Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

The Day al-Qaeda Attacked America

Sept. 11, 2001

Phillip Godfrey was thrown into a wall on the 55th floor of 1 World Trade Center when the first plane hit. A seminar on the logistics of trade with Mexico had just begun, and it was Godfrey's job as a Benchmark Hospitality employee to help set up. Now Godfrey, 43, asked Jesus not to let the floor give way. When it steadied, he focused his attention on getting everyone out. Like many of those at the Trade Center that morning whose names we never heard — people who weren't fire fighters or cops — Godfrey thought of others first. He heard the women who worked with him screaming, and he ran to them. "It will be alright," he soothed, uncertain whether it was true but finding no choice but to believe it.

A 20-year Trade Center employee, Godfrey had survived the 1993 bombing, and knew it would be best to leave immediately, even though he also knew that official procedure called for staying put. Now calmer, the women said they had to get their bags. Godfrey thought about grabbing his own bag, which contained a ring with his initials and the gold onyx watch that needed cleaning, but he didn't. Instead, he asked whether anyone had searched the meeting rooms. No one had, so Godfrey ran to clear them while the others started downstairs. A frightened co-worker wanted to wait for the required phone call to evacuate. Godfrey, who looked out the window and saw hell, said, "Trust me, the person on the other end of that phone — they're not there." Godfrey nearly had to carry the man out.

After Sept. 11, strange things happened to Godfrey. Hailed as a hero, he lost his job when Benchmark started layoffs. People said he did amazing things that he didn't do: hoist a woman down the stairs, give someone a $50 bill to get home. Instead, he did the simple work of a man who has learned that, as he says, "we need each other."