At the White House on 9-11

I wrote this article 18 years ago today, Sept.12, 2001. On that day I just returned home from attending a conference in Washington, D.C. that was shortened by the attack of 9-11-01.

I AM THANKFUL FOR THE LORD’S PROTECTION!  I WAS AT THE WHITE HOUSE WHEN AMERICA WAS ATTACKED!

On Monday morning, Sept. 10, 2001, R.C. Winstead, a board member for the ministry I served, and I drove to Washington D.C., to attend a legislative conference for Christian school leaders.  Little did we realize the extraordinary significance of the conference theme when it was introduced at the opening session on Monday night.  That theme, “For Such A Time As This,” became so prophetic and momentous as the events unfolded over the next twenty-four hours.

Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, after a preliminary meeting, the entire group of about 140 loaded into buses at about 8:45 a.m. to travel from the Holiday Inn on the Hill up Pennsylvania Ave. to the White House complex for a special “White House Briefing.”  The buses dropped us on 15th and E Street, which is on the east side of the White House grounds.  We leisurely walked up the sidewalk to Pennsylvania Ave. on this gorgeous morning.  We were surrounded by numerous tourists and government workers — all enjoying the beauty of that very special place. 

The Holiday Inn on the Hill is on the left. We rode in buses like the one on the right.

Then we walked west in front of the White House to 17th Street where we were to enter into the Old Executive Office Building to be cleared by White House security.  As we arrived at the entrance we were only there a few minutes before a group of employees began to quickly emerge from the building.  Immediately we were told to get away from the building because a plane was heading toward the White House.

The Old Executive Office Building as it is today at 17th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW

I must confess that my first thought was that a small private plane, piloted by a kook, was trying to make some crazed point.  So we obeyed the policemen who began to shout at us and we moved down the street for protection.  At the same time cell phones began to chirp and members of our group received calls from family and staff members in different parts of the country.  Near me was a pastor from Hackensack, New Jersey, who received a call that gave us the shocking news about the first hit to the World Trade Towers. 

In the minutes that followed we began to learn the tragic story.  It also began to dawn on us that we were definitely in harms way.  I remember fear beginning to rush into my mind due to the realization that our nation’s capitol was under terrorist attack.  And here we were — a block away from the seat of America’s power.  Then I remember one of the men saying to three or four of us — “let’s pray!”  There we stood — praying for our safety and for our country.  Then I can say that God’s peace came to my heart.  And all up and down that street groups were calling heaven — asking for God’s strength for us and wisdom for our country’s leaders.  

These are “The Prayer Trees” along the street. We gathered under these trees to pray.

In a few moments another call told us that the Pentagon had been hit.  I did not learn until today that my colleague R.C., and another friend in the group, saw the aircraft circle above us.  Perhaps this occurred while I was in the prayer group — I don’t know.  I do know that God was good to keep me from seeing that plane.  Because of my long time acquaintance with the Washington area, I would have known that this meant something was terribly wrong.  I know that all aircraft are strictly prohibited from leaving a narrow route along the Potomac River on approach to Reagan National Airport.  The Lord not only protected us — He throttled my fear by keeping my mind in the palm of His hand.

This map shows our location about the time the first plane hit in New York City.

Soon our group was urged to move west to 19th Street and then south toward Constitution Ave. to an area where we could maybe meet our buses.  By now the traffic was turning to absolute gridlock as all government workers poured out of the buildings and headed for home.  When we reached Constitution Ave. the sirens began to wail as fire engines, police cruisers, and many unmarked law enforcement vehicles began to emerge from all directions. 

We could see the huge plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon as we walked.

Then we saw the large cloud of dark smoke emerging from the Pentagon — several miles to the southwest.  It was then that the reality really began to set in.  The unthinkable had happened.  Everything had changed.  But the changeless God of the universe was right there with us on Constitution Ave.  And we could sense His protection and peace.

We’ve learned today that the plane made two passes over the White House.  Could it be that God kept that plane from exploding into the White House specifically because 140 Christian leaders were there at the door? We don’t know God’s ways.  I just know that God’s protection was on our lives.  He must have things for us yet to do.  What a challenge!  What a privilege!         

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