Harwich journalist republishes book about his early September 11 arrest
HARWICH – Thomas E. Flynn lived through the heartbreaking events of September 11, 2001, when he was trapped in a parking lot next to the South Tower of the World Trade Center as the tower collapsed.
To mark the 20th anniversary of this terrorist act, Flynn has a new edition of his book: “Bikeman: Commemorative Edition”.
Originally published in 2008, the book contains an epic poem he wrote that details the events of the day and Flynn’s experience. The commemorative edition, released on August 3, features a report by longtime CBS reporter and presenter Dan Rather, as well as a new note from Flynn.
“It was just like the phrase ‘It took my breath away’,” he wrote in the note. “We were stunned by the attack, seeing so many people die at the same time in front of us. It was a searing and painful experience that was difficult to watch and is just as difficult to remember. But remember, we must. “
Now a part-time resident of Harwich, Flynn was working as a reporter for “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” that day 20 years ago. A plane flew over his apartment and he heard it crash into the tower. He suspected an attack due to the first terrorist attack on the towers on February 26, 1993.
Eight years earlier, a truck bomb had exploded in the parking lot of the World Trade Center. Flynn was working for the show “48 Hours” for CBS News at the time, but did not cover the event because it was initially thought to be a gas line explosion.
But on September 11, Flynn recalled in a recent phone interview: “I said to my wife, ‘I’m going over there, we’re under attack’.”
At the start of the scene
He knew he was right when he saw the second plane crash into the second tower as he was cycling on a path that ran alongside the water. He accelerated.
When Flynn arrived at the scene, he found a cameraman and hired him there. He began to do tape reports, interviewing firefighters, paramedics, police and residents of the neighborhood. He was allowed to stay near the buildings because of his press credentials.
When the building began to collapse above him, Flynn ran for cover.
He ended up being trapped inside the parking lot with paramedics, who called him “bikeman” because he wouldn’t leave his bike behind. Flynn believed they were trapped for about half an hour, but is not sure as he said “time played tricks, it was probably shorter than he felt” .
Flynn wrote down everything that happened that morning, in note form, immediately after his escape. About five or six years later, he used those notes to write down what happened on September 11 from his perspective, and the result was the epic poem “Bikeman”.
In his book, Flynn describes the experience of being trapped inside the garage. He said it was hot, the air was sandy, there was very dense ash, you couldn’t see anything. He couldn’t see the cars in the parking lot or the seven people who were stuck with him.
Debris from the collapsed south tower had piled up in front of the garage entrance, sealing it inside.
They all communicated back and forth, but no one could see who they were talking to as it was pitch dark. They were just trying to find a way out because it was dense and stuffy in there.
One of the paramedics eventually found a glass window that was part of a door halfway up a staircase. They could all feel the cool air coming out the window, which contrasted with the warm garage they were in.
The paramedic broke the window with a chair and they were able to open the door.
“Once we got out I noticed the street lights had come on. In New York they are automatic, when the sun goes down, the lights come on when it gets dark,” Flynn said. “They lit up in the middle of it.”
After getting out of the garage, he returned home on his bike, much to his wife’s relief.
“And I took the best shower I have ever taken to wash off the whole of 9/11,” Flynn said.
A break on Cape Cod
For his work with CBS News, everything was always on deck, and Flynn and his colleagues worked directly for a few days. After about two weeks, Flynn’s wife told him he needed a break.
They traveled to visit his sister on Cape Cod and Flynn’s wife began to search for real estate in the area, unbeknownst to her. Eventually, she told him they were buying a house in Cape Town, saying that they could no longer live full time in New York, that they needed a place where they would feel safe.
They began looking for a home in the fall with the help of a real estate agent and closed their current home in Harwich in the first week of February 2002.
They spend more than half the year in Harwich, Flynn noting: “This is my home now.” The couple spent the pandemic months of 2020 on Cape Cod.
Over the years, Flynn has withdrawn from broadcast journalism altogether. His writing is mainly in other forms – short stories, film scripts and skits. He also took up painting, which he started while in Cape Town.
Mark a milestone
Flynn said he wrote “Bikeman” because he felt he had to write it, he had to tell the story, and he had a rare and perhaps unique perspective. He had arrived early enough to see the second tower strike.
“It was something I wanted to write,” Flynn said of his experience. “I’m a writer, that’s what I do.”
Flynn had started his career as a reporter in New York in the early 1970s. He moved to news radio as a writer for 1010 WINS Radio, then to CBS News as a writer and later to as a producer. He spent 40 years as a journalist.
But he had never written a personal history before. His daughter, who was in college during the 9/11 attacks and saw that her father was safe while on the air on Rather, was convinced Flynn wrote the book to help himself. . It brought out his feelings, it was cathartic for him and she said saying it helped him heal.
Flynn remembers that time with the new edition of his book, the discussions and the dedications associated with it. Twenty years after the horrors of September 11 is a milestone to mark, he said.
“The way I see it, I’ve had 20 years of life that I had no reason to believe I would,” Flynn said. “And so I enjoy the sun here today and the water, my friends and my family more than ever.”
If you are going to
Flynn has so far scheduled two public appearances as part of the 20th anniversary edition of “Bikeman”. Both will involve him in reading selections, answering questions, and signing books provided by Yellow Umbrella Books in Chatham:
► At 3:30 p.m. on August 24, at the Wychmere Beach Club, 23 Snow Inn Road, Harwich Port
► At 3 p.m. on September 4 at the Cape Cod Theater Company / Harwich Junior Theater, 105 Division St., West Harwich