Robert (“Rob” or “Gringo”) David Peraza was 30 years old on September 11, 2001. He had earned both his undergraduate degree (1994) and his MBA (1996) from St. Bonaventure University, where he had loved to play rugby. He was now living in New York City and working as a bond trader for Cantor Fitzgerald near the top (floors 101-105) of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He had a girlfriend, Megan Cressy, also a St. Bonaventure alumna, who loved him and whom he loved.
He went to work on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
At 8:46 am, American Airlines Flight 11 — scheduled to go from Boston to Los Angeles but having been hijacked by five Al Qaeda terrorists — slammed into the North Tower just below the Cantor Fitzgerald offices, instantly killing all those on board as well as hundreds of people on floors 93-101 and trapping those above, including Rob. A little less than two hours later, at 10:28 am, the North Tower collapsed, killing all who were still trapped in the building as well as police and firemen there for rescue operations. (The South Tower, hit by United Airlines Flight 175 some 17 minutes after AA #11 hit the North Tower, had already collapsed at 9:59 am.)
Sometime in those two hours, Rob Peraza died, leaving behind his parents, Robert & Suzanne Peraza, his brother Neil, his girfriend Megan, and many other family members and friends. By day’s end, the coordinated hijackings and resulting attacks (three successful, one failed) would kill a total of 2,996 innocent victims.
Rob is gone but not forgotten. An annual St. Bonaventure Rugby Alumni weekend was renamed in his honor. Two scholarships were set up in his name, and an annual golf tournament (the “Gringo Open”) established to help raise funds.
I did not know Rob, nor his family. I signed up for the 2,996 project and was randomly assigned his name. But I have read his tributes, have spoken with his brother Neil, and Rob’s death grieves me. We have childen close to Rob’s age; it could have been one of ours who died that day.
And while my wife Sandra and I did not lose any friends or family members on 9/11, the attacks struck close to home — literally. We had just moved to a house on Quebec Street in northwest Washington DC, only 3-4 miles north of the Pentagon and about the same distance from the White House (the apparent target of United Flight 93). We watched the attacks (including the one on the Pentagon just a few miles away) unfold on live cable TV. For the next four years, we dealt with the aftermath of 9/11 and subsequent terrorist threats (including the anthrax attacks via the DC post office, which interrupted our mail service for a while). We also lived about a mile equidistant from the Israeli embassy, the Vice-President’s residence, and what would become the temporary site of the Department of Homeland Security. Elevated terrorist threats to specific DC buildings and to DC in general were a regular occurrence during those four years. Yet when we moved to Colorado several years ago, it was not out of fear but for more prosaic concerns: a lower cost of living and to be closer to our grandchilden.
Since then, we have had our son Jon join the Marines and serve a tour of duty in Iraq. Inspired by Jon’s example, our nephew Darren likewise joined the Marines, did two tours in Afghanistan, and is still in the Corps.
I fear our country has forgotten too much. They have forgotten the act of war that sought to cripple our nation in the space of a few hours on 9/11/01. And they have forgotten those who died.
But we will not forget. ..bruce w..