The Washington Experience: Pentagon Crash Marks Beginning of Cross-Country Odyssey for Oklahoma Bankers, Incoming ABA President, and Others. (IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL)

By Cocheo, Steve | ABA Banking Journal, October 2001 | Go to article overview

The Washington Experience: Pentagon Crash Marks Beginning of Cross-Country Odyssey for Oklahoma Bankers, Incoming ABA President, and Others. (IN THE NATION'S CAPITAL)


Cocheo, Steve, ABA Banking Journal


It was a routine bankers' Washington fly-in, like the many that occur every year. A group of Oklahoma bankers had just heard the thoughts of Sen. James M. Inhofe, a Republican, who, after the usual good-byes, had gone about his business. While they waited for their state's senior senator, Republican Don Nickles, to arrive at the briefing area, the assembled bankers took the opportunity to look out on the vista of Washington, D.C. They were on the ninth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, where visitors to the nation's capital never tire of the view.

And then, to the extreme southwest of the building, across the Potomac River in Virginia, the bankers saw a fireball erupt.

A city of targets

Roger Beverage, executive vice-president of the Oklahoma Bankers Association, says the bankers were still stunned when Senator Nickles arrived.

Beverage says he drew the Senator to the overlook and, stabbing his finger at the horizon, asked him what was going on.

"I don't know," the senator replied, "but in that direction, that's the Pentagon.

No one quite knew what to do next, but there was at least certainty in routine. So Nickles took the podium, and had just started his briefing for the bankers when his cell phone rang. It was the senator's son calling--from Ireland, according to one of the bankers present--to see if Nickles was unharmed.

Nickles hurriedly excused himself, explaining that he had to get his staffers out of the building.

The bankers, somewhat stunned, Beverage recalls, milled about.

"Then," Beverage explains, "it dawned on us that we were only about 100 yards from the dome of the Capitol Building" -- an obvious target.

The bankers got out of the building in a hurry and began to walk northwest, back towards the Mayflower Hotel, frequented by many bankers on Washington visits.

"It was just bedlam in the streets," says Beverage. Thousands of people were moving as quickly as possible for points of safety--no mean feat in a town of monuments, many of which might have been as appealing to the mind of a terrorist as the nation's military headquarters.

The group made it back to the hotel, and no one needed to point out that the rest of the day's schedule was over. Agencies, businesses, and associations across the city wound up evacuating-- ABA sent its employees home and canceled a planned meeting of its Government Relations Council Administrative Committee.

Then it rapidly became clear that not only was there a good reason to get out of town, but also that there were no civilian planes flying and no certainty of when they would fly again.

In short order, soldiers in camouflage were seen and humvees and "deuce-and-a-half" trucks rolled in to protect the capital city. It was unlike anything any banker had seen on a Washington visit.

A happy meeting

The Oklahomans weren't the only bankers visiting Washington. Incoming ABA President Jim Smith, chairman and CEO, Citizens Union State Bank & Trust, Clinton, Mo., had come to town for the government relations meeting. He and his wife, Tamie, got the word that their next stop, the Florida Bankers Association convention, had been canceled, and had decided to head for home, too. They were also at the Mayflower.

Meanwhile, with transportation options rapidly disappearing, the Oklahoma bankers called Oklahoma City's Kincaid Bus Co. and chartered a bus to come up to Washington and take them all back home. They'd have to stay the night, however. The Mayflower, with security men closing off all but one entrance, accommodated them and the Smiths. When the Oklahomans learned about the Smiths' situation, they offered them a lift home in the bus.

The night of Sept. 11 in Washington "was eerie," says Beverage. "There was no traffic. We heard what we initially thought were bombs, but which turned out to be military jets breaking the sound barrier. …

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