by Jennifer Scales, Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers Public Affairs Office
NOTE: Wayne Anderson is the Site Director at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers (FLETC) in Charleston, South Carolina. Prior to coming to FLETC, he was a Special Agent with the United States Secret Service in Tower 7 at the World Trade Center. This is his 9/11 memory…
The Anderson’s began September 11, 2001 with the usual kiss goodbye, as they each headed out for their respected places of employment.
“Twenty years ago, my wife Tammy and I were living in Edison, New Jersey off exit 10,” began Wayne Anderson, who is now the Site Director at the Charleston Training Delivery Point (TDP) for FLETC. For those familiar with the area, you would frequently reference where you lived by the exit number on the turnpike.
Tammy headed out to her position as a school guidance counselor at Sayerville Elementary School, while Anderson directed his attention to work as a Special Agent for the U.S. Secret Service in New York City.
“There had been an accident on the turnpike as I drove in on that sunny day towards Manhattan, which was sort of typical for the weekday morning drive,” Anderson said. “But by 8:30 a.m., I had parked in one of the designated spaces under the North Tower for the Secret Service and took the elevator up before proceeding over to Tower 7 and up to my 10th floor office.”
Suddenly, the world and work for Anderson literally crumbled before his senses.
“I felt the worst explosion that I could have ever felt,” Anderson recalls. “It felt as if our building had been rocked from its foundation. I was able to look out of the bank of windows to my right and see that the North Tower was ablaze with a large gaping whole blown out of it.”
Working in such a high-rise building and in their position, the training of cover and evacuation automatically kicked in for Anderson. Along with the occupants of the building, they all rushed to the stairwell to work their way down to the ground level and out of the building.
His mind was experiencing a flurry of questions. What had just happened? How much time do we have left to get out of the building? Are my co-workers alright? Anderson knew that the Trade Center had been bombed back in 1993 and thinking the same had just occurred, wondered if his building would be next.
Anderson recalls that after descending the stairs from the complex onto Vessey Street, he was able to move a couple of blocks north of the tower where he gathered with his other co-workers, who were also desperately trying to make sense of the situation unfolding before them.
“The reality of what had happened was unreal,” Anderson said. “People were screaming and in shock, but some of us tried to direct them to safety and out of harm’s way.”
Anderson and the special agents assigned to New York were a part of the largest field office in the Secret Service. So as the team came together, they decided to go back to help.
“A supervisor was on site and he took the names of those of us who were going back to render assistance, for the sake of accountability,” Anderson continues. “Our tee-shirts were torn to become our makeshift face masks, to protect us from the air that became more dangerous to breathe by the minute.”
As the team made their way back to the tower, they encountered the unthinkable.
The South Tower, which had been struck at a lower level of impact than the North Tower, began to totally collapse. Everything turned completely dark and the air was filled with burning debris.
“For a while, I couldn’t see anything, and we used other buildings to shield us from burning material. It was at that point that we had to give up on our mission of returning to search for other missing staff. Eventually we made our way north to an outdoor ball field,” Anderson said. “Cellular service was impossible and I was unable to reach my wife to let her know that I was alive; however, I was able to reach my parents who were living in South Carolina and they were able to let her know my situation.”
In actuality, Tammy had very little time to consider the possible situation her husband faced. As a guidance counselor in New Jersey, many of the school staff also had loved ones employed at the Trade Center. Her counseling services were needed to console staff and provide what reassurances she could.
Anderson recalled one of his worst memories of that day was witnessing some of the horrible, but possibly necessary decisions made by those who were still trapped in the towers.
“Jumping over 80 floors to their demise was a horrible decision for them to have to make, yet it was a better option than the inferno behind them,” Anderson said.
With this being the 20th anniversary of 9/11, like each year since, Anderson once again relives the events of that tragic day.
“I look at where we are now with so many negative things said about law enforcement and realize that some people just don’t know the sacrifices of the day. 2,977 persons died on that day…343 were fire department personnel of New York…60 were law enforcement. They didn’t run away from the danger. They ran into it, wanting to live by their edict, ‘To Protect and Serve’. They knew their profession and commitment to it, and the real possibility that they would never go home again,” said Anderson.
For Anderson, there were times as a Special Agent that it was pretty special to be in the front row seat as history unfolded, but certainly not always as 9/11 proves.
Anderson urges young people to never forget our history and the senseless tragedy of 9/11. “We can’t let complacency set in and must always be on the ready. That really is what motivates me to still talk about 9/11. We must never forget the sacrifices of so many on that day.
September 11, 2001.
Etched in memories forever of Wayne Anderson.
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