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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Operation Find Don

Submitted by on September 10, 2009 – 2:57 PM152 Comments

I realized after a couple archive searches that this never made it over from the old site. Not sure how much good it will do now — my feeling at this point is that, if Don hasn't been found yet, there may be no finding the guy — but I'm happy to be proven wrong. Although…it could be kind of awkward. ("So, you waited for eight years for me to show up." "Uh huh." "And so did some of your readers." "Ehhhh-yep." "That's…quite odd." "Yessir it is. Beer?" "Um.") But the hell with it. Life is short, but not so short I can't make time to thank a guy.

This year I've given myself a bit more time to find him, so do me a favor: pass it on. FB it, tweet it, whatever you got. It's two presidential terms gone by now; we gotta find this dude.


The latest news is that there is no news; if I hear anything, I will let you know, but I haven't heard anything…and it's starting to look like I won't. I don't think I would recognize Don if I saw him on the street, anymore; I doubt he would remember me, especially now that my hair is so different.

It's also possible that Don does not in fact want to be found, or that he's in the Yukon or something, but I've done the paid name/birthday searches and I've hoped that six degrees of separation would loop around, and I still haven't turned him up.

Thanks again to everyone who's mentioned it on sites they run or frequent, or to friends of theirs in the media, and to everyone who's sent words of support. I appreciate it. If you hear anything, or you want to mention it on your blog, please feel free — you never know.

Don: A (Very Very) Brief History

Don is a man I met on September 11, 2001. Don and I became "disaster buddies," and ever since, I've wanted to thank him for hanging out with me and helping me keep it together — but I haven't seen or heard from him since we parted ways late that morning.

What Don Looks/Looked Like

Don is an African-American man. I would estimate his age at between 25 and 35 on that day — probably not younger than that; possibly older, but not much. That means he's 30-ish to 40 now.

Don is between 5'9" and 6' tall, and probably weighed 160-180 pounds. (I suck at estimating men's weights.) In any case, at that time Don had a fit build — not pudgy, not skinny, well put-together.

Don had short hair and a goatee at that time. I do not recall any jewelry; he may have worn a watch, I don't remember. No glasses.

Don had on a grey windowpane-plaid suit and was carrying a black soft-sided briefcase.

Don didn't really resemble anyone famous, except Blair Underwood around the eyes a little bit.

Other Possibly Relevant Facts

Don and I met in the lobby of the Bank of New York building, located roughly at Wall Street and Broadway. We left the bank together at approximately 11 that morning.

Don lived at that time in Jersey City, or thereabouts — he took the ferry to Jersey City to get home, from a slip somewhere around Hester Street on the west side.

Don had come into the city that morning via the PATH train, and had gotten off at the World Trade Center stop. He had come into the city for work, but I don't remember whether his business that day was actually at the WTC complex; I don't believe it was. If he had gotten separated from any work colleagues, he didn't mention it. I don't know what he did for a living, and I don't know if his job was based in Jersey City or in lower Manhattan, but I got the impression that he was in the city for an errand or meeting, and that he didn't regularly commute in.

As I said, I don't recall a wedding ring; Don did not mention a wife or any other family at that time as far as I can remember.

Don's birthday is September 11. No idea what year, but based on my estimate of his age it's probably in the late sixties or seventies.

Why You Should Care

Because it's a mystery, a puzzle, a story that needs an end. Because Don is everything good and friendly about the world. Because I owe him my thanks, and possibly a cold beer. Because it's his birthday.

What You Can Do

Do you know anyone in Jersey City, or anyone who lives or works near there? Have you heard a story like mine — secondhand, thirdhand, on someone's journal? Do you recall reading or hearing anywhere about people who ran for the Bank of New York, walked uptown a bit, and took a ferry to New Jersey? Post in the comments, or email me at sars at tomatonation dot com.

And if you are in fact Don? Well, don't just sit there. Show yourself. My mom's friend swears you were an angel and she'll keep believing that shit until I can prove otherwise.

Suggestions? Clues? Conspiracy theories? Send 'em my way. I'll add any new information as it comes in.

In short: Don. He's still out there. And he's another year older.

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  • Rhiannon says:

    I know this is probably the obvious/dumb idea, but have you tried searching for him on Facebook? Stranger things have happened–even my mom is on there now.

    I really hope you find him.

  • baggage says:

    Posted on my blog. I hope you find him.

  • Donna says:

    I read this story the other day (link below) about a man in Minnesota whose birthday falls on 9/11. He traveled across the country to meet other people whose birthdays are also on 9/11. It's a long shot, but he drove all over the US and up and down the east coast. Maybe he could help you.

  • Anne-Cara says:

    Like baggage, I'll post this on my blog, and pass it on to some people who may know more than I do. It would be awesome if you could find him. :)

  • Laura says:

    I'm with your mom – I vote angel. :-)

  • Kate says:

    I was in D.C. and always think of two co-workers I've since lost touch with at the National Association of Letter Carriers. We hiked from our building on the Hill to Arlington. I was with them when we thought we heard another explosion (actually sonic booms) and decided it was time to leave. I was with them when I realized I couldn't see my apartment building for the smoke from the Pentagon. I was with them when we met farmers from Iowa in town to visit the Dept. of Ag. and they lent me a light for the first cigarette I'd had in months. They were with me when we were chased off the mall by freaked out Capitol police worried about the plane still in the air. When I took off my shoes, when the large truck next to us was swarmed with cops, when we ate old cheese crackers, when we crossed an empty major highway and it felt like being in The Stand, and when we finally made it to Virginia.

    I'm thinking of you both, as I always do every year. And as I'm sure Don does, because I can't imagine doing anything else.

  • Wen says:

    Hell, I've posted it all the way out here in Australia. I've been waiting on The Don to turn up since I read the very first Tomato Nation 9/11 entry.

  • BetsyD says:

    I will keep hoping you find him, Sars. And that he's doing okay.

  • alitria says:

    I'm in the Yukon, and it's a pretty small world up here so I can definitely rule out that 1% of the universe for you. I just wish I could help with the rest.

  • missbanshee says:

    You and Don were the first people I thought about yesterday when I was watching the re-broadcast on MSNBC. I'm not a religious person, but the "angel" theory warms my heart to an embarrassing degree.

  • tiggy says:

    i don't know why, but i thought i remembered a blog about you finding him a few years ago. i guess it was wishful thinking.

    here's hoping you do!

  • Jennifer says:

    I live in Jersey City but don't know anyone named Don. There is a message board here that a lot of people use: Also,

    I undestand why you would want to find Don. That day is also burned in my memory.

  • Kate says:

    It's funny — I've wondered why there isn't a website where all of the people who were down there that day can try to find each other, like an online version of those Red Cross lists and stations after other disasters. There are faces and stories and first names I remember (we had them written on our shirts so we could call out something better than "you over there!" when we needed someone); I wish I knew what became of some of those folk.

  • Margaret in CO says:

    How about craigslist?

    I hope you find him, Sars. I'm glad he was there for you, as you were for him. Wishing all of us peace…

  • Another Kate says:

    I hope you find him.

    I wish I had a Don so I could look for him. That way I could feel like maybe I'd feel more whole again when I found him.

  • Yubi Shines says:

    I'll post a link to a place or two and see if anything turns up. I hope it will.

  • Jean says:

    Every year on 9/11 I always come here and re read your entry, and each year I hope you've found Don. I'll pass the link a long to some people I know in Jersey. I really hope you find him. Just because he didnt have wings didn't make him any less of an angel.

  • Jobetta says:

    My money's on the angel theory.

  • Sarah S says:


    It's now on a Myspace bulletin. I hope you find him – I've read the story, and wish I could have had someone such as Don at such a catastrophic moment in history. If you do meet up with him, wish him a "Happy Birthday" for me, will ya? He sounds like good people.

    Again, good luck!

  • Jenn says:

    Sars – I think of you and Don (and my uncle) every 9/11. Here's hoping that this is the year you find him.

  • Erin says:

    This may be a stretch, and I don't know if you've considered hiring a private investigator. I'm sure it wouldn't be cheap to do so, but… it's an option, at least.

  • Jessica says:

    Is it possible we're hitting the wrong media outlets? In other words, is there any way we can get Tom Joyner working on this?

  • fair_n_hite_451 says:

    Like others, the search for Don is high on my list of things to check on every year at this time.

    Angel or not, Don has certainly become a metaphor on the search for soemthing like "what life was like in the past". Dunno, I'm not so good with the words, but the symbology of looking backwards to that day trying to find that one ray of sunshine to come out of a huge pile of disaster is very much what I think America as a whole is in desparate need of.

    Since that day, as a nation, we're lost and searching for … something.

  • Kizz says:

    I went back and read For Thou Art With Us on Tuesday and I wondered if you'd found Don yet. I know it seems like a crazy longshot but I really do think you'll find him at some point. At least I hope so.

  • Kate says:

    The search for Don is one of the first things I always think of when I think of September 11th. I remember reading that first entry (and damn, by that time I'd already been reading your site for years, I can't believe it's been so long) and really hoping that somehow, you'd find him. I still do. I've had so many 'wow, the world is ridiculously small' moments in the past few years to think it's not possible.

    And I mean, really, guy deserves a beer.

    Good luck. Keep looking.

  • ink cannery girl says:

    I believe that heaven and hell are things that we create here on earth by our actions. In that sense, Don *was* an angel, that day. And so were you.

    Thank you for your writing.

  • Kidge says:

    I don't know if this would help at all, but I did a quick people search and turned up a Donald J Wise, age 37, with the birthday of September 11th and an address of 354 Owen Avenue, Fair Lawn, NJ. I have no idea if this is him or not, but it might be worth a shot. I'll continue doing some people searches and see what I can turn up.

  • Rachel says:

    Kidge, if that turns out to be the guy, I will buy YOU a beer.

    I, too, think of Sars and Don on 9/11. My husband thinks I'm weird because I read other people's blogs and care about what goes on in the lives of people I don't even know in "real" life. The internet makes our world both bigger and smaller at the same time.

  • Alex says:

    I posted the Operation Find Don on my myspace, and so far, nada.

    Kidge, if you found Don, FUCK the beer, I will buy you a bottle of Dom.

  • Chris says:

    I come back to your site every year hoping you've found Don. I think your full entry on that day captures perfectly what it was like to be there on that day at that time. I was 30 blocks north so my experience was different and yet had a lot of similarity.

  • Bridget says:

    hey–i found this link on of a 32 year old man named don who lives in jersey city and is a virgo. i hope it's him!

    good luck in the search.

  • Sars says:

    I'm 95% sure that's not him. Thanks for looking, though.

  • Anne-Cara says:

    Kidge, I don't know how you did that, but that would be fantabulous if it was him.

    (Sars – which one are you 95% unsure about, Fair Lawn or Jersey City?)

  • Sars says:

    Anne-Cara: I meant JC. There was a picture; pretty sure that's not him.

    FL doesn't sound like him either…not that there isn't more than one Donald J. Wise in Fair Lawn, but I did a little Googling, and based on the comments one Donald J. Wise of 354 Owen Ave. made during a meeting of the zoning board re: a proposed development? I'm kind of hoping that's NOT him. Drama queen!

    Heh, just kidding. (Sort of.) But I saw some pretty elaborate (and understandable) spazzing around on 9/11, and Don was pretty chill. Tense, but chill. Doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would go to a town meeting and be all Sarah Bernhardt about things, but then, I knew him for 45 minutes six years ago.

    Do any of y'all know an NYC police sketch artist or someone with one of those software programs?

    I'm-a go on Craigslist and see if I turn anything up.

  • Yubi Shines says:

    Funny thing, I was going to suggest a sketch artist earlier. They have software for that kind of thing now?

    Quick google:

  • fairnhite451 says:

    My new theory about Don (and not the least bit inspired by last night's pilot of Journeyman, nope, no way).

    Don came back from the future to save you that day because you're destined to win the first Nobel Peace Prize awarded to a blogger. Or something.

  • Judi says:

    I will post a blog about it later. I hope you find him.

  • Melissa says:

    I'll be sure to post it. Not much help, since I live in Indiana, but it can't hurt. Like everyone else, I hope you find him. God bless him, wherever he is.

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    I just shared this to Digg; if any of y'all are Diggers and can give it a share, that would be great.

  • Maria says:

    Not to be melodramatic, but I will never stop caring about this. Like you say, it's a puzzle that needs solving, a story that needs an ending.

    I'll tweet and post to FB later today. So many people I've reconnected with recently have a million more connections – maybe 2009 is the year those 6 degrees finally connect.

  • Lily says:

    Good luck finding Don.

    I know a guy from high school whose birthday is September 11, but I'm certain it's not Don, seeing as my friend is Asian, in his 20s, and lives in the San Francisco area. Oddly, I also knew a girl whose birthday is the same day as the Waco, Texas fiasco, and thus, the same day as the Oklahoma City bombings. I remember her being really annoyed about that, as people were starting to stop associating her birthday with a horrible event. Sadly, I think September 11 tops the Waco/Oklahoma City thing.

  • Kona says:

    Do you have a Digg link?

  • Margaret in CO says:

    Come out come out wherever you are!!! Olly olly oxen free!!!!

  • Jess says:

    I saw a guy the other day in a windowpane-plaid suit who kinda sorta fit Don's description. It made me think of you. I'm glad you put this up again.

  • Tisha_ says:

    I posted it in my blog (see link attached to me name) – We're mostly in Oklahoma, but I figured it couldn't hurt!

  • Katie says:

    I still tell this story, all the time, to people I meet if we get on the topic of 9/11. I will also never stop caring about this. This was one of the few good things I can ever associate with that day. It reminds me that just as people can be horrible, people can be truly good.

  • Sweetie Darling says:

    Posted on Metafilter.

  • Dan Hartung says:

    Sarah, I've started a Facebook group to assist you called Operation Find Don. If this in any way violates your sensibilities let me know. Otherwise, maybe it could be another tool.
    (The clickable link maybe did not make it. Trying again.)

  • Nicki says:

    Sars, I don't know Don. But i have a disturbing theory.

    How would you feel if you found that he lied about everything he told you- EVERYTHING ? If he were basically following a script to get females to like and trust him?

    In your place, i would rather not find that out. But i am not you; would you rather find out that he isn't ( and never was) who you thought he was? Or would you prefer to remember the experience as it is in your memory, unsullied, so to speak.

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