The following is a collection of anecdotes from and about September 11, 2001 submitted by readers like you:
FROM SHOCK TO SERVICE
My Aunt who raised me, Sharon Balcom, always told me that life is more about experiences and memories than possessions. She would tell me stories about life in Rhode Island as a foster child back in the 1960s, her high school days when people were different, and landmarks in history. When I was 14 years old back in 2001, it was hard for me to comprehend phrases that she would say such as, "I will never forget what I was doing when John F. Kennedy was shot." I was amazed at the stories that she could recount so vividly. However, I can firmly state that the events of September 11, 2001 were the first landmarks in time for my generation where we can all remember and recount where we were, what we were doing, and what our reactions were when that September morning occurred.
At 8:30 a.m. on September 11, 2001, Gorton Junior High students in Mr. Tom Hewes' 8th grade social studies class were going over concepts for an essay that we had all just gotten back and done poorly on. For all of us at Gorton who had Mr. Hewes, we all know that his passion for world events and history will forever be entrenched in our memories, and I guess we can say that it was fitting that the events that unfolded in the minutes after our discussion happened in his presence. I can remember that in the middle of our lesson, Mr. Hewes got a phone call. As he hung up the the phone with a puzzled look on his face, he motioned to the class that we were going to the library to go watch TV, which is never a problem for any 8th grader. When we arrived in the library, I remember hearing Katie Couric and Matt Lauer's voice – and I knew before even seeing the television that the “Today” show was on. Gathered in the library were another three full classes, with many more waiting outside – our class filed in and sat on the floor packed like sardines and found a comfortable spot to see what was on the television. As Katie and Matt began to speculate what type of aviation accident may have happened, and why one of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire, Mr. Hewes, who was never at a loss for words, stared blankly and without any emotion or expression at the television. It was this point when I began to tell myself, "Something is not quite right here," as the NBC Channel 10 logo in the bottom left corner of the screen showed 9 a.m.
What happened after that, as the members of the “Today” show were talking, I will never forget. As the second aircraft crashed into the South Tower at 9:02, I remember hearing Matt Lauer say, "As we replay the crash in the World Trade Center ... Oh wait – what just happened?" One of the librarians turned off the TV, and then turned it back on to see if there was some kind of malfunction. When the TV came back on, we saw both towers on fire ... I listened to Mr. Hewes mention words that seemed foreign to me as he discussed with another teacher: "Al-Queda," "Osama Bin Laden," "Terrorism" ... I had never heard of any of those concepts in his classes before. Once class was dismissed, the principal made an announcement over the intercom letting the school know what had happened. Once I got home, I saw Auntie Sharon glued to the television when she told me that the planes had been hijacked by terrorists, and it was no accident what had happened. America was a target, but why would anyone do such a thing to the USA?
The question "Why the USA?" continued to enthrall me through the rest of 8th grade. I remember that there was talk that our 8th grade annual class trip to Washington, D.C. might be cancelled. No one pushed harder than Mr. Hewes to ensure that we were able to get on a plane and fly down to D.C. to continue Gorton's tradition of the class trip, despite warnings from school officials and parents that it might not be safe so soon after the attacks for us to go. He insisted that we MUST go, and if there was any year to make plans for this trip, it was this one. I recall that many of my friends who were talking about going on the trip at the start of 8th grade ended up not going, but I convinced my aunt to pay for the trip so that I could see Washington for the first time in my life.
Going to Washington, D.C. so soon after the attacks instilled the inner patriot in me. It morphed the emotions of doubt and anger into certainty and clarity. I saw that I was no longer mad at those who committed those crimes, but rather, I felt sorry for them that they could not enjoy the same freedoms that we did – that good people from countries all over the world were being converted to inflict damage on us. I discovered that those people who hated us on even the smallest levels were training harder each day to continue terrorist acts on us, while many people here in our country would say hateful things about those who attacked us, but did not have the initiative or the courage to act on those emotions and make a positive impact. Could it be possible to change the lives of these oppressed people so that they might not do this to us again?
I sat in classes in high school and listened to teachers and people I respected say, "Just nuke all of them and forget about it," and "What are we doing over there, expending resources and manpower when we have so many problems here in our own country..." and the list goes on and on with the arguments why we should leave the Middle East and focus on domestic issues.
Of course as we all do in high school, we come to a crossroads and ask ourselves what we will do with our lives once it is time to leave. After Sept. 11, I was convinced that as Americans, we can no longer forget about the forces abroad that were overlooked for many years. I learned in history that all-powerful empires have seemingly unstoppable monumental ascents to prosperity followed by sometimes abrupt and inexplicable falls from grace. Something about our economic situation combined with unrest among our people told me that the events of Sept. 11 may have marked the beginning of the end of a long U.S. reign over the rest of the world. I wanted to be part of a solution that would preserve humanity as we knew it and allow us to continue to live our lives that we had before the attacks. I applied to the United States Naval Academy and was blessed with a commission in the Navy after four years of humbling education and training in Annapolis, Md.
As I wake up each day and see the other people in uniform around me, I know that they are all here to help make a difference to keep our nation safe. The actions of the terrorists on September 11, 2001 were designed to divide and dismember our nation. Instead, it resulted in a nation coming together and becoming driven by a purpose to solidify our legacy of freedom and prosperity. Those memories that I experienced as an 8th grader led me to raising my right hand and accepting the oath and responsibilities of leading some of America’s most patriotic and motivated people. As a nation, those who serve both in uniform and out, in any capacity, is a testament that the resiliency of our country has not wavered. It has been a signal to those who have gone before us that our generation is willing to step up to the plate and continue to keep our nation’s best interest at heart. It shows that the young people are willing to take the reigns from the “Greatest Generation” and be responsible for the decisions that will shape the future of our lives and those after us.
Ensign Brandon Pearson, U.S. Navy
USS ANTIETAM CG-54
Warwick Vets Class of 2006
WHEN ALL WAS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD
It was September 8, 2001 and Bill, my husband, and I were on our way to New York City with our cousin’s daughter, Gemma, who came from Prestwick, Scotland to spend the summer working for the Nature Conservatory on Block Island.
We were meeting her parents, Alan and Moira, who came to see New York City and take Gemma home for her final year at university.
It was a wonderful reunion. We walked Broadway; took the Staten Island Ferry; took pictures of the Statue of Liberty; went to Ellis Island where Bill’s parents had landed in the USA; and visited the shops in the World Trade Center.
It was beautiful weather and all was right with the world.
On Sept. 10, Bill and I took the train back to Rhode Island. And then came Sept. 11.
Their flight was cancelled. They were there three days being evacuated from one hotel to another, calling the airline and just waiting around. It was very scary.
Finally, after learning they would not be getting a flight out for a week to Scotland, they rented a car and drove to Warwick to be with us. Seven days later they drove back to New York for their flight home.
A LUCKY ONE
I was living in New York at the time of the attacks. I worked for The Edith Macy Conference Center, which is the National Training Center for Girl Scouts of the USA. The conference center was managed by Benchmark Hospitality. They also managed three other properties in the area including a conference center on the 55th floor of one of the towers at the World Trade Center. Once a year, Benchmark would hold training conferences for their management staff. They had originally planned for the training to take place at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 but changed it at the last minute to Edith Macy because we had hotel rooms and the training was to take place over a two-day period. I will never forget standing in the lobby with the management staff from the World Trade Center as they watched the towers come down knowing that their staff was inside. I felt so guilty because I was so relieved that I was not there and standing next to me were people watching their lives torn apart. We were one of the lucky companies – all of our employees got out safely.
Ledgemont Country Club
HOLD IT IN YOUR HEART
My name is Heather and I am 37 now. I was 27 and at the time I was taking care of a friend's baby during the days. I had just put him down for a nap and came back downstairs to sit for a little bit with a coffee and watch the “Today” show. I was sitting on that couch when I saw the second plane go into the second tower! I instantly started crying and picked up the telephone to call my mother to let her know what was going on. I also called my sister. I will never forget that morning. I was glued to the television that whole day, while taking care of the baby of course. My prayers go out to all of the families that were affected by that horrible tragedy and I will always keep them in my heart!
I was home healing with a fractured hip that just had pins put in. I could only sit on the recliner in the living room, even to sleep, so I was home watching television, which I guess is what all good reporters do: watch others and their approach.
My daughter, Jennifer, was across the street at Eden Park Elementary School. I could look out the window and see the school as I sat there with a new Maltese puppy on my lap, named Shadow. Shadow was a mother’s day gift from Jennifer (with help from her dad I am sure!).
A neighbor stopped in to have coffee and chat and we were both sitting in the living room. I don’t remember what we were even talking about, and then it hit. I saw the explosion out of the corner of my eye partially looking at the television. I knew in my gut it was no accident.
We sat there glued to the television for the entire school day. She called in sick and we just sat, stared, cried, felt scared and wondering if we should get our daughters home with us or leave them in school. We left them in school that day. To give us the strength to be there for them.
My daughter already knew. Hanging around the teacher’s room has its good points. This day, bad points: as Jennifer witnessed it on television in school. Upset does not even describe how she was when I cuddled her in my arms.
I brought her into the house and told her, “No one we know is hurt. It is not in R.I. and we are safe.”
(I’m wondering to myself all the time – are we safe?)
She calmed down and sat with Shadow and I and watched the news. I was hesitant but Jennifer was persistent. She was just like me … always having the need to know; the curiosity.
I received a phone call after dinner that changed my world forever. My friend and neighbor Renee Newell was on the first plane to hit the first twin tower. I was in shock as I hung up and looked down at my daughter who wanted to know what was wrong. I told her.
She cried, but as she cried she got dressed and went across the street to see her friend, Matt Newell. Some of Jennifer’s best times with Matt were when they would play basketball in the driveway constantly. I lived with the sound of a ball bouncing for years!
I don’t know to this day what Jennifer and Matt discussed, but Jennifer came home, exhausted from the day and just went off to bed.
I was relieved she went off to sleep. I had time to cry.
The next morning, the lawn across the street from me was strewn with small American flags. I lost a friend that day, and I gained a new found fear.
FROM THE HEART OF NYC
On September 11, 2001 I was living in NYC about 30 or so blocks north of the World Trade Center at 25th Street and Second Avenue. It was one of the most gorgeous NY mornings I ever remember – a bright blue sky with beautiful sunshine and a wispy cloud or two. My boyfriend, Ashkay, and I had a day off of work and at about 8:50 a.m. we were standing in front of the TV getting ready to turn it off – our gym bags in hand, we were going to go work out. At the moment we were ready to turn the TV off, about 8:50 a.m., NBC news was reporting that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We looked at each other and then out the windows, both acknowledging the gorgeous day; there was no way a plane would hit the WTC by accident on a clear morning like that.
Instead of leaving for the gym, we decided to go up to our roof garden (about 20 floors up) where we had a direct view of the towers. When we reached the roof, we found a couple of other neighbors up there with cameras. One of the gentleman’s wives worked in one of the towers. He was incredibly calm but had no idea if she had reached work or not by the time the first plane hit; we later found out she was ok. While we stood on the roof trying to understand what we were seeing, the second plane flew into the other tower. It was horrific, yet we stared, still trying to make sense and understand. I can’t speak for Ashkay, but I think I was numb from shock by then. As the buildings were burning (but still standing), we went back down to the apartment to see what the news was saying. NBC was still on, although the “Today Show” had gone to local coverage and I paused for a moment to marvel at how professionally the local NBC affiliate newsperson, Jane Hansen, was handling the reporting and wondering what she was feeling. I remember calling my family to say we were OK, worried that they would see the news and freak out.
The news was reporting that all bridges and tunnels were closed and that nobody was being allowed to come in or out of Manhattan. So, ever practical in a crisis, I ran down to the local market to buy bottled water and grocery basics. As I was walking to the market, I saw people walking/running up Third Avenue, covered in dust from head to toe. They were silent, determined, shocked and scared but moving forward, getting as far away from the tragedy as they could. There were no cabs or passenger cars in the streets ... just people. At the same time, Second Avenue was a steady stream of police cars, ambulances, and other emergency personnel headed south. It was all very surreal. They just kept coming.
When I got back to the apartment and heard about the Pentagon and the flight in Pennsylvania, I was so freaked out. Ashkay was smart, having grown up in Calcutta during times of great turmoil, and he decided we should try to leave regardless of what they were saying on the news. We quickly loaded the car to head to our home in R.I. We drove up Third Avenue, took the FDR Drive North to the 3rd Avenue Bridge, which was open, and we headed out to the Bruckner Freeway. I was watching the skyline of the city out the back window of our SUV as the towers fell. I remember feeling this doomed lonely feeling that the world would never ever again be the same.
As we drove north through Connecticut, the only vehicles on the road were traveling south, toward NYC and they were all ambulances. It was a sight I will never forget. Looking up at the sky and seeing no planes was also very unnerving. As we drove, we were comforted by the multitude of calls coming in to both of our cell phones from friends and relatives throughout the world wondering if we were safe. I remember getting totally random messages from strangers on AOL reaching out to New Yorkers with kind emails and instant messages.
After reaching Providence later that morning, I found out that my oldest friend, Liz Cardello, was stranded in Providence due to the flights being suspended. We spent the evening together at a deserted restaurant – glad to see each other despite the circumstances and talking about everything, but always circling back to the events of the day and (both of us being travelers due to our work) talked about what we would do if we found ourselves on a flight with a terrorist. The answer: fight hard until the end.
A couple of days later I returned to the city. The missing persons center was two blocks from my house. The enormity of what had happened just got worse. The air was choking with smoke and dust. All around my neighborhood were posters, reminiscent of the style that someone would post for a lost dog, but these were with photos of people who looked like they could be your best friend from college, your neighbor, your colleague – ALL MISSING.
“Last seen on the 21st floor of…”
It was so sad. Upon returning, there were two bright spots. The first was finding out from my doorman that every single person from our building was present and accounted for. The second was when I went to my nail salon for some normalcy and each time one of us regular customers walked in the door, all of the girls cheered and clapped, so happy that each arriving customer was safe. They gave all of us free pedicures – their contribution to making NYC “feel better.” It was such a lovely, generous spirited (and much appreciated) gesture.
I visited India in early 2002 with Ashkay and people would come up to us in the street and ask where we were on 9/11. Friends of Akshay's father would call on us at his home, wanting to hear about the tragedy. It was comforting that people wanted to reach out and help to heal strangers from NYC. Each time I see the coverage repeated on the news, I feel the stress and anxiety; but at the same time, I feel blessed and thankful, knowing that it could have been much, much worse.
PICTURE PERFECT MEMORY
I was working at Brown University, and my mother called me from Philadelphia to tell me at work that a plane had slammed into the Twin Towers. Before she could complete her conversation, the second plane had hit.
My department all ran into the conference room and turned on the TV to see what was going on. If my mom had not called at that moment, I would not have seen it for myself.
I will never forget the emotions that my office felt. My son was born on Sept. 10 and we will always relate that day around his birthday. I will never forget what I saw. The year before the event, my husband and I went to Bermuda on a cruise to celebrate our 25th anniversary, and left out of New York. I just happened to take a few pictures of the tower. At least we have pictures of what the towers used to look like, before that sad day.
A REPORTER’S STORY
I was covering the first Truancy Court at Hugh B. Bain Middle School for the Cranston Herald, when a secretary interrupted with news of the first plane. We all huddled around the television in the school office. I called the Beacon offices to see if they knew what was happening. Sharon said they were watching on the conference room television. Getting into my car at Bain, I remember the blue sky. It was a beautiful day. Once back in the newsroom, I called my dad. Like so many conversations that day, I felt I just needed to check in with everyone I loved.
Later that afternoon, I met Marie Genest of Cranston. Her brother-in-law called me and asked if I wanted to speak with her. She was on the 67th floor of the South Tower. I remember her saying, she knew to just leave; she could always come back. For me, it was the first, first-hand account I had heard of the devastation and human spirit at Ground Zero. I don't recall asking her any questions. We sat on her couch and she recounted the entire day with amazing composure and grace.
The Cranston Herald was on deadline that day. After our interview, I remember calling John and telling him to re-arrange the front page. It was the closest I ever came to saying, 'Stop the presses.' The story I had just heard was almost unbelievable: all the emotion, all the detail. I have never typed a story so fast. To this day, I wonder if I did Marie's story justice. I still think of her often and wonder about all the people she met along the way that day, especially the guys who helped her down the stairwell with her bag.
WE WILL NEVER FORGET
It is 6:32 in the morning as the sun starts its journey into the east coast skyline over the churning water of the Atlantic, filling the streets of a concrete jungle with light. With the coming of dawn, the inhabitants of this jungle begin their morning routines; unbeknownst to them that by the time the day was done, their lives, their families and their country would be shattered beyond belief.
Mothers wake their children for school, men straighten their ties for work, business owners unlock their store doors for the customers who will stream in slowly but surely as the city awakes. The daily news reports a sun-filled day, cloudless skies for miles, a perfect September day for those who chose to walk the now bustling streets to reach their destinations. No one is aware of the events that are about to take place.
Hundreds of miles away, two aluminum missiles take flight into the sky from a state that bore witness to our nation’s founding. The passengers on board, 157 souls combined, are on their way to the west coast of the country for either business or pleasure. Their ages range from both the young to the old but on this day, age is just a number. In due time they will be nothing but casualties of this horrific day, victims of a terrorist attack. Elsewhere throughout the country, these missiles in the morning sky will be joined by two others, each with their specific target areas all ready set in stone by months of planning in a country on the other side of the world, where evil reigns over the land.
Well past 8 in the morning now, two lumbering giants of this bright city have begun to be filled with their occupants. Once thought to be nothing but eyesores, these brothers stand in time, watching over the island that they stand upon as if to be sentinels. They had been declared as the tallest in the world at one point, had been filmed countless times in large budget films straight down into televised sitcoms, a must see site for tourists. By the time they were barely 30 years in age they had become the heart of their country’s financial district, a pure symbol of power but most importantly they were home to countless businesses.
Suddenly a roar is heard from the sky above. Onlookers tilt their heads up to catch a glimpse of the origin of this sound. They're unsure of what could make a louder noise than the city that they reside in and yet at the same time this sound is familiar. As if they have heard it before.
And then it is 8:46 in the morning and at that moment; our nation begins to live through the worst day of its life. Flight 11 vanishes into the North Tower never to be seen again, engulfed by flames, smoke and steel.
Soon enough, speculation has lead people on the streets to believe that as tragic as this is, it is merely just an accident. But within 20 minutes, the word “accident” is transformed into “attack,” and disbelief is found on any face you turn to. With countless news channels reporting the incident, with not just one country but multiple countries around the world watching on, Flight 175 comes out of nowhere and explodes just as quickly into the South Tower at a little past 9 in the morning. Screams are heard, wailing and crying as a nation begins to take in what is happening to one of its greatest cities. Shock is settling in.
Black smoke is pouring from the Twin Towers, flames engulf windows and debris is found everywhere. Hope has been lost in the eyes of those trapped above the impact zones. As a final way to shake fists at those who have done this, people take their lives into their own hands and decide that if they die, they die the way they want and not how others please. To escape the blaze behind them and the choking smoke that follows, they leap from broken windows, cameras capturing their falls much to the horror of people on the ground.
Worried families attempt to call their loved ones but in the panic of the day phone systems are overwhelmed. The technology that we depend on as a society begins to fail around us and yet people still try and try.
As bad as it seems on the outside, as horrible as it is to watch, there is hope in the fact that countless New York Firefighters have been rushing into the area since the first attack. They are bravely fighting the flames and attempting to reach the trapped office workers. Emergency operators are calming the panicked victims, assuring them they are not to worry, to keep their wits about them, that help is on its way. Despite these words of assurance, people still call home from their offices on the floors that are blocked by fire to say final goodbyes in case help doesn't reach them fast enough.
The ground begins to rumble now, shaking harshly as if a hammer is coming down onto the surface of the earth. No one ever suspected it from happening and yet before the countries’ eyes, the South Tower topples over itself, the weight of the floors above too much for the fire stricken columns in the impact zone to support. Police officers, firefighters, paramedics and civilians all begin to race away from the falling tower as quickly as they can, the roaring of steal and concrete coming down, drowning out the screams from those running. Dark clouds of ash give chase to the onlookers, and within a moment’s time it overtakes most who are trying to escape. It would take what is described as a “lifetime” for these people to emerge from the clouds, covered in the debris of the falling tower, stunned by the course of events, ghostly moving in any direction they can just as long as it was away from the site.
Now the impossible has become the possible. With one looming tower standing on its own, still flaming above the wreckage of its Twin, the order is given to all firefighters to leave the second building. If one could fall, its Twin could fall. But the order is given far too late. It takes little time and soon the North Tower has begun its own path of destruction down and onto the rubble of the South Tower. Floors pancake onto one another as the North Tower comes down, in a near perfect straight line, blowing out what windows remain before crushing ceiling into floor. As it reached the ground level, the tower sends out its own cloud of death, repeating its Twin’s actions and once more people run for their lives, unsure of what’s within the cloud lurking for them. And then silence falls upon the area.
From across the harbor a Lady of Liberty has been sitting upon her pedestal watching through comforting eyes as the morning has unfolded. She has been in this harbor for more then 100 years and has bore witness to people immigrating into this country, welcoming them into a better life, and a better future while also saying farewells to countless soldiers who left this harbor, heading out into war zones across the Atlantic. In the days to come she will bring comfort from where she stands to the countless men and women who work the area of land that will be renamed “Ground Zero,” for in her eyes there is not just comfort but determination and justice to be had.
It is 10 years later now and the landscape of these tragic attacks has been altered. The Pentagon where Flight 77 attempted to destroy our country’s military leaders has long since been repaired and shows no damage from what happened on that faithful morning. A memorial stands not too far away to remember those brave men and women in uniform who, on that morning, were given no enemies to fight. Their battles were lost before they had even a chance to begin.
In Pennsylvania, the scrape in the topsoil of a farmer’s land has been covered and built upon. A marble wall stands in place now and etched upon this wall are the names of the passengers on Flight 93 who, in a moment of discussion with family members, discovered what their plane’s true use would be for. In a time when hope was lost and their fates uncertain, these passengers took it upon themselves to say to the attackers of our country that enough was enough, and that Americans would fight back. Throwing caution to the wind they fought for moments to gain control of their aircraft and gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country; protecting others in the face of danger.
In New York City a wound has now been healed. The World Trade Center is no longer a void of debris, rubble, wreckage and bodies. It took little under a year for the Twin Towers and the buildings around them to be cleared away and to reveal the basement housing of these giants. And with this clearing came a new purpose to this site. In place of the Twin Towers, the Freedom Tower rises as a standing reminder to New York City, America and the World that despite their best efforts, the terrorists who attacked us on Sept. 11 did little to beat us, but did much to stir us into what we as a nation were created to be: Independent souls who in a time of crisis reach out to our neighbors and become one.
A great amount of life was lost on that day and there will surely be no day that goes by when a family member does not feel the pang from loss of their loved one that was snatched away in an act of terror on our country. When a young life was snuffed out before their years were up and their souls ready to leave this earth. In 10 years that have passed, no American has yet to forget the day nearly 3,000 innocent beings lost their lives while the world watched. Each American will pass their stories onto their children, remembering vividly what they were doing when they discovered what was happening in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pa. There will never be a time when America forgets that day, because in doing so we will dishonor the lives that were lost, and the people who fought so hard to return home to their families, yet never managed their way there.
This piece is dedicated to the men and woman who lost their lives to an act of terror by men who were far larger cowards then those who acted during our nation’s crisis, and who risked their lives to save others.
Kirby M. Starnino
Johnston, Rhode Island