Charleston man recalls Ground Zero
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While standing across the street from the World Trader Center 10 years ago, David Glowatzke remembers thinking it must have been a small two-seater airplane piloted by someone who did not know how to fly very well that just hit one of the twin towers.
He couldn't imagine it being anything else.
"In retrospect," he said, "it was someone who knew exactly how to fly."
Glowatzke, who now lives in the Charleston area, had been teaching a seminar at the Marriott at the World Trade Center -- a hotel that sat in between the twin towers -- on Sept 11, 2001.
Ten years later, Glowatzke still has vivid flashbacks of that day.
"I have nightmares. Not often, but it's always the same. The building has collapsed, there is only [a tiny space], I'm on my stomach and I'm crawling trying to get out," he said during a recent interview at his home.
The day the world changed
Glowatzke was no stranger to the hotel at the World Trade Center. Traveling across the nation for work, he stayed in New York numerous times a year, and always chose that Marriott.
The morning of Sept. 11, Glowatzke woke happy: "I was at my favorite hotel in the United States."
The conference room on the third-floor where he was going to teach a seminar on behavioral styles had a wall of glass windows facing west.
"You looked out and saw the Hudson," he said. "The sun was shining."
Glowatzke purposely started his class five minutes late -- at 8:35 a.m. -- to give people plenty of time to find a seat and get some coffee.
Minutes later, the lives of every person in that classroom changed.
"When the first explosion happened, the building quaked and at the same time you could look out the window and it was hailing glass and concrete, paper and debris," he said.
Glowatzke and his students started to talk very quickly, but "we knew that something severe had happened and also that we needed to get out of the building."
He led his students down the fire escape to the first floor lobby, where a hotel employee was telling people not to exit the building.
"You looked out the windows and here was coming down all of this glass and concrete and in my mind I was like 'you're right. I am not exiting this building,'" he said.
Then, a split second later, the building started moving again.
"I think that is the time when, probably for the first time in my life, death was looking me in the face," he said.
Glowatzke faintly remembers crossing the street to stand in front of the American Express Building and seeing debris litter the road.
Not knowing otherwise and thinking it was still just a small airplane that had hit the towers, Glowatzke asked his students to write down on their business cards what they left in the classroom so he could retrieve it later. All but one student left.
"I was naïve at that point," he said. "Who would ever know I would never get back in the building?"
From that point, Glowatzke said the horror of the day only got worse.
"The woman who stayed with me, we both talked during the experience that it was like being on a movie set, watching this all happen," he said. "It was surreal. I think it was certainly a defense mechanism to help us deal with the shock at the time."
Suddenly, someone in the crowd of people on the street yelled out 'someone is jumping. They're on fire!'" Glowatzke remembers.
"And it looked like they were. These people were committing suicide from 70 and 80 floors up," he said. "It almost appeared like they were small, like a match, but on fire."
Eventually, it got to be too much.
"I stopped watching people when I saw a couple jump. You could actually see them hold hands and they were both on fire," he said. He turned his eyes away.
"We were still not expecting the second airplane to hit. When it hit, we were sure there must be something more going on than someone not knowing how to fly a Cessna," he said.
He remembers a bomber circling the towers. "I remember saying 'I wonder if it's ours,'" he said. Anything seemed possible at that point.
Then the first building came down.
"In real time, it was almost like slow motion. It just came down and down," he said. "At that point, we all started to run."
Glowatzke was able to get to a pier about three or four blocks away before the second tower came down.
All he could hear were sirens "I thought 'should I return to the site? Is there something I can do to help?'" With all the emergency personnel on the way, he thought he'd be in the way.
Instead, he started to walk toward the theater district in the hopes of finding a room and possibly a way home.
"There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people all over the street. On every block it seemed like someone had a car radio on and they had it on loud so people could hear the reports.
"At that point, and for several days thereafter, my body felt like it was rolling," he said.
It wasn't until that night that he saw the first video of the attacks.
"I think at that point, the shock started to wear off and the reality of the situation set in."
The long road home
The first thing Glowatzke tried to do when he left the World Trade Center was call his partner, Pete Layne, at their place in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"I probably had called him hundreds of times, and now suddenly I couldn't remember the phone number," he said.
He was finally able to get someone who worked with Layne.
"The manager knew me and I asked him to please call Pete at the corporate office and tell him that I got out of the World Trade Center," he said.
It wasn't until weeks later that Glowatzke found out Layne never got the message.
"You had been through enough and I didn't want you to know how worried I'd been," Layne said during a recent interview at their Charleston-area home. "It didn't seem fair."
Layne said when he first heard that a plane had hit the towers in New York, he ran to the television to find out as much as he could.
Layne was terrified, but "I also knew that he would call me and let me know that he was OK."
The hours went by. "He never called."
It wasn't until late that evening that he finally heard from him.
"I think he finally called me himself when he got to the hotel in Times Square. I cried more with relief that anything else," he said.
"Then, of course, you feel guilty because you're actually happy and there are other people who can't be. It's a place I try not to go back to."
'My heart smiles'
The first year after the attack, Glowatzke said he "hibernated. I put on 35 to 40 pounds that first year."
He started to see a therapist, who helped him cope with the traumatic events he had seen and the changes.
Ten years later, they have seen lots of changes related to that one day.
"People are more willing to give up their particular freedoms for the feeling of being safe. You're willing to go through all of that stuff at the airports for safety," Layne said.
Glowatzke, who still travels for work, said, for him, moving on is a slow process and he doesn't know if he will ever fully leave that day behind.
"You don't really know what you're going through yourself," he said.
When Glowatzke was finally able to get home to Fort Lauderdale -- via a train to Philadelphia, a train to Atlantic City and then a small airplane to Florida -- Layne had "filled the yard with flags and had candles lit.
"My heart smiles when I think of it," he said. "I don't want that taken out of context. My heart was not smiling at this catastrophe. My heart was not smiling at people losing their lives. I guess, selfishly, my heart was smiling because for some reason, I didn't lose my life."
Reach Kathryn Gregory at email@example.com or 304-348-5119.