The September 11 Washington Post op-ed by MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough was a slap in the face.
On the anniversary of the 9-11, his closing words were particularly galling, alleging in the context of the jihadist attack on America that President Donald Trump has “done more damage to the dream of America than any foreign adversary ever could.”
It was especially galling for my friend Pete, who lives in rural Pennsylvania.
I met Pete in college, and that’s not his real name. He had traveled from Long Island to Buffalo for school, otherwise we would have never met. He was a smart and funny fellow, quick to laugh and a real patriot.
I had just completed my U.S. Army enlistment, and his respect for the military made us fast friends. I was a loudmouth conservative; he was a quiet one. Like me, he was a rebel. We hit it off like brothers, and we have been close ever since.
Pete had real promise. After a short stint working in Washington in the 1980s, he decamped to New York to work in the financial industry. We stayed in touch, and while he focused on his young family and a successful career, I labored in the salt mines of politics.
He loved my stories of Beltway mischief, but he didn’t say much about his work. He told me it was boring, and he just wanted to know more about what Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan were up to. I told him the stories, just to hear his laugh.
In 1993, his office in the World Trade Center North Tower was the target of an Islamist terrorist attack. Afterward, he told me he was trapped in the building during the crisis. When they were finally allowed to leave, it took hours to climb down 48 floors in the pitch-black stairwell, carefully tapping each step with his foot as he descended. And then, the firemen: As he neared the bottom, the brave men and women in full battle gear were climbing up. Six lives were stolen, thousands were injured, but Pete survived.
Fast-forward eight years and a few jobs later, Pete was working in the offices of Morgan Stanley in the South Tower. At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, the place shook as if an earthquake hit, just like in 1993. This time, he was 46 floors up in the air.
Remembering the first attack, his body and mind just reacted and launched him to the exits. He grabbed his pal, and they began to vault down the stairs. With each passing floor, more people joined them. The lights were on this time, so his descent was rapid. He saw his children projected on the white walls of the stairwell. He saw the image of his son, he saw his daughter’s face, and he kept descending.
When Pete emerged on the street below, he realized he still had his morning doughnut in his mouth. He was so scared, he forgot he was taking a bite when the explosion sent him running. The sugar ran down his mouth and covered his crisp starched shirt. He looked up to see the North Tower in flames. And then over his head, at 9:03 a.m., the second terrorist plowed a hijacked airliner into the South Tower.
Pete ran for his life. Debris from the aircraft rained down around him; large pieces struck and killed others escaping. He ran and ran, heading for the East River.
At 9:59 a.m., he heard a horrible rumbling. He knew, before he turned to look, that one of the towers was collapsing. It was his own.
Pete told me later that when he reached the river, he thought of jumping in and swimming across. To him, the entire island of Manhattan was a target and his impulse was to flee by any means necessary. Soon, he was able to reach his wife on his cell phone; she was terrified that he had been killed. He returned home late that night. He had survived — but not really.
I don’t know where Joe Scarborough was when Pete was running for his life, but I was in Dallas, in the headquarters of Allegiance Telecom where I served as the head of communications. I didn’t know if my old friend was alive or dead, but I found out he was safe just before I traveled to New York City. Our firm managed telecom services in buildings around the Twin Towers, and our chief executive was compelled to be on site to assure vital communications infrastructure was restored.
I will never forget the smell of Ground Zero. Sure, there were all the rubble and debris, the fuel and the sewage, but there was something more, something sickeningly sweet: the scent of 2,753 fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters whom terrorists murdered in fires of Hell, unleashed by its dark angels. Seventeen years later, I still can’t get that out of my nose.
It’s far worse for Pete.
During our trip to the crime scene, I managed to break away and visit him in the New Jersey bedroom community where he lived. He was shell-shocked, traumatized, and we drank Scotch in his backyard to try to talk about what he had endured. His home was on the flight path of Newark Airport. When a plane flew low overhead, Pete bolted into the backyard. I tried to calm him as he wept.
Today, Joe Scarborough has a successful morning show on MSNBC.
Pete, in stark contrast, cannot work. He takes a cocktail of prescription drugs to manage his post-traumatic stress. He moved away from the New York City area long ago, decamping to his quiet country home. He’s raised three great kids, with the help of his wife — a beautiful angel of mercy who works to support their family. Pete takes pride in his dogs, who take him for walks in his silent neighborhood. He tends to his koi pond, works in his yard. He can’t fly in planes. He can’t be in crowds. He’ll never visit New York City again.
I visit Pete and his family a few times each year. We still talk about politics, and his distinctive laugh returned a few years ago.
He loves my daughters and helps me understand how to raise them as he raised his remarkable kids. He tells me I’m lucky to be married to a saint, and I know the real saint is his own wife. Honestly, I could not do what he has done: he survived two terrorist attacks on his office, one just barely.
Yesterday, I asked Pete what he thought of Joe Scarborough’s op-ed. He hadn’t read it. He makes a habit of avoiding the news every year on this horrific anniversary.
I read him the last line in the Post piece, and he was quiet for a moment. When he replied, his voice was calm, quiet as the country cul-de-sac where he hides. “They really want to take the country down,” he said. “It’s a slam for everyone who died in 9/11 and for all the soldiers who lost their lives at war with the jihadis who took down our towers.”
On the eve of the anniversary, Pete had dinner with two other survivors who often visit him on this terrible day. They talk about their lives and try to make sense of it all. Pete feels lucky because his two friends suffered terrible burns in the attack. Neither of them is working, either, as the post-traumatic stress robbed them of their lives, too.
I think about the basement in his tidy ranch home, not the mansion he was destined to build as one of our nation’s most promising young men. There, Pete has a modest workshop where he tends to small projects. Above the workbench hangs an old calendar with a photo of the World Trade Center, the twin towers gleaming in the sunshine before everything changed for him. The page is curled from age, because my old friend hasn’t turned it in many years. He cannot.
Joe Scarborough hasn’t had a problem turning that page at all.
In his op-ed, making a vapid political point, he slapped the face of every person who was killed and every grieving family member and friend they left behind on 9/11. But he also slapped Pete, his two friends, and all the walking wounded who lost everything but their lives and still struggle quietly to carry on.
Michael R. Caputo is a political strategist, media consultant and former Trump campaign director. He also served in the U.S. Army.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.