I want to thank Mark Berry and Chesapeake College for the invitation, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my 9/11 experience. My name is Jim Driskell, I realized that this was the first time I really wrote, kind of relived the whole experience. Since this time, I have switched careers, again, I’ve been a Lutheran Church pastor for ten years, and I’m at Trinity Lutheran Church in Chestertown, 101 Greenwood Av, Sunday worship is at 10am, hope you can stop and check it out.
It was just another rock and rolling day at my office half a block from Boston Common, nothing to indicate that it was going to be such a profound time of change for so many people. It really was for me. I had been working in corporate finance for 20 years, and God gave me great opportunities to work for companies like Chase Manhattan, Motorola, Fleet National Bank, Entex Information, Town and Country all large corporations that gave me a lot of great experience and opportunities.
At the same time I had been serving in the Coast Guard reserve since 1976. Corporate America is not very supportive of military reservists, as I found out from my employer at the time. But in the 25 years I had served we managed to work it out. Motorola was pretty supportive.
Like most, someone said it was on television, but just assumed it was a goofy accident and I had a lot of work to do, as usual. But in the next couple of hours we all knew that this was a very profound incident and then we heard about the pentagon and then a crash in Pennsylvania. It really felt as if we were under attack, that somehow more planes would explode somewhere else, then we found out one of the flights left from Portland, Me, which is where my father’s family is from and we had lived there at times, landed in Boston then flew to NYC. Needless to say there was every reason to think that since DC had been hit, NYC had been hit, that either Philadelphia or Boston, more likely Boston since that’s where the flight came from.
About noon it was announced that everyone who didn’t live there had to leave the city and it might be a good idea for anyone else who wanted to leave also, mass transit was closing at 2pm. That was the most specific thing I remember about that day, there was very little vehicle traffic, offices just emptied out and I was part of a large group headed to South Station for the train or subway. At the same time, doing my best to keep off my cell phone, keep it charged because I was already told to keep my cell phone on and clear for when, not if we were mobilized. The unit I was in was a composite unit with the Navy that was deployable anywhere to any major harbor city CONUS or OCONUS. The unit I was in, was classified, so any chatter or any guesses were really discouraged and was frankly pointless because no one, even at the highest levels knew how this was going to play.
In leaving Boston, it was just a mass of people moving right along, no chatter, no poking along, waiting for lights or traffic. It was calm, but pretty determined, we all knew how we wanted to leave, we wanted to get there and put it in the rear-view mirror. There really wasn’t any obvious fear, but people were nervous and it seemed that any nervous energy was being used to get people where they needed to be. In addition, Logan Airport was right across the Harbor from South Station, wasn’t unusual to be walking to or from and have a jet come so close you could reach up and touch it. There was always air traffic over your head going into Logan. But not that day, so it was an almost eerie experience with a crowd of people making very little noise, almost no vehicle traffic and no aircraft traffic, there has to be a Steven King movie like that, but I’ve never seen it.
It was about a month when we were called up. The unit was based in Newport RI, just far enough that it wasn’t really practical to drive back and forth from home, and frankly there was a lot of work to be done and I just as well stay in Newport in case things did start happening. I would love to tell you that we were sent to a JRAC somewhere near where things were happening, but not the case. We were deployed to Spain to do force protection for a NATO exercise because at this port security was at its highest. When we would drive in to Newport, which is generally pretty fancy, it’s the site of the Naval Surface Warfare College, you get people from allied nations around the world there, but now you were being greeted by M60 emplacements and sentries in battle gear. No one was playing.
The Coast Guard heavily recruits civilian police and firefighters, so I did know people in the city. One a police officer Sgt NYPD was part of our unit, so he was accounted for. Another one was an NYC firefighter and early on it was known that FDNY had taken a big toll. I roomed with this guy at the National Motor Life Boat School on the Columbia River, so we got to be good friends, it took me about a week to get him on the phone. Another former member of the NCW unit had been relocated to the Pentagon it took about five days to get hold of him. Anyone else I heard from pretty quickly. The Spain deployment was pretty interesting, it was an interesting part of Spain to be in, Taragona, and it was also a little bit hairy there. It was a rather Muslim part of the country there was still Muslim architecture from the period before the 1500s, and about two months after we left the Madrid train station was blown up. So it was known that there was an active threat there. We had done our best being a hard target with a large Army security force for landward protection and we were there for seaward protection and moving Navy support vessels in and out.
After we returned to CONUS and I moved back into blue-suit Coast Guard I was called to be a part of the Small Boat Tactical Team which the First District had organized to provide mobile security in areas from New Jersey to Northern Maine. They wanted active security for subs coming into Groton , Ct, for LNP tankers going into Providence and also a lot of the bigger civilian vessels like cruise ships going in and out of Maine, the ferrys leaving the Cape to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard and other HIVs. We spent time driving around New England, one time we stayed in a barn on the Cape.
After the summer of 2002 things started to settle down and I was moved back to the station I had been at for twenty years. I knew that that point that this was my retirement tour and it was really nice to be at a place I had been associated with since I was seventeen years old. It was a very hectic time, the summer before I had been on Vieques an island off of Puerto Rico keeping demonstrators out of the Navy firing range associated with Roosevelt Roads. Then back to Newport RI, then a week for Port Security College in Norfolk in December, then Taragona for a couple of months, then back in New England going all around New England, then back at my conventional long time stomping grounds. Did shut down a bridge New Years Eve 2002. There was a suspicious pack strapped to the bridge’s support, neither the local police or we knew why that would be there. So me, former NCW and another guy former long-time Marine, the closest the station had to anyone associated with explosives. We got there tried to figure it out and as all good government officials, we decided to call back and tell them they should close the bridge which was not only a significant bridge in and out of Boston, but there was a commuter ferry that we held up because it had to go under the bridge and we pulled the plug on everything, being early evening New Year’s Eve, we got some interesting feed back from the people around us. One of the last things I did was to be a part of a boat crew to run security in New York Harbor. They needed extra people to support the people stationed in there, so we spent time going back and forth to Staten Island, around the Statue of Liberty, up the East River, the Hudson, all through Northern Jersey. A few months later I retired from the Coast Guard. Miss it. The Coast Guard has many missions and especially for people in my rate, get the opportunity to do a lot of different things and in twenty-nine years I got to cover pretty much all of them.