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A September 11th Memory

September 11th, 2001

A September 11th Memory - by Charlie Averill

In September, 2001, a legislative internship program was developed for members of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR). The program was put together by the United Steelworkers Legislative office in Washington, D.C.

I, along with about ten other retirees took advantage of the program and checked into our motel in Arlington Virginia. On September 10, 2001, we reported to the legislative office for our orientation. The program was to begin the following day.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, while enjoying our coffee and listening to our first instructor, one of the workers came into the room, turned on the television, and told us to watch. As we saw the two planes crash into the World Trade Center and soon collapse, we also heard sirens outside our building as fire trucks, emergency vehicles and police headed towards Arlington where another plane crashed into the Pentagon.

Our building was locked and we were told that if we were to leave, we would not be allowed back in. We were told that the subway system, (Metro) was not in service.

I remember checking my email and seeing a message from my son to my wife Elaine, asking, “is Dad ok?”

I must say that only once before had I experienced the same feelings as produced on that day. It was the day my ship was returning from the Vietnam area and receiving a message by flashing light saying simply that, “The President has been shot” (President Kennedy).

A couple hours later we heard that the Metro was back in service. We were also told to head for home as the internship was put on hold and that we would be called back at a later date. We tried to get transportation out of Washington with no success. Planes were grounded, buses were booked solid, trains were out of the question as well. On the following Friday, we were able to rent a car. One of us, Don Badie, headed home to Florida. Dave Trach from Minnesota and myself also rented a car. We drove to Indiana were Dave stayed the night at my house and headed for Minnesota the following morning.

USWA/SOAR Legislative Internship Program

After writing an article to explain this photograph, I decided to check past issues of a SOAR Chapter newsletter that our SOAR Chapter puts out every other month. Success…..I was surprised that the two articles were very similar, proving that I still have some of my memory left.

Because so many steel companies have filed for bankruptcy due to the illegal dumping of foreign steel into our country, about 600,000 Steelworker retirees are in jeopardy of losing their medical insurance, and in some cases, part of their pensions.

These benefit costs, which companies overseas don’t have to deal with, are referred to as “legacy” costs.

Our Steelworkers Union and SOAR decided that it would be a good idea to include SOAR members in their lobbying efforts. I was asked to participate in this new program and reported to the USWA Political and Legislative Office in Washington D.C., (located just a few blocks north of the White House), on Monday, September 10th along with seven other members of SOAR.

A photograph was taken and an accompanying article about the program appeared on the cover of the Sept/Oct issue of the Oldtimer magazine.

And now….. The rest of the story:

On the second day of the program, Tuesday, September 11th, terrorists attacked our country. The Pentagon was hit by one of the planes. We watched the unfolding tragedy on television as the World Trade Center buildings came crashing down and we listened to the sirens as the police cars, ambulances and fire trucks raced to and from the Pentagon.

The subway (Metro) was shut down and our building was locked.

I remember checking my email and seeing a message from my son to my wife Elaine, asking, “is Dad ok?”

I must say that only once before had I experience the same feelings as produced on that day. It was the day my ship was returning from the Vietnam area and receiving a message by flashing light saying simply that, “The President has been shot” (President Kennedy).

Bill Klinefelter, USWA Legislative Director, and Jim Centner, SOAR Director, thought it best that the program be postponed until the situation returned to normal and we were advised to head for home.

Three of us had flown to Washington and were unable to catch either a flight, train or bus. Washington took on the appearance of a combat zone with Hummer vehicles on practically every corner manned by soldiers directing traffic for the passing ambulances and fire trucks. We were unable to get close enough to the Pentagon to get a good view or photo. Finally, on the following Friday we rented cars and headed for home.

I rode back to Indiana with Dave Trach, SOAR Executive Board Member from District 11 who lives in Minnesota. Dave stayed over night at my house and after breakfast the following morning, he headed for home.

The Internship was rescheduled for October 22 – November 9. Four retirees were able to make it. Upon reporting for work on the first day, we found fire trucks and police cars in front of building and the street blocked off. Apparently, a below ground level transformer had blown up. We entered the building through the rear entrance but about an hour later, the electricity was cut off and we were forced to evacuate the building until the following day.

Our original mission had been to lobby the Senate for passage of HR 808, the Steel Revitalization Act. The program was later changed to work on the Unemployment Compensation part of the “stimulus package” and it was again changed to find out if Senators would support an amendment to the stimulus package dealing with the legacy costs.

Senator’s offices, because of the anthrax problems, were extremely difficult to find. Their offices were closed for cleaning and they had set up their temporary offices in any closet or cubbyhole they could find. They were accepting no mail or faxes so we had an almost impossible mission of delivering material to them. Some of us got the feeling that their staffs were enjoying the disruption.

The experience I had in Washington D.C. was a very good one nevertheless. Like other things in life, practice makes perfect and I think I’m better able to do a decent job lobbying my congressmen than I otherwise would have been.

I hope our USWA and SOAR will continue this program.

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