Reflecting on 9/11: Dave West

As we mark 20 years since Sept. 11, 2001, we’re highlighting stories from members of our communities who were impacted by the the events of the day and its consequences.

The World Trade Center in early 2001. Photo by Dave West.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Dave West was on a business trip in Long Branch, New Jersey when he saw a dark cloud of smoke emerging from across the river in Manhattan.

“I could see this huge bloom and I thought man, that’s either a huge thunderstorm or – if you were here, you’d think a monsoon cloud. It was really out of place.” One of Dave’s first thoughts was that an oil refinery might have blown up, until the proctor for the meeting made an announcement: “Go back to your rooms, call your families, we’re done for the day. Turn on the TV.”

West called his brother in Arizona to try to make sense of what was going on. “Like everyone else, we had no idea what was going on like everyone else,” West said.

In the following days, airports were closed, leaving West and his colleagues in New Jersey for a few days. “It was pretty profound,” West said. “I was 31 and had a young family at home, and I was thinking about everyone that wasn’t going to get home.”

That night in his hotel, guests gathered around the bar to watch the T.V., listening to every word President Bush said. “I remember how unified everyone seemed. Nobody know anyone in that hotel, but everyone was glued to that T.V. and couldn’t wait to her what he had to say,” West said.

On the 13th, West and a colleague drove west looking for the first open airport they could find. “We tried Philadelphia, but it was a zoo and nothing was open,” he said. Eventually, West was able to get a flight home from Columbus, Ohio.

Before his flight, West went for a jog that morning to clear his head when he saw a man in army fatigues with an American flag hanging from his truck. “I remember looking at this guy and just feeling so emotional for him. We had no idea what had just happened, but this guy was ready to do something. You just felt a galvanization of people, as though people had put things into perspective,” West said.

The plane ride from Columbus to Arizona is one that West says he’ll never forget. “I fly all the time for work, but that plane stands out for multiple reasons. Everybody was just so quiet was everybody on that plane. That tense energy was something else.”

Earlier in 2001, West had snapped a photo of the World Trade Center, without much thought, while on a business trip to Manhattan. “It was no big deal, tourists did it a million times a day,” West said. That photograph is printed above. West’s company had been headquartered in New Jersey, so he knew colleagues and spouses of colleagues who had worked in the financial district. “It made it feel more real,” he said.

Photos courtesy Dave West. Interview by Cameron Rubner.

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