Bert Driver Remembers 911

September 8, 2011
Dwayne Page
Bert Driver
Pentagon after the 911 attack

Where were you?

As the 10th anniversary of 911 approaches, Americans are pausing to reflect on where they were and what they were doing on that day, September 11th, 2001.

Bert Driver of Smithville was in Washington, D.C. that morning attending a Nursery Conference. Driver said he was only a few miles from the Pentagon, which of course was one of the targets of the 911 attacks. "I had traveled to Washington D.C. to attend a nursery conference. The American Nursery and Landscape Association was hosting a conference that week. We had attended a series of seminars on that Monday. Tuesday morning we were beginning the day with Senator Larry Craig, who at that time was a senator from Idaho. (During the program) someone came to the podium to inform him of what had happened (in New York) and he was quickly escorted out of the room. So it took a few minutes to figure out what was going on. They rolled in a few TV monitors so that we could witness what everybody else was witnessing. It was relatively calm for the moment. After a few hours, people started to leave the hotel and tried to leave the city. By that time, the other plane had hit the Pentagon. I wanted to see what was going on so I made my way up to the top of the hotel. There were some maintenance guys who had opened a hatch there on the roof. They were curious as well so I had a pretty good line of sight across the Potomac over to the Pentagon. We were probably three or four miles away but we could see it (Pentagon) smoldering and the emergency vehicles. By this time, it had gotten into the afternoon hours on Tuesday. I later walked about a block away from the hotel and found it to be eerily quiet. Everybody was obviously stunned at what had happened and still processing what had happened. That was the most impressive thing to me at that moment, how quiet it had become," said Driver

Driver said although he was near the pentagon he did not see the crash or hear the explosion. "What we thought was an explosion turned out to be fighter planes. They had scrambled fighters and they had broken the sound barrier near the hotel. This was moments after the Pentagon had been hit so what we thought might have been an explosion we figured out later was actually F16s that had come down the Potomac to patrol the area," said Driver.

Anxious to return home, Driver said he had to find other means of transportation after all flights were grounded. "I wanted to leave as quickly as possible because no one knew what the next turn of events might be throughout the day and into the evening and next morning. I had gone so far as to try and get a train ticket to get out of town. I figured I could at least get down the coast to North Carolina and find my way back into Tennessee. That really was ultimately my goal. But by the morning hours one of our group, one of the other nurserymen had come up with a rental car. He had gotten a van so seven of us piled into the van and left that next morning and we drove straight through the day and into the next down through the Shenandoah Valley and made it back. We were fortunate because most people had to sit tight for a few days before they could leave," he said.

Driver said it felt good to get back home and it was also touching the way this community rallied in a special ceremony on the public square, downtown Smithville a few days after the tragedy. "I think it was a little bit of solidarity for us all to be together there in town on the square to recognize what had happened. It was moving to say the least and a great warming of the heart to be with our fellow citizens. That was a mementos day. I remember the flag they had brought down from Nashville and draped across the courthouse. It was a beautiful sunset. The bagpiper, the firemen, policemen, and all the emergency workers came in to the town square. There was patriotic music by the community chorus and the fantastic song that was unveiled by Aaron Tippin on that day "Where the Stars and Stripes the and Eagle Flies". It was a touchstone in my life and I'm sure everyone else's life. Its hard to believe a decade has come and gone and so much as happened in the world since. I can't get past those words in the song by Alan Jackson "Where were you when the world stopped turning". That really kind of sums it up. The circle of smoke and the helicopters around that Pentagon will be etched in my mind as long as I live. Those images are burned into my memory," said Driver.

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