingly was a first-hand observer to the event, having lived in New York City in 2001. This year was especially difficult, as the nation reflected on the 20-year anniversary.
"Every September I'm taken back to that experience, but this year at the 20-year mark was especially different because of all the coverage," reflected MacDonald
In 2001, MacDonald was newly married, one month to the day of Sept. 11. He and his wife, Mindy, lived in New York City, New York. They had lived in New York City since 2000, and it didn't quite feel like home at that point in time.
John is a Crook County High School alumnus, and Mindy was from Bend. Her father, Bob Shaw, is a long-time meteorologist for KTVZ-21 in Bend. John is the son of Tom and Nancy MacDonald of Prineville.
John worked as manager at the NBC Page Program. The NBCUniversalÂ Page ProgramÂ is a 12- to 15-month rotational learning and developmentÂ programÂ that gives early career talent a well-rounded experience along with unmatched exposure to the media industry. Although John is a man of many talents, he chose this industry early on in his career. Mindy worked at the New York Times. Both the 30 Rockefeller Plaza and the New York Times buildings had an indirect line of sight to the Twin Towers.
John arrived at the 30 Rockefeller Plaza building that fateful day at approximately 9 a.m.
"I had already seen on the televisions of the office that there was coverage of the first tower being hit. At that time, it was still just pure confusion," he said.
He added that there were reports that it was possibly a small twin-engine plane, and there was initially no indication what the incident was. A couple weeks before, a paraglider had snagged a parachute on the Statue of Liberty—which is in close proximity to the World Trade Center.
"When I am watching this footage of this giant hole in the building, I am thinking, 'what's with all these incidents? Isn't there any kind of air traffic control down there?' Of course that was before we knew what the context was."'
When they saw the second plane hit, there was a giant explosion. John emphasized that once they watched the replay, it became apparent that it was terrorism. Up to that point, it was just confusion. The news was aware of some other planes that weren't accounted for and still in the air, and there was speculation that the 30 Rockefeller Plaza might be a target. The building was soon evacuated, except for essential news people, who were covering the event.
"It was mainly chaotic and confusing. We just didn't know what shoe was going to drop next," John went on to say. "We all can now look at it with context and with history, and sort of understand everything that was happening, but at the time, you thought the Empire State Building was next."
Mindy's building was on the other side of Times Square. John made his way to Times Square.
"It was at that moment, on those giant screens in Times Square, that I saw that the Pentagon had been hit. A few seconds later, some fighter jets flew over our heads. It was very frightening and confusing. For a moment I thought, is this the end of world?' It literally felt like a war was just starting right in front of us—it kind of was."'
John finally made his way to Mindy's office, where they had to stay for several hours. They lived in the Bronx, north of the city. They needed to take the subway to get home, and they were temporality closed down. They did not have any visuals from that time forward, and they did not have any information on what was happening. At 3 p.m., the subways opened back up.
"I will never forget that ride home," John reflected soberly. "Everybody was just silent on the subway. You saw people hugging each other. Strangers, just everybody, was supporting one another—people that didn't know each other. It was actually kind of a beautiful thing."
As their subway came above ground for the first time, John and Mindy were able to see what was left of what had been the World Trade Center.
"The only way to really describe it; just imagine—for those who grew up in Central Oregon, you have this beautiful skyline of the Three Sisters every time you go to Bend," he described pointedly. "Just imagine that they are gone, like this thing you are used to seeing your entire life—is just gone. It was just surreal."
NBC news went into news overdrive to cover the event. John was assigned to call the other pages and assign alternating 12-hour shifts. A number of people quit on the spot, due to not being comfortable with the task. All the news networks were wall-to-wall coverage at all times of the day.
"That is part of being in television and being associated with news. You are there, and you have to cover this."
Not knowing what the near future might hold, John and Mindy felt the need to get out of the city. Shortly after 9-11, John heard of a vacancy in Prineville for a band instructor at the middle school and high school. In college, he had initially planned on being a music instructor.
"My last year, I decided to get a Bachelor of Science in music and pursue other things," John said of his decision to get into the television industry.
On the first anniversary of 9-11, John and Mindy found themselves in Prineville, and John accepted the position of Band Instructor. He recalls the moment when the entire high school paused to honor those who lost their lives on 9-11.
"There was a moment of silence in the commons area, and it was just so odd to think that a year before, I'd seen it with my own eyes."
"It is something that our entire country experienced together—mostly on television," he went on to say. "But when you are there, you don't have newscasters putting it into perspective—you don't have any perspective. You are just kind of walking around the city wondering what is going on. The majority of the country had more information than a lot of us who were right next to it.
A few months before 9-11, John was at the observation deck of the Twin Towers with one of his good friends.
"It was surreal, and it was an amazing view of the city, it was incredibly high up there. The whole thing is still, to this day, incomprehensible, really," John concluded.
John and Mindy eventually moved back to New York City and began a family of their own. He went back to the television industry, working on both Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. But his life will forever be changed as a result of that fateful day when America witnessed the unthinkable.
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