StoryCorps: 'They Thought I Was Dead' : A 9/11 Survivor Recalls His Escape Joe Dittmar was in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. In a StoryCorps interview last year, he vividly recounts what he saw that morning — and how he got home to his family.
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'They Thought I Was Dead': A Sept. 11 Survivor Recalls His Escape

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'They Thought I Was Dead': A Sept. 11 Survivor Recalls His Escape

'They Thought I Was Dead': A Sept. 11 Survivor Recalls His Escape

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's Friday, when we hear from StoryCorps. And today we have memories of September 11, 2001. Joseph Dittmar was visiting New York City from Aurora, Ill., that day. He worked in the insurance industry and had an early meeting at the south tower of the World Trade Center. He was on the 105th floor of that tower when the north tower was attacked.

JOSEPH DITTMAR: I remember being able to look out the window and to see these gaping black holes through the sides of that building - gray and black billows of smoke pouring out of those holes, flames redder than any red I had ever seen before in my life licking up the side of the building.

INSKEEP: Seventeen minutes later, a plane struck the tower that Dittmar was in. He managed to get out of the building. And at StoryCorps, he recalled making his way back home.

DITTMAR: I got to Penn Station. And it's 80 minutes from New York to Philly. The train was packed with people sitting and standing. And not a word was spoken there. There weren't any words to say. When the train got down to 30th Street Station, I got out, searched for my rental car. And it's 14 hours to drive from Philadelphia to Illinois. And I got home in 11 1/2 hours. I just wanted to get home. I called the office to let them know that I wasn't going to be in, and it was a good thing because they thought I was dead.

I was about 10, 15 minutes away, and I called my wife for probably what was, like, the 50th time. And I said to her, hey, I'm almost there. She said, they decided to have a mass at Our Lady of Mercy. And I stopped her right in the middle of her sentence. I said, I'll be there. I'll meet you there. And I tried to pull into the church parking lot. You would have thought it was Christmas. I mean, it was just packed. And I opened up the back door of that church to see these hundreds of eyes all staring back at me, knowing where I had been.

I looked over to the pew where we always sit, and I see my kids, some of my friends. And my wife jumps over the back of the pew, runs to the back of the church, gives me the greatest hug and a kiss a man could ever want. She's not that kind of a demonstrative person, but that's what made that moment even more incredible. And I knew at that moment that I was home. Never had a better feeling in my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF YANN TIERSEN'S "LA LONGUE ROUTE")

INSKEEP: Joseph Dittmar for StoryCorps. His full recording will be archived at the Library of Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF YANN TIERSEN'S "LA LONGUE ROUTE")

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