The Foreign Service Journal, September 2011

54 F OR E I GN S E R V I C E J OU R N A L / S E P T EMB E R 2 0 1 1 I n silence we headed to the embassy’s lobby where one of our two televisions with cable hook-upwas located. Others were already there. No one said a word. People sat or stood in their places, staring at the images of the World Trade Center ― ablaze . The announcer’s voice quivered as he reported a plane had hit the north tower, mid-building, at 8:46 a.m. At 9:03 a.m., a second plane crashed into the Center’s south tower, a third plane hit the Pentagonat 9:37a.m. anda fourth plane crashed into the ground in rural Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m. On Sept. 11, 2001, the United States came under attack. One week later, outside the U.S. embassy in Maputo, Graça Machel, the former first lady of Mozambique andwife ofNelson Mandela, arrived to sign the con- dolence book. Framed by the American flag and bouquets of flowers, she offered her sympa- thies. Private Jonathan Gross, a member of our Marine Security Guarddetachment, stood guard, mimicking a grenadier: no eye contact, nomovement, just perfect stillness in his U.S. Marine dress blues. I snapped this photo of Gross standing guard. The embassy’sweeklynewsletter ran it on the front page; 10 copies were given to Jonathan to send tohis folks backhome. Away from Home ForForeignService employees and fam- ily members, being away from home hit particularlyhard. Manyof us suffered feel- ings of confusion, anxiety and fear. There were rumors thatU.S. embassiesmight be targeted. For some, there was relief at news of a family member or friend had somehow managed to avoid the death and destruc- tion by a quirk of fate. One FSO’s broth- er hadout-of-towners staying inhis apart- ment, so he felt it his duty to cook them pancakes for breakfast instead of arriving at hisWorldTradeCenter office at hisusual time of 8:30 a.m. Wherever we went, people offered their condolences and expressed shock at the loss of life. Local English-speaking churches heldmemorial services. Potluck mealswere organized to get people togeth- er. Our community grieved. Twoweeks after thebombing, aday-trip out of town took folks away from the embassy to thebanks of the Incomati River. It was a welcome chance to unwind and embrace our friends and colleagues. Thirty-two people ― Foreign Service employees, familymembers, locallyengaged staff and twoU.S.Marines ― boarded the twoboats that tookus fromthedustypark- ing lotwherewe left our cars toa river camp noted for good food and excellent bird watching. On that September morning, thoughts of the World Trade Center, the Pentagonand the field inPennsylvaniawere replacedby the desperate need to get away. The campwas owned and operated by an engaging family fromSouthAfrica. As we scrambled up the bank to the large, thatch-covereddining gaze- bo jutting out over the river, the voices seemed particularly ani- mated and excited. “Lunch will be served shortly, but how about some drinks,” the camp owner shouted out. Jona- thanGross andSgt.AlejandroSan- chez (a fellowU.S. Marine) stop- ped long enough to take a couple of sips from their Cokes before heading to the kayaks sitting at the river’s edge. A Strong Wind Someone came up to me and said, “It looks like theMarines are in trouble.” The wind had blown themto the opposite shore, where they somehow flipped the kayak. Without life vests, they struggled to stay afloat, but disappeared as the rescue boat approached. In less thananhour, our twoMarineswere gone. Itwas aweekbefore theirbodieswere recov- ered. The regional psychiatrist met with those who had witnessed the accident. A memorial service was held at the ambas- sador’s residence, followed by a small cer- emony at the airport to see themoff as they returned home to the U.S. As we mourn the thousands who per- ished, for the 30 people who left the river bank that day, twomore deathswill be for- ever linked to Sept. 11, 2001. A F S A N E W S Witness to Tragedy: A Reflection on the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 BY DONNA AYERST Ambassador Sharon P. Wilkinson watches as Graça Machel signs a con- dolence book, while Pvt. Jonathan Gross stands guard. DONNA AYERST DONNA AYERST U.S. Marines carry their comrades’ coffins to the plane waiting to take them home.