Like many native New Yorkers, I lost someone close to me on September 11, 2001. And even though it’s been nearly two decades since my childhood friend died during the terrorist attacks, I still think about him. I often wonder what might have been for a young life tragically cut short.
My friend Doug Irgang and I grew up together in a small town on Long Island. He was just one day older than me. He worked for a financial services firm above the 100th floor of the World Trade Center’s south tower.
Tragically, Doug was in his office when the planes hit and the towers fell. However, Doug had big plans prior to that day from hell.
He had unexpectedly met his fiancée while commuting to work on the subway. In fact, Doug was engaged to be married in December of 2001. Doug and his fiancée had attended my wedding and I was looking forward to seeing them “tie the knot.” While Doug’s future was bright, his wedding day never arrived. Instead, a memorial service was held in our hometown to honor his life and legacy — and mourn his untimely death.
Lucky at Love
The New York Times wrote the following about Doug in a tribute entitled, “Lucky Beyond the Odds”…
Doug Jason Irgang had the kind of jaw-dropping luck that could win a lottery, or save a life. A financial trader, he was there when the trade center was bombed in 1993. . . And he was on board the Long Island Rail Road train when Colin Ferguson went on a [shooting] rampage… .Mr. Irgang was even lucky in love. . . Riding the №4 train to work daily, he noticed that the same young woman was reading his newspaper over his shoulder. This being New York, they barely exchanged hellos. . . Then one day, the woman scribbled her phone number on the newspaper and told him to call. He did. They were engaged a year and a half later and set a wedding date for Dec. 22 .
Doug’s story is just one among thousands. These are stories of innocence lost and dreams crushed under the rubble of the once iconic landmark. Since then “Ground Zero” has been transformed into a somber memorial to honor the fallen and help families heal. Freedom Tower now graces the pristine skyline next to where the Twin Towers once stood.
Times may change, yet memories remain and can sometimes be deeply painful.
I vividly recall that nightmarish day. I was working at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in downtown Washington, DC. Some of my co-workers were watching the live newscasts after the first plane struck the World Trade Center. Everyone thought this was a terrible accident at first, even the newscasters.
The disturbing scene of billowing smoke high over the skyline of lower Manhattan looked like the aftermath of a bomb blast. How could this have happened, we all wondered? How could a commercial jetliner crash into one of the most iconic buildings in America? It was a perplexing question, but not for long.
After the second plane hit it was obvious this was no accident — far from it. Rather, it was the worst attack on the American homeland since Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese during World War II. President Roosevelt called the Pearl Harbor attack, “A date which will live in infamy.” The same can be said of 9/11.
My office on the corner of 18th and L Streets was only several blocks from the White House. Thus my employer swiftly evacuated the workforce as rumors spread about other planes targeting the nation’s capital. Shortly thereafter, the Pentagon was hit. Fear and chaos spread like wildfire. Panic set in. Everyone was in a state of shock and disbelief. This was our collective worst nightmare come true: America was under attack!
I contacted my wife and told her I was okay and on my way home. However, due to all of the uncertainty, I chose to flee on foot rather than take public transportation— as I thought the transit system could likewise be targeted. I quickly walked to Massachusetts Avenue and down “Embassy Row” until I arrived on Wisconsin Avenue at the National Cathedral. I recall the gridlocked traffic with cars honking, drivers cursing, and “fender benders” occurring amid the chaos. Finally, I was able to hail a taxi and get home. My wife soon arrived too. Later that evening, I heard the eerie sound of fighter jets patrolling the skies over the Washington-area. America was now at war!
The Man in a Red Suit
I was concerned about my co-workers in the EEOC’s New York District Office, which was located in an auxiliary building of the World Trade Center complex. Fortunately, everyone was safely evacuated. Then the Twin Towers fell. Bystanders scampered for cover. A colossal dust cloud engulfed the area for blocks.
Then, later that afternoon, the EEOC’s New York office crumbled to the ground.
One of my coworkers there told me a story about the man in a red suit. The story epitomized the horror of the day. Larry observed some of the trapped employees jumping from the higher floors of the World Trade Center as walls of flame drew near. But Larry couldn’t get one person out of his mind: the man in the red suit who was in free fall.
Why, Larry asked himself, would anyone wear a red suit in New York City’s financial district?
It didn’t make any sense amid all the death and destruction. Larry was haunted by this sight and couldn’t stop thinking about it. He was plagued by recurring nightmares until learning the truth in therapy. The man Larry watched jump was not wearing a red suit; he was on fire plummeting to his death. The man had appeared as a flash of red to Larry. This looked like a red suit in his traumatized state. Larry’s mind had played tricks as he struggled to process the horror, like so many others who bore witness to that fateful day.
We must never forget the 3,000 people who perished on September 11, 2001. We must always remember the countless families and friends who lost loved ones. Their pain is everlasting.
- We must always honor the victims, no matter how many years pass.
- We must continue to educate young people who came of age after 9/11.
- We must dispel online conspiracy theories with facts.
America must never let her guard down again — and with good reason. As 20th century philosopher and novelist, George Santayana, famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project and is featured here with author permission.