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Local & Regional
8:49 am
Tue September 11, 2012

From Broker to Clergy: A Local Man's 9-11 Story

  • John Durkee's OAB award-winning 9/11 Morning Edition feature

11-years ago this morning, Broken Arrow’s Bill Hemm was on the fast track. He was working in the world of high finance as a stock broker for Morgan Stanley. It was a beautiful morning.

Bill Hemm:“It was clear skies. You could see for miles, especially from the 63rd floor. You could see the tops of the other buildings. You could see the Statue of Liberty as clear as day. It was very clear.”                         

That 63-floor was in the World Trade Center South Tower. Just about this time, he headed down the elevator to 45th floor cafeteria for his morning fix of chocolate milk. It was then the first plane hit the North Tower. He didn’t know about it. He didn’t feel it. A PA announcement came on and told people in his tower to evacuate, it did not say why

Bill Hemm:“The only thought going through my mind was I get to skip out of some seminars, which were as boring as could be. I already had my excuse ready if they go mad at me. ‘Look the security guard told me to go down stairs; what did you want me to do?”                             

He joined other occupants in the tower and started down the long trek in the stairwell. About half-way down, the jet hit his tower.

Bill Hemm:“The whole building shook. If I had really understood what it would take to shake a building like that I would have been really scared. I just thought something was wrong. Everyone started running in the stairwell, so I started running too. There was panic, but you didn’t know what you were panicked about.”

On the plaza level, fire fighters and security personnel instructed them to exit the building. He didn’t look back until he was a block or two away.

Bill Hemm:“I saw that big hole that had fire coming out of it. I was so far down and it was so far up. I just thought I don’t know how they are going to put that fire out.”

He continued to walk away from the building.

Bill Hemm:“Manhattan was in a panic mode, because no one knew what had happened. The rest of the world new before Manhattan knew. Everybody was out on the streets listening to the radio, watching TV in the store fronts like in the movies. Somebody said was a plane.

No two planes.

 No a helicopter.

 You don’t know what you are talking about it was a bomb!

 It was all confusion.”

He kept walking and was so far away when the tower collapsed he didn’t even hear it. But those who guided him out of the building were all killed.

Fast Forward 11-years, Bill gave up the world of high finance. He no longer deals with stocks and bond. He makes less and even has to work weekends.

Bill Hemm is now the senior pastor at Forest Park Christian Church at 91st and Mingo in Tulsa. While his life drastically changed course, he tries not to look at his life and pre-and-post 9-11.

Bill Hemm: "It is real uncomfortable for me when people say things like God had a plan for you. That is why you got out.

Did God not have a plan for those people who didn’t get out? That doesn’t work for me.

 I don’t know that God saved me because of some sort of plan. But, I got to see what it is like when you really put yourself in harm’s way for someone else. I don’t know the security people thought the building was coming down. But they weren’t going anywhere. They were going to help everyone out of the building.

That is where I see the kingdom of God."