ROANOKE, Va. – We all remember where we were on 9/11, what we were doing and how we felt. That’s especially true for a local survivor who was at the World Trade Center that day. But 20 years later, his perspective on the impact that tragic day had on the course of his life has changed as he realizes that more than just his own life was saved when he escaped the Twin Towers.
“The pictures, they just bring back memories,” said Josh Mattox, of Roanoke, as he stood beside his young son who had just learned for the first time what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
It was a day that changed the world, the end of days for so many. But it was a first for then 21-year-old Mattox, who had just started work in the World Trade Center on the 61st floor of the South Tower.
A recent graduate at Roanoke College, he was finishing a training program with Morgan Stanley. It was only the second day of his first trip to New York City.
He and several colleagues were looking out the window admiring the Statue of Liberty at 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.
“All of a sudden, we heard a noise. All of this paper and debris started flying into our window, it was on fire. We started looking down and the buildings below us were on fire. Stuff was falling down, but we had no idea what was going on,” Mattox said. “I mean, you think you were standing right there. I mean, you had no idea.”
He has books filled with photos of that day, images of an attack he narrowly escaped.
“It feels just as unbelievable or crazy as it did 20 years ago to think that you were there at that one moment. Of all the places you could be, what are the odds that you were standing right there in the middle of 110 stories?” Mattox said.
He made it out minutes before the collapse, and he’ll never forget the fear he felt as he raced down the stairs to escape.
“I remember on [floor] 43 it just stopped, and it was just wall to wall people. It was hot. It wasn’t filled with smoke, but it was very warm from that many people and everyone sweating,” Mattox said. “That was when I shed some tears. We didn’t know it was a plane. But we knew it wasn’t good.”
It’s taken Mattox 20 years to understand the magnitude of surviving 9/11, but as more time passes, he said it’s almost harder to believe.
“How could of all the days, of all the hours, of all the minutes and all the people in this country, and you think, could that? Was that? Were you really standing on that floor the minute that somebody decided to fly a plane?” Mattox said. “What are the odds of that? I mean that will never escape my mind to think, how could that be you?”
10 News first talked to Mattox five years ago. He had similar questions on his mind.
“One of the things that I think about a lot that will never be answered is why did I walk out of that building? I had no kids to care for, no spouse, no wife., no mortgage, no nothing. I walk out without a scratch, and all the people that were parents, why did they die? We will never know that. I think about that a lot.”
But since then, life has changed, including his perspective of what all he could have lost that day.
“A lot has happened in twenty years that I’m proud of,” Mattox said.
He’s especially proud of his wife and two boys. His oldest can tell you where his dad was that day.
“Wow. He is going to know that forever, that your dad, he’s your dad because he was lucky enough to get out of that building,” Mattox said.
Parenthood has changed Mattox and his perspective of that day. He said he becomes emotional thinking about what his parents went through, not hearing confirmation on if their son was alive for more than two hours after the attack that day. Mattox waited in line along with other survivors on a payphone, making only necessary calls to let their loved ones know they were ok.
“Can you imagine? There were no cellphones back then,” Mattox said. “Gosh, I just can’t even imagine if that were one of my boys and I didn’t know.”
Sept. 11 is a date that means more to Mattox each year as he remains grateful for the life he almost didn’t have.