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Father Dave interviews Emmy Award-winning NBC News correspondent Anne Thompson about being at being at Ground Zero for 9/11. The following trascript is part of a longer interview which can be heard in the audio podcast at the bottom of this post. The portion transcribed here begins at 16:09.
Fr. Dave Dwyer: Anne Thompson, from NBC News, is our guest this evening on the Busted Halo Show, talking about all the various stories — I mean, you are talking about stories where people really rise up above — there’s actually a song about one of the stories you covered very intimately. You were at Ground Zero at 9/11.
Anne Thompson: I was. I was there when the Towers came down.
DD: Wow. What, I mean, I’m sure, ten years later, it probably doesn’t still get old. People asking you, “What was that like?” Because there’s a lot of people listening who’ve obviously been impacted by that but weren’t anywhere near it.
AT: I lived in New York City all of three weeks at that time, and I had…
DD: You had just come from Detroit?
AT: No, from Chicago. I worked in Chicago for NBC. When I joined NBC I was based in the Chicago bureau, and so I came to New York, and I knew midtown at that point. Didn’t know lower Manhattan at all, and as soon as, like anybody else, I saw the burning tower on my television, called my desk, and they said, “Just go to down to the World Trade Center,” so I got in the one cab in New York City that didn’t have a radio. My cell phone doesn’t work. We go racing down there, and Im walking, and I just — the first thing I can tell you is that you know — whatever you think of journalists, we are a lot like policemen and firemen and EMTs, that whenever everybody else is walking out, we’re walking in, and that was a classic day. I’m walking into lower Manhattan as everybody’s walking out, and I didn’t know where I was going.
I’m just looking up — and no longer it’s just one tower that’s burning; by the time I get down there two towers are burning and I’m trying to get there and I got to Fulton and Broadway, which is just one block from the World Trade Center, and for some reason, instead of going straight, which would have put me right into the South Tower, I turned left, went down Broadway, and I heard a sound like I’ve never heard in my life. It sounded like the world was opening up, and down Broadway comes this giant tidal wave of black and brown ash, and this beautiful slate summer day goes completely black, and I knew I couldn’t outrun it. And, you know, I think you always — at least, I hope that when my life ends, I will — think of some wonderful moment, you know, the faces of the people I love, you know, peace and beautiful music — some piece of literature, and you know, of course, all I could think of was Indiana Jones when he was trying to outrun the boulder, you know, in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Oh, Annie, you really gotta improve! So, I couldn’t outrun it, so I put myself in between — there’s a building there, there are columns and the wall — I put myself there, and the whole day went dark, and I just held my breath and waited for it to hurt. Never did. And it just rained this ash and warm liquid down on top of me, and you know, you’re trying not to breath and eventually you have to breath in this stuff and you choke and it stopped and I realized I wasn’t alone. There were all these people around me who had done the same exact thing, and then some guy said, “Is everybody okay?” And we all were, and they let us into this building.
Met a wonderful man named Frank who gave me a towel and a mask and a bottled water and I asked him, “What’s happened?” And he said, “It’s been horrible.” He had been out there and he had seen people jump to their deaths, and so, they let me use the phone and I called the news desk. The news desk is like an emergency room, you know; it’s always some sort of organized chaos basically, but you never hear people panic. Well, on that day I heard panic. They gave me an address of where to go. Frank gave me the directions. I walked out, and I didn’t get ten yards from that building, and I heard the exact same sound. I ran back into the building — and it’s a building that’s got these big plate glass windows; all the windows had been blown out when the first tower came down. Frank grabbed my hand, and we ran to the core of the building because wherever the elevators are, that’s the strongest part of the building. And all of a sudden, you know, the dust and the ash came in again, and we choked again, and we survived again and it was — It’s a day, you know, it’s funny, you know, I don’t like to go down to Ground Zero. You know, I stayed down there and reported all day long and reported down there, you know, another six weeks. It’s a day I don’t think of very often. When I think of 9/11, I think of three families that I have covered, and I’ll tell you about one of them.
Clare Duffy, who’s the producer who’s here with me, we covered a woman named Jackie Gavagan, and she was pregnant with her third child when 9/11 happened. Her husband worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and he was up there and he did not live, and so, we learned of Jackie because one of our producers went to the same obstetrician as Jackie, and on the day that Jackie was to have her C-section, which was about six weeks after September 11th, Jackie suddenly decided she wanted to talk, so they nabbed Clare and me and said, “Go here. Go to NYU, and go interview Jackie.” I’m thinking, “This woman’s about to have a baby. She lost her husband six weeks ago. Why does she want to talk to us?” We go. Met Jackie. She’s holding Donald’s picture in her hand, and she said, “This is the first thing I want my baby to see.” And her husband, Donald, had these beautiful blue eyes, like really pretty blue, and so they let us into the labor and delivery room. They do the C-section, and out comes Connor, and he opens his eyes, and, if he doesn’t have those exact same eyes of his dad. Well, Clare and I just completely fell apart. We cried so hard they thought we were family.
DD: Oh, they’re just from NBC News.
AT: They’re just wackos! I always think of Jackie and her courage. And when I’m talking about people — Jackie now lives in New Jersey; she’s has twins, Donald Jr. and Laura, and Connor, and she’s raised these kids — you know, that’s what I’m talking about, people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances and overcome them. I think Jackie Gavagan is a really courageous person, and she inspires me every day, as do the parents of Rob Peraza, who also worked in the towers. His family — Rob was going to run the New York City Marathon in 2001 — some member of his family has run the marathon every year since, with his number, and then they have a big spaghetti party and his mom and dad, Sue and Robert Peraza — I can remember when they had the first party, and his dad just started crying at the dinner and made a sound that I can only describe as the sound an animal would make because he missed his son so much and now, to see them — obviously, when you lose someone you love you never get over it, you learn to live with it — to see how well they have done is extraordinary and they inspire me and that’s the best part of what I do.
DD: That’s a good part of what you do.
Anne Thompson was interviewed for on 6/17/11 our “Real World Catholic Leaders,” segment, where we profile lay Catholics who have made a significant impact on their community and profession while proudly living their Catholic faith. As the Chief Environmental Affairs correspondent for NBC News, Anne Thompson has covered a variety of national stories, including filing reports on women in business, the birth of the McCaughey septuplets, the school shooting in Paducah, Ky., the Columbine school shooting and the attack on the World Trade Center. Her reports appear across all platforms of NBC News including “NBC Nightly News,” “The Today Show,” MSNBC on cable and on msnbc.com. In 2010, in covering the Gulf Oil spill which she covered extensively, she had the most on-air screen time of any NBC News correspondent. She’s also been recently elected to the Board of Trustees for the University of Notre Dame.Father Dave talks with Anne Thompson about where her Catholic life meets her career life, the benefits and challenges of both the job and the faith, and the biggest stories of her life, including being at Ground Zero for 9/11.
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