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A Mortgage Banker's Memories of September 11

SEP 12, 2011 2:02pm ET

As the United States commemorates the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attack, the financial community, among many others, is taking time to reflect on those lost. We should also remember how difficult it must be for their surviving families.

That morning I was sitting on an early train, watching the sun rise over the ocean, headed to Newark, N.J., to attend a Fannie Mae lending conference.

The "milk run," as it is known among regular riders, makes stops along the coast. One was Middletown, N.J., where many investment bankers reside. There the train quickly became standing room only. Later, I thought of how many of these riders never made the return train.

Right after the conference began it was interrupted by the announcement that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. My initial thought was that it was an accident caused by a recreational aircraft.

A short while later the conference was interrupted again, this time by the announcement of the second plane and the comment, "We think it's terrorism."

I am not sure if it was the Eagle Scout in me, but something told me to leave. As my colleagues and I exited the conference, which was still going, I glanced out a window and saw smoke pouring from both World Trade Center towers. I placed a call to my office and quickly departed on the next available train.

I thought of my older sister, who worked in the south tower and who witnessed the '93 bombing, and several clients, including a Cantor Fitzgerald mortgage-backed securities manager with whom I had spent the previous two weeks trying to arrange a meeting. They were among the 50,000 people who made their living in those buildings.

Later, I was relieved that my sister had escaped. On her way out she ignored the instructions to return to the office.

As the train pulled out many of the passengers who had come in from New York were dirty and disheveled. The expressions on their faces were those of battle-scarred veterans. At this point I saw much more smoke rising from the World Trade Center — I would later learn it was from the collapse of the south tower.

It is easy to understand why the World Trade Center was such a target.

Home to hundreds of financial firms large and small, it represented American capitalism at its finest.

Of all the images that captured the day, one of my favorites is from the photographer Veronica Lower. Her photo of surfers in the water off the Jersey coast sitting on their boards while the towers burn in the background is surreal.

The 10 years that have passed have not dulled my memory. Even my dad, who recalls the attack on Pearl Harbor from his childhood, said "this was worse, because they are civilians."

The only way I can appropriately honor this day is as I have done each year. I spend it with my family.

-Richard Booth is a certified mortgage banker with America's First Funding Group LLC, a residential and commercial lender in Neptune, New Jersey.