SOMONAUK – Tom Jones of Darien was on the 61st floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Darien, who was 47, worked as a financial adviser for Morgan Stanley in Oak Brook and was attending training in his company’s headquarters in the World Trade Center the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
During a presentation at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 7, at the Somonauk Public Library, 700 E. LaSalle St., Jones will explain his path down those 61 floors, what he saw and heard, and his thoughts on that day.
Jones spoke with MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about his experiences on 9/11 and his upcoming library presentation.
Milton: Why were you in New York that day?
Jones: The day before was my first-day ever in the World Trade Center. A couple hundred people from Morgan Stanley offices throughout the country were attending the training on the 61st floor in Tower 2, the south tower. We had started our meetings early and had broken for a coffee break. That’s when we saw office paper billowing around outside, almost like confetti, and we saw a considerable amount of smoke.
Milton: Did you know what had happened?
Jones: Looking out of the 61st floor windows, all we could see was the office paper and smoke coming from the opposite side of the north tower, 30 floors above us. Nobody was for sure what it was or what caused it. I did not feel anything or hear anything.
Milton: What did you do after the first tower was hit?
Jones: My thought process didn’t take long. I immediately told myself “There was a fire or explosion, something bad has happened and I’m leaving.” I decided to leave the building, and it took not quite an hour to get out.
Milton: How did you escape?
Jones: I took the elevator to the stairwell to exit onto another elevator lobby. I went back into the stairwell. I could not escape on the street level, but escaped on the mall level under the tower. I was a bit ahead of the curve and was leaving before a lot of other people started to leave the building. The stairwells began to fill up as it became more obvious to people it was a very dangerous situation.
Milton: Were you in the building when the second tower was hit?
Jones: I was in the stairwell when I felt the second plane hit our tower. I felt the building sway. I only learned what had happened from two polices officers, just as I was escaping the building. When I got up to the street level, it was overwhelming to see both towers on fire like that. It was like being on a movie set with special effects.
Milton: Did you know anyone with you that day?
Jones: I was the only person in that branch from the office I worked at in Oak Brook. I had only gotten into New York Sunday night, two days before Sept. 11. I did not know anyone. One person I had gotten to know the first day, but didn’t know anyone else.
Milton: Were you able to make any phone calls?
Jones: I had tried a series of telephone calls, and wanted to get through to my family to let them know I was OK. Once I saw the towers come down, I knew how urgent the situation was. My immediate family, my wife and brothers and parents, knew I was there for work. I did get one brief phone call out. I told my wife “I’m about to leave, I’m safe, I’ll call you as soon as I get out.” That’s why it was really urgent for me to get to a phone after the second tower was hit.
Milton: What happened after you escaped?
Jones: A number of us from work were staying at a hotel. I didn’t get back to that hotel until later. Then I had to wait a number of days to get transportation out of New York back home.
Milton: Why do you tell your 9/11 story to others?
Jones: I’d like to rephrase that: I’m happy to tell our story that I was witness to. The terrorists didn’t know Tom Jones was in the towers, they were after any and all of us that were there that day out of a resentment of the freedoms we had. As many problems and issues we have in the world right now, we have to make sure people remember what happened on 9/11, for history if for nothing else.
Milton: What did your experiences during 9/11 teach you?
Jones: When you get up in the morning and start every day, you never know what’s going to happen. You never know what the day has in store for you. That’s why you have to work toward the future, but you also have to live for today. I have a great appreciation for firemen who rush into high rise buildings and combat veterans. They see terrible things every day, and they have to get up and do it all again the next day.