I woke in my hotel room near San Francisco to a ringing phone. My work colleague was asking if our morning meeting was going to be canceled. I didn’t know what he was talking about; he told me to turn on the TV. The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were already on fire and billowing smoke, but I could barely comprehend what I was seeing. Minutes later, I watched the South Tower collapse in real time.
Over and over, I watched the replay of the commercial airplanes flying straight into the towers. I thought about how many times I had visited those behemoths. I worried about my New York friends. I heard the news anchors’ discussion of terrorists and the possibility that this was an attack by Al Qaeda. The scale and depth of the destruction and inhumanity was hard to compute, except thinly grasping that a rubicon had been crossed. The world would not be the same again.
For the rest of the day, my workmates and I gathered together in the hotel bar and stared at the collection of TV screens, stunned, mostly silent. It took days to get home to L.A. because planes were not flying and it was hard to rent a car. My wife was home, alone, with our four-year-old and new baby, just three months old. I thought about the world this innocent one had just entered and felt sad and ashamed.
Weeks later, I had a drink with a South African actor friend. We argued about what it all meant—I speculated that it might bring people closer together, he thought my hopefulness improbable at best. I reminded him of the French newspaper Le Monde’s headline on September 12: “Nous sommes tous Américains” (“We are all Americans”). He just shook his head.
For months, I watched the coverage surreptitiously because I worried that my daughters might accidentally see the news footage from that day. This was a trauma that I tried my best to shield them from. Who knew if they’d recover from the unthinkable images that were now there for all to see? Who knew if any of us would ever recover from this world-altering event that ended the last shreds of American innocence and assumed security? I felt the chilling reality that our new normal would be more deeply defined by the ongoing threat of terrorism.
One other note: Every year on 9/11 I read “The Falling Man,” Tom Junod’s Esquire story, which, by documenting and reflecting on one man who fell to his death, captures the intimate horror and life-and-death decision-making that nearly 3,000 fellow humans faced. His profound work makes me wonder what 9/11 means to people now.
What do you remember about 9/11? Did that day change you? How did it effect your thinking about life in America and the world? As we commemorate the 22nd anniversary on Monday and memories grow dimmer, I wonder: Do you still talk about 9/11 periodically—or only on the anniversary? If you are too young to remember that day, what do the stories mean to you now?
As always, I look forward to reading your observations and the chance for us to learn from each other. Please do be respectful in your comments.
If you find value in this writing, I hope you will consider becoming a paid subscriber for $50 a year or $5 a month to fully join our growing community and sustain the work.
*Photo: The annual Tribute in Light in lower Manhattan commemorating the 9/11 attacks. Photo taken by Gary Hershorn via Getty Images.
I was working as a fire captain on 9/11 in the small city of Oswego, NY north of Syracuse. Even before the 2nd plane hit the towers, I knew that FDNY firefighters were going to be making the long climb, and that some wouldn’t be coming back. Our city still observes 9/11 with an early morning parade and a memorial ceremony at the time the towers were hit. I have attended every one but last year’s.
I remember as you. Shock and disbelief that it was happening. I quickly came to the realization that some of my friends might be in danger. The worst came to pass as the hours and days went on. I lost 37 college alumni that day.. I went to eight memorial services in a two day period... I still have not come to terms or closure with the loss. It took 16 years for me just to be able to go down to the site where the reflecting pools were built in the tower foot prints. I emotionally couldn’t go into the museum. I just walked the footprints looking at all the names of the lost. Looking for friends. Thankfully the have computer kiosks to look up names of the lost that list what tile their names are on. I was struck to see a few women’s names listed with unborn child. So sad that day. So many lives forever changed.
I was there with my wife and I grew tired while she keep walking and looking. I sat on a bench between the two footprints remembering and reflecting. In front of me a group of people stopped at the tiles in front of me and took turns taking pictures of each other as the smiled with their backs against the tile in the background. I was horrified and angered at the shocking display of irreverence. I just couldn’t understand why people would smile, there was nothing pleasant that happened to create this memorial. Why did they smile?
My wife met me soon after and asked if I was alright. I said “not really” we left and walked though the new mall.. and over to St Paul’s to catch the subway to midtown.
I was nearing the end of my night shift in ICU here in Vancouver BC. Suddenly all the computers went down and I remember thinking “WTF?”. The TV was on in the staff lounge and we watched in stunned silence. How could such a thing be happening in a country on our border? I will never forget the image of those people falling from the sky. I will also always remember how the people of Gander, Newfoundland opened up their hearts and homes. Tragically the response to this terrifying event was a 20 year war in Afghanistan, a misguided war in Syria and Iraq, and lessons still to be learned about radicalization and misinformation.
Because we watched it in real time that morning I immediately called my niece, who travelled on a subway that went beneath the towers. My son called his sweetheart. They were NYC roommates working for TriBeCa films. He was here in Philly. I called my brother in California to assure him I was speaking with his daughter and she had reported they were safe. They walked out of Manhattan in shock, having watched the collapse from two streets away from the towers. My niece took phone numbers and names for me to call parents or family who were unable to get through - and report their loved one was safe. Most cried. Emotional thinking about it.
Was living & working in Northern Virginia, with work about 3 miles as the crow flies from the Pentagon. Remember the gopher moment of someone popping up over the cube farm to say a plane had hit the first tower - we all assumed a small plane/random accident, and went back to work. When we heard about the second plane, my eyes met my bosses' and we tuned in to tv/radio in his office. As things got more fraught, he asked me to call HR to find out what we should be doing.
Rumors were going crazy that they would shut down the metro lines, esp the yellow and blue that run under the Pentagon. Then when the Pentagon was hit, I hauled @$$ down to the floor where our folks were to tell them if they wanted to leave, to go ahead. <One of our engineers had an uncle there who was injured but survived.>
Soon after, we were told to let folks go so I stayed an extra few hours to make sure everyone had a way home. Part of it being that we were in a 14 story building, so there were concerns that if another plane was coming, it might hit us instead.
The drive home that day was absolutely one I will never forget. Stunningly gorgeous day - blue skies, bright sun, low humidity, warm but not hot. Traffic was a mess but everyone in Northern Virginia exhibited patience and humanity - letting people turn in front of them, no lane hopping. And every single car had windows down and all you heard was talk radio. No horns, no shouting, no music at all.
National Airport was the last to open in the country due to its' proximity to *everything*, but Dulles opened earlier. I remember a few weeks' (maybe it was just the following week?) when we heard the first plane fly overhead. Every single head swung around with panicked eyes with scared faces b/c I'm sure we all thought as I did that danger was afoot - but it was just a normal flight.
Also remember when National did open, and we took our first flight in early December how unnerving it was to see armed military (AK-47s and such - not just handguns) + bomb-sniffing dogs. We had an hour flight to Ohio and even the flight attendants seemed scared. No one got up. No one moved. No one slept.
A work colleague had taken her kiddo to a medical appt first thing, then to school so was on 395 by the Pentagon and literally saw the plane crash into it. She had to take some time a few weeks' later from the PTSD she got from seeing it and not being able to do anything as she sat in traffic.
I remember calling my mom to let her know we were ok. She hadn't yet turned on a radio or the tv and she lost her mind. My aunt called right away as she didn't know exactly where we were in relation to the Pentagon.
Most horrifying: my in-laws were flying from Boston that day and naturally had not let anyone know their travel details. I remember calling American Airlines to ask if the Boston originated flight had a stop somewhere in the midwest and the very weary sounding employee on the other line quitely said, "No it was supposed to be a direct flight" - which meant that wasn't their flight.... I told her that I hoped American would provide her some support, told her I appreciated all that she was going to have to do that day, and hung up and started bawling. Then called all my brothers- and sisters-in-law to let them know too.
Parents-in-law happened to be in the process of returning their rental car at Boston Logan when people started flocking to the counter. Rental company worker decided to call for back-up, heard what was going on, and paused everything to figure out what the hell he was supposed to do. Longer story short, parents-in-law ended up keeping the rental/not turning it in, and also ended up giving a flight attendant a ride from Boston to Toledo OH, where her boyfriend came down from Detroit to pick her up at my in-laws house.
I just went to pay homage at the Twin Towers site, in April 2022, as I just could not prior to then. It was still incredibly hard even. I feel very anxious even now thinking about that day and what happened.
Sorry this was so long but man, as I started typing all the memories came back. My heart goes out to everyone who lost someone that day, especially the incredible souls who ran into those buildings/tried their best to thwart the evil that occurred that day. The number of lives lost is unimaginable, yet could have been been orders of magnitude more tragic without the heroism displayed.
Was living in Hoboken NJ and that morning was on a United Airlines flight from London to JFK. About an hour out of Heathrow the pilot announced there was "a problem with US air traffic control" and we'd have to turn around. While we circled to burn fuel for an hour, people were trying to reach whoever they could from the seat-back phones. No NYC numbers were reachable, but gradually people started getting through to folks elsewhere in the country, who would relay what they were watching on TV. The scariest part was not knowing when it was "over" or how many other planes were affected. I didn't see the footage until we landed and I was on the Heathrow Express back to the city. For the next week I just basically hugged my kids, sat in front of the TV and sobbed. Every year on 9/11, I make a point of going to a ballgame for everyone who can't.
I remember looking out the window, from across the street at 2WFC, and not understanding why 1WTC was aflame and also not understanding why a priest was giving last rights to a body on the ground below. And then suddenly, a commercial jet slams into 2WTC above me and explodes. It’s an image that I can’t forget (I exited 2WFC quickly and safely). I’m always acutely aware of exits or escape corridors.
I remember feeling incredibly lucky and incredibly helpless. I had a mid morning meeting scheduled near Wall St. Rather than commute to my office in midtown, I was planning to take a bus a little later and go directly to the meeting, getting off the subway at the WTC station. When the first reports came in of a plane hitting a tower, I thought that was stupid. When I realized it was an airliner, I got worried, but thought, okay I’m not going to that meeting and got ready to go into my office. When the second plane hit, all thoughts of going to work went out of my head. When the tower collapsed I got in my car and started towards my local blood bank because I needed to do something. Sitting in traffic, I realized that the people in the towers when they collapsed weren’t coming out alive, and felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do to help them. That feeling was compounded every day for a week whenever I drove by the local train station and saw all those cars still sitting there waiting for drivers that were not going to return.
Watched the entire thing happen while having coffee with my 90+ year old Mother. Her words were..."I can't believe it!" and then "Our security as a nation is gone". I still feel that horrid vulnerability.
I was working in the NYC office for Gap Inc. I flew to SF regularly and was scheduled for the United flight leaving EWR on 9/11. My boss at the time was in SF and was repeatedly calling me over the weekend to change my flight to the JFK Monday night flight. He didn’t have a reason; he just kept insisting.
I changed my flight on Sunday and went to JFK after work on Monday. There was heavy rain that evening and we were held on the plane for hours. I regretted changing my flight.
I got to my SF hotel and in the early morning I watched in disbelief and horror as the WTC burned and fell. I was in shock and then more in shock when I got to the SF office and people surrounded me thinking I had been on the Tuesday morning flight. I dont know why I wasn’t and I think about it all the time. I hope in my life I can somehow can make that flight change make sense.
Here in Prague, Czech Republic, I had just finished teaching for the day and was sitting in a meeting. Someone ran into our meeting and announced that America had been attacked. We ran to the bank of iMacs to try to get on the Internet. No access. We were dismissed and we headed home.
I had some colleagues come with me since I had access to English language television and live near the school. We watched, stunned, as the tower collapsed. We sat in absolutely silence.
We all jumped when the doorbell rang. When I opened the door, there stood my 80-year-old Czech neighbors. They were holding a bouquet of flowers. Mr Ptak grabbed my hands and with tear in his eyes he said in his very-much-accented English, "God bless America."
I was teaching (music history, university level) at the time. The first indication of something being up was that I couldn’t call up any news websites; the first I actually saw any clear report of anything was, of all places, espn.com. It didn’t show that much.
Later a student called to say she wouldn’t be at class because relatives of hers were working at the WTC; the call cut off after she said (clearly in shock) “oh, my God, it just fell down...”.
Most of the students in my class knew less than I did; some had heard nothing until they got to class. We agreed to muddle through somehow, and by the time class was over the university had shut down for the day.
What I mostly remember of it was being in the dark for so long, and the horror in that one student’s voice on the phone, then my own shock and confusion as I finally began to realize what had happened.
I had just popped out of the shower getting ready for work and saw it on TV. It took a few seconds a few minutes to figure out that it was real. A friend called her two grandchildren were in the daycare. Evidently they had tags on each kid and had adults caring to 34 babies out of the building and putting them in taxis to various hospitals, her two granddaughters wound up at opposite sides of Manhattan. Her son and daughter-in-law had windows closed, but still soot and dust came in their nearby condo. They ran the kids toys through the dishwasher several times, but they were never the same. Her kids moved. Shell shocked. It was powerful. Why did Bush skuttle Saudis out of USA so quickly??
I was going to my first day as a Parenting Consultant at a local Nursery School. When I got there we tried to keep the day as normal as possible. First I called my daughter who live d in midtown & she was safe. Then I called my dad & kept him on so I could relay info to the parents especially after the. Pentagon attack. We waited until every child was picked up by their parents. Then I drove home & cried
I live seven blocks from the World Trade Center I was working near Grand Central Station when it happened. I recall walking home in shoes--ugh!--as well as no subways and all the police cars from out of state. I will never forget looking at a hero with machine guns on it at City Hall (I live two blocks east of City Hall). Walking around lower Manhattan, I was stopped multiple times by police asking me what I was doing roaming the streets--lower Manhattan was closed south of Canal Street. I recall bff egg big stopped at 14th Street by the state police, when I was asked for identification. I showed him my driver’s license with my address next to the Brooklyn Bridge, when he asked me where that was I offered to check IDs with him, since he obviously did not know the streets of New York
I was at my camp in Maine, and had no idea of any of this until I went to the local hardware store for some supplies. There was a TV by the cash register, though I paid no attention. Ginny looked at me and said, “You don’t know, do you? Turn around.” So I did to an image of the collapse of one of the towers on the screen. That moment is frozen in my memory. I knew people who by a simple twist of fate. . .missing a commuter train. . .or a stop for coffee or make-up. . .were saved from being there. I knew people who died on one of the planes. Just writing this takes me back to that day. Some of the hijackers flew from Portland, ME. I will never forget. Watching coverage for hours and hours. The sight of people jumping. It’s all right there. And still I wonder what we learned from this? Did we follow the proper path? Another piece of a never-ending puzzle.
It was a beautiful late summer day in Chicago - a few thready clouds in an otherwise deep blue, sunny sky. I was standing on the train platform waiting for the train to work in the West Loop financial markets at about the time the planes hit the towers. There was no way to know what had happened when I arrived to see everyone watching in horror the TV screens displaying news from multiple outlets. And then the shouts of stunned disbelief - and even greater horror - as the the Pentagon was hit. After a brief partner meeting, the managing director sent us home to be with our families. I could not imagine getting on a train; as luck would have it, a co-worker also from Evanston had rented a car that day to take clients to a golf outing, and offered me a ride home. As we drove north up the lakefront, I tried repeatedly to reach my older brother who was often in NYC on financial business (he was not that day), and hoped an old childhood friend who worked there had stayed home sick. I could not wrap my head around the rest of it.
Once back in Evanston, I drove straight to my daughters' school to pick them up. The school secretary actually asked my why, assuring me that everyone was safe and calm, so I went to their classrooms myself (as I later learned from my kids, I was the only parent at their school who picked up their kids...smh). Once home, we collapsed together on the sofa, one daughter tucked tightly in on either side of me, and watched the news (they were 11 & 9 at the time) in stunned silence.
With the markets closed (I don't rememeber if school was, but it didn't matter; they weren't going anywhere out of my sight), I had several days to help them to feel more safe, to process their feelings. The hush that fell over Evanston and greater Chicago was eerie...no noise from planes or trains, only quiet whooshes as the few cars that were out slowly passed by.
Dropping my daughters at school on my way to the train station early the next week, having to leave them as they tearfully, urgently begged me not to, their beautiful, innocent faces distorted with fear, was one of the most difficult days in my 35 years as a parent.
As I stood on the platform waiting for my train, I thought about how easy it could be for a small plane to fly under the radar up the Chicago River; how the fourth floor trading floor of the Mercantile Exchange (my office was on the 20th floor of its north tower) might be a perfect spot to land; and, if laden with explosives, how it would lay waste to much of the financial district on the west side of Chicago.
As the train arrived and we lined up to board, I watched with no small measure of suspicion those who carried backpacks and gym bags onto a 7-car train carrying titans of industry, service workers, office staff...mothers, fathers, daughters and sons...from Kenosha WI to the West Loop, and my mind turned to a vision of the unimaginable devastation an attack on the transportation hub where it and the 10 other Metra lines serving over 200 stations in Cook and its five collar counties converged every few minutes starting at about 5:30 every morning. And I wondered if the same were true for commuters in cities large and small across the country.
I clearly remember the first time I heard a jet fly overhead along the lakefront, and with it, the frisson of fear that coursed through my body. Also the return of air traffic into and out of O'Hare, and eventually, the bustle of cars and buses as well, creating - much like the post-COVID return to daily life - a cacophony that drowned out the quiet.
Finally, I remember the stories of the brave souls who put their lives at risk to help their fellow Americans, the sense of unity we created as we came together as a country unified by our grief and disbelief, and how deeply saddened I was to know that it took such unimaginable tragedies to remind us what we can do when we put our differences aside, and remember that we ALL are Americans, to stand in solidarity to protect our cherished freedoms.
I worked in the city and was in mid-town that day. I worked downtown next door to the World Trade Center and rode the PATH train into the "bathtub" in the tower pit the day it reopened 18 months later. Everyone on board was awe struck, no one made a sound entering that sacred spot. Twenty-two years later, it still makes me weepy. I've watched that part of town rebuild and come to life since then but we never forget.
I was in Paris visiting my daughter who lived there. We were shopping at Bon Marché. My husband called and said, “I’m ok.” I said “That’s nice.” Then he explained. I told my daughter who told the saleswoman. Within a minute all the people around us were on their phones. All activity stopped. That night we went to the home of someone who had CNN. The shock didn’t abate.
I was teaching history that morning with the windows open to the beautiful day. A collègue popped her head in and called me over with the news. The rest of the day was spent watching in horror and having students being picked up by parents (our Navy town had a lot of scrambling). It was surreal juxtaposed with the beautiful weather.
I was teaching at a boarding school in northwestern CT; it was the first day of classes. Many of our students came from across the country and around the world. Their parents had dropped them off and many were staying in NYC for the night.
We had our usual break at 10:00 for school meeting in the library. As I walked there I passed the school secretary’s office; she was listening to the radio. I asked what was going on; she told me about the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. My daughter was a United flight attendant based out of DC; my sister-in-law was working at the Pentagon! I didn’t find out they were okay until that evening.
At the school meeting the Head told everyone what had happened. All faculty then found the nearest TVs in the school building and dorms and corralled our students there. My first thought was that it was a watershed moment for them as was JFK’s assassination for my generation. But at least we felt safe afterwards!
That evening we held a memorial service on campus. Students were encouraged to speak about what had happened. At the end we were all given candles to light. In the dark I watched the line of flickering lights as everyone returned to their dorms and homes. Watching those processions gave me hope that all our lives would still go on.
I was in my office at Facilities Services at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. Our Budget Director came in to a meeting, saying, “Someone in a plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers!” My first thought was that a pilot had had a heart attack or stroke and lost control of the plane. Little did I know. The rest of the day was nightmarish. That night I started rehearsals for the SC premier of “The Laramie Project” at CentreStage-South Carolina!, a small professional theater in downtown Greenville. Needless to say that we talked about the day and what this meant to our country and personal freedom. Boy oh boy.
Mostly I remember returning to work that morning after my aunt’s funeral. It was my sister’s birthday. A colleague called me and told me to turn on the tv in my classroom. Yes, we were all horrified. Shortly thereafter, the principal came over the PA to tell us to turn off our tvs. Between classes, I found my student council president crying in the bathroom. She had been born in Yemen and her father was booked on a flight back to Yemen that day. We later learned his flight had been canceled. Thereafter, my focus was on healing. My school had a significant population of students mostly from Yemen, but other Mideastern countries. That Friday during Bush’s moment of silence, everyone in the school, teachers, students, secretaries, custodians, cafeteria workers, stepped into the hall and all joined hands. There was silence and reflection and understanding that we had all just been impacted by the events of that day.
I was at home. My sister called me after the first plane hit. We watched the second one hit and said, "terrorists." And watched in horror as the towers went down. One of my sons was in Rome and couldn't get a phone call through. A kind shopkeeper had told him and invited him into the back of the store to watch tv. We have friends who lost a son, friends to went to help with translation for all the workers there, friends who lived in a commuter town who lost many, many of their friends. It is all unforgettable and still so raw - the anguish of the families.
Yes, we all know where we were when it happened. But did America really come together after 9/11? I remember too many people getting really racist against Muslims and middle easterners.
I was watching Regis Philbin & Kathy Lee. When the show was interrupted with "Breaking News" when they still had integrity. It was showing after the first one hit as we watched the 2nd plane hit. It was horrific!
I was in graduate school in Illinois. The chemistry building was less than 50 ft away from a supercomputer building that was a known target on many nuclear-adversaries' priority lists of things to hit if they decided to go to war with the US. We weren't sure if we should go about our day, such as it was, or if we should be stuffing as many students as possible into whatever vehicles could carry them and getting the hell *away* from campus.
My husband (then my boyfriend) had cousins working NY's financial district, and none of his W.NY family members could get through to them. They asked us to try, in hopes that out-of-state connections might be easier. They weren't, but, thank goodness, everybody was eventually accounted for. Our apartment was close to campus, so after we were all dismissed from labs and classes, we just started collecting people who squished onto our cheap living room furniture and watched the endless news footage with silent, wounded eyes. I remember I made a giant batch of spaghetti with meat sauce (about the only dish I knew how to scale up at the time) to feed everybody some semblance of dinner.
I remember how everyone came together with kindness & respect towards each other afterward. Even at Walmart!
We were living on the Upper West Side when 9/11 happened—I had just passed my road test (on 9/10/21), and we were trying to figure out if I could use my temporary driver's license to rent a car that weekend and go for a drive.
My then-wife and I were sleeping when our best friend called and said, "Turn on your television! A small plane just crashed into the World Trade Center!" So we turned on New York 1, a local all-news station—just in time to see the second plane back into the Towers and crash! The word "stunned" doesn't cover it, and wouldn't for the next several months.
I had a small video production studio down in the West Village at the time, and I couldn't go down there for a few days because they'd blocked off everything below 14th Street—and when I did finally get there, I realized my office window looked out on the smoking crater that was the World Trade Center. I kept remembering that we'd done a shoot on the roof of my building with the WTC in the background a few months earlier—I don't even know where that video is, or if I'd want to see it now.
By the time we could rent a car and leave Manhattan (the police and National Guard had blocked automobile access to and from Manhattan for...a few weeks? A month?), I had my regular driver's license. The thing I remember most is how there was some teenager or Twentysomething kid in a military uniform with a rifle on every street corner, it seemed, and we were stopped at the bridges and tunnels by the cops and National Guard who asked where we were going like the rest of New York and New Jersey was foreign territory.
Oh, and I remember it as the first and last time I had ANY admiration for Rudy Giuliani...which is the craziest part of all.
I returned from my morning walk and saw my husband sitting on the couch, his mouth open and his arm raised pointing at the TV. I walked into the living room as the second plane struck the tower.
Then GW Bush had to avenge the alleged attack on his father and invaded Iraq ... a huge mistake. Invading Afghanistan was hopeless (except “big” men felt good about “getting” Osama bin Laden). The unity our citizens shared began to dissolve.
I remember telling my old dad in 2018-2019 that what we collectively needed was another 9/11, only maybe worse, to get folks to stop the rhetoric and work to bringing us together instead of further splitting us apart. Then we were tossed a global pandemic, so many died, millions suffered, and communities shattered. Seriously?
How can we fix this? We are all pink inside and we all want the same things - healthy thriving families, safe communities - yet the talking heads and extremists in elected office are hell bent in tearing it all down. Our country is broken.
My husband is a survivor who was supposed to be at the computer expo at Windows on the World and was running late, He had just be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes the week before and his floor secretary made hum run to grab something to tide him through the meeting. He was standing on Green Street when the first plane hit and his group was deciding what to do. There is news footage from a film called Crystal Morning that shows him in his blue shirt, trying to get through on his cellphone to me, to his office, anyone - the cell phones were all clogged. On my part of it, our daughter was to go on a first grade class trip to the Bronx Zoo - I dropped her off at school, and flipped on the TV a saw the burning tower - and immediately grabbed her sister, to watch Barney in the other room. His was a long story, but he eventually was buffered by the kindness of strangers and made it home, as did our daughter. He suffered from PTSD for years and years. I did too, and I still can't go back to the old, familiar neighborhood of Trinity Church where my father used to work when I was small. We put flags on the car, and a big one on our house, and listened to the stories everyone had. For a few months we were kinder. We held doors, nodded on trains. I wish it had stayed that way.
It was a Tuesday, wasn't it?
I was teaching in HS and at the time we were required to show Channel One at the start of the day. I must have put the TV on early and had Good Morning America on. The first plane had already hit and processing what Diane Sawyer and Charlie Gibson were saying was difficult. I called my mom from a nearby office; she explained what had happened.
My then boyfriend, now husband, was working in Downtown Chicago, and I remember calling him because there was talk of possible other attacks and Chicago being one of the potential targets. He was allowed to leave work early, and by early afternoon, he said Chicago was a ghost town -- no one outside anywhere.
And of course, I remember seeing in the following days, the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace when the band played our National Anthem and the weeping of Americans who witnessed it first hand...hearing the phone recordings of the passengers of flight 93 trying to recapture the flight...the hours of gray faced people either covered in dust as they made their ways out of the city or carrying pictures with the faces and names of loved ones they couldn't find.
It was the worst day for our country from a Baby Boomer's perspective although other generations would certainly note other days, and rightfully so. Mr. Beschloss could explain for us better than I, but I fear this event took us further on a path to destruction. [Side note, I just watched the first episode of 1971, and near the end I was struck by the idea that Nixon's "cheating" to win election and unchecked/un-prosecuted criminality took us to the same behavior in Ronald Reagan...took us to Trump. Each one more damaging to our country and democracy than the previous.]
Have we stopped falling onto that path? Did we land on January 6, 2021, or will there be a more painful landing still to come?
9/11 actually started on 9/10 for me. I was scheduled to fly out of LaGuardia to National in the early evening but the weather ended up grounding all of the shuttles. On a whim I cashed in my ticket, took a taxi to Penn Station, and caught the Acela to DC -- I really didn't want to spend the night in New York and face the morning commute. I remember waking up in my hotel in Alexandria the next morning to an incredibly blue sky, deep and rich like the color of shallow ocean water. I attended my meeting near the corner of 13th and K, which started at 0800. We got calls from colleagues in NYC about the first tower during a break. About 20 minutes later we felt and heard a tremendous boom, which we initially thought was due to local construction. Our phones continued to ring so we turned on CNN and learned about the second tower. The noise we'd felt was Flight 77's crashing into the Pentagon.
We cancelled the meeting and divvied up the rental cars we had. A colleague from South Carolina and I took his car so he could drop me off in North Carolina on his way home, and others groups set out for Florida, Texas, and California. Trying to leave DC seemed to take an eternity -- the metro was closed, people were standing on street corners with signs for their destinations, hoping for rides home. People were calling in bogus bomb threats to the local radio stations as we sat, gridlocked, waiting to get out of town, and I thought "I never imagined this is how it would end."
We crossed over to Virginia, one of very few cars on the road. The city had been cordoned off and the only cars we saw were outbound. We drove around the Pentagon, which, from the north, looked completely normal. As we rounded the curve to the rear of the building, it appeared the building had inhaled a jet aircraft, with the plane's tail poking out. We took turns calling friends and family to let them know we were safe and on our way home.
For weeks afterwards I would find myself holding my breath as I thought "Terrorists flew panes into the Pentagon. Terrorists flew plans into the World Trade Center." As if I had to remind myself that yes, it really did happen. My blood pressure was elevated for months after, and my internist said that people across the country were experience somatic symptoms as a result of the attacks. I still think about that day, and my son asks questions occasionally, but my life moved on. Our country lost whatever innocence we had left that day, and the subsequent wars it sparked didn't improve the world at all. Which is probably the saddest ending of all.
I had just dropped my daughter off at her boarding school in Connecticut for her first year of high school. My older daughter had left for her first year of college two days previously. As a recently divorced empty-nester, I was a mess. I knew it would be a difficult time for me so I decided to take myself to Hawaii in hopes of restoring some equilibrium.
The next day, I was on a stairclimber in the resort's gym mindlessly watching the overhead televlsion monitor. I wondered why they were playing a disaster movie at such an early hour. Then I noticed the chyron: it was a CNN headline. I was watching the news: airplanes were intentionally exploding into the Twin Towers, those symbols of American culture, strength, and prosperity.
My daughters and I were in three states. Air traffic was suspended so I couldn't leave the Islands. I couldn't reach my daughters because cell service was down. And the USA had been attacked for reasons I couldn't understand by people I didn't understand. Then there were more planes in more places.
I realize this may sound like a story of someone with resources to weather many storms and I can understand that impression. But no one felt insulated or protected watching her country under attack while being separated from the most important people in her life. No one's bank account meant anything on September 11, 2001.
Cinders from the shock and grief of that day still reside in our hearts and can swell to flame when we see the numbers 9/11. This traumatic residue will persist as long as we all live because our country's self-image of invulnerability has been shattered. We all now know we are not invulnerable: we understand this not from being told, but from our own memory and our still-active visceral response to the horror of September 11, 2001.
I wonder whether the wounds we now face in our country could be healed by remembering that on that day, we were all Americans facing a common enemy, instead of scattering our strength by seeing the enemy in each other as we do today.
My 86-year-old mother in law lived with us. We had recreated her apartment on the second floor of our home. She lived gracefully with Alzheimer's disease but often mixed up faces, names and what era she was living in. Toward the end of the day I asked her if she had seen the news of the day. Clear as day, she talked about the two times army personnel had knocked on her mother's front door to announce that one of her brothers had been killed in action in WW1. She said each of us has days in our lives where the world is shaken by the horror of war or violence, and this would be mine.
Was getting ready to make my San Diego work commute when my husband called to me to "come here!". We both watched in unbelieving silence as the towers burned, then the Pentagon being hit and the crash in Pennsylvania reports came through. Days later I learned a Boston work colleague was on the Pentagon plane. Not a year goes by, at odd times and on 9/11, that I don't think of him, his family, and the overwhelming sadness, uncertainty, and anger of that time.
My daughter was living in New York at the time; she had just moved from the Lower East side to Brooklyn. She worked in midtown near Grand Central. On that morning, I was still asleep ( 3 hour time difference) when she called me and said: Mommy, they’re flying planes into the World Trade Center!. When my kids call me Mommy (as adults) I know it’s something serious. She said she was ok; had gone to the WTC the day before for work. She wasn’t sure she could go home to Brooklyn, but said she would call me daily to let me know where she was. I said then and I say now, if she hadn’t called I would have been in the car, driving from California to NYC looking for her. Thank god she called me every day to tell me where she was. She wasn’t able to go home for a week. When she finally did, there was a coating of dust on everything as she had left windows open.
I was at work here in New Hampshire that morning. My daughter and then son-in-law also worked for the same company. Just after 9:00 she came to my desk and told me to turn off the phones and come into one of the offices. I told her I couldn't but she said I really had to. So, I did. When I got there the TV was on and I saw the smoke coming out of one of the towers. We all thought it had been an accident. Then the second plane flew in, and all of us were in shock and of course, knew it was no accident. Shortly, one of the towers fell, then the other. I called home because my husband worked nights so he was home sleeping. When he answered, all I could say was "Turn on the TV. The US is at war!" He asked, "With who?" and all I could say was, "I don't know". I also tried to call my sister, who worked for the IRS, but I didn't know her work number so I called her house, figuring her husband could give me the number to get in touch with her. To my surprise, she answered the phone! She had stayed home that day for a doctor's appointment. She was in shock too, and really glad she hadn't gone to work, because who knew how many planes were being used as bombs and what federal buildings they would fly into. I think that was probably the worst day of my life (even though I didn't know a single soul who perished that day), right up until January 6, 2021.
My daughter was on the tarmac at SeaTac waiting for a flight to Rhode Island to take off. The captain first announced that a plane had crashed into the SeaFirst Building, and she called me from the plane. I leaped up and discovered my cable was out--the only news I could get over the air was Peter Jennings, so I saw the whole thing from his eyes--just in time to see the 2nd plane. It took most of the day to get my daughter back from the airport because of the security clampdown. By the time she got back to the terminal it was completely deserted except for a guy at baggage claim who hadn't heard anything.
Her seatmate was a soldier recovering from PTSD after a military plane crash. He was with her in the parking garage when there was a loud boom. He threw her to the ground to protect her, but it was only a car backfiring. But she was deeply shaken by the time she got home.
My oldest daughter was also 3.5 months old. She had slept in for the first time ever so I was also a little late to see the news (central time zone). Saw the second tower fall.
I remember my ex husband’s calls to me bc he worked in stocks/finance at the time and he was so worried about his Wall Street colleagues. Cantor Fitzgerald, in particular. 😢
I walked into my office, not knowing about this incident. I phoned a clergy colleague on matter unrelated to the Twin Tower attack. My friend's secretary answered the phone, and said immediately, "Isn't it horrible about the Twin Towers?" I did not know. She told me. I sat back in shock and disbelief; frozen in time.
I had just dropped off my wife at the Metro-North station in Katonah, NY, and was then taking my kids to school. My older one said, “Why is the guy on the radio talking about a fire at the Twin Towers.” We went home, not to school. I spent the next hours trying to reach my wife on her cell. She made it out of the City, packed into the last northbound train to leave Grand Central Station, that day. By the time I picked her up again, the Towers had fallen, and everyone was numb.
I live near DC, and cried in front of the TV all day, much like everyone did. A friend, knowing that I was alone, invited me to her house, but I was afraid that there would be a mass exodus from DC, and that I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere in traffic. I am still extremely grateful for her concern. But, odd things cross your mind, and as a designer, I was struck by how quickly the TV stations branded it and designed logos so more than just the anchors and camera crews were at work that day. The other thing is that the extraordinary blue sky of that day will forever be “9/11 blue” in my mind.
I'm from Philly but was living near Rochester, NY at the time. I'm in IT so was on the web, using a Philly sports forum. People started saying a plane hit it. That happened by accident recently so, we all thought it was a small plane. "No, it's a 747". I thought a 747 would fly right through the WTC. I was obviously wrong. It became impossible to use cell phones. Then the 2nd plane hit and we knew it was over. I was young and in shape at the time. I wanted to drive down and help out but my (now ex) wife was at home with 2 kids, one being an infant. At some point, work invited us to the main office to watch and then allowed us to go home. My cousin was supposed to be in a meeting in one of the towers that day. His boss replaced him but got out...walked across the bridge for a day. I watch documentaries every year and cry like a stuck pig. My son starts his first job this Monday at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
When Bush let the Saudi relatives fly out of the country when no one else could - and then we learned most of the terrorist were Saudis, it told us al we needed to know. My husband lost too many members of his firm both in the tower and plane in PA. That day, that picture perfect day, remains burned in my mind. Howard Stern reported real time via calls from first responders and his personal view from his studio as the nightmare unfolded. Worth listening to again as a part of history. Chilling.
I had a Monday/Wednesday teaching schedule that semester at The New School. I had just taught a Freshman class the day before: some of them were new to NYC. I was also working as a freelance journalist. So I was at my computer on Tuesday morning when a friend called and told me to turn on my TV, a plane had hit one of the Towers. We were on the phone together with our respective TV’s on, when the second plane hit. I said, “Don, this is a terrorist attack.” Later that day, I watched the Towers fall from the roof of my building in Murray Hill. The next night I was evacuated for a few hours when a bomb-sniffing dog parked itself outside an office in the Empire State Building. I could say SO much more: the smell in the air, the masks. I cooked for my Ladder Company. I wrote a personal essay that tracks a personal loss and also deals with 9/11. Plz read it if you’re inclined on karenbennett.substack.com It’s called, “Against Closure.” Thank you for listening to us, Steve.
Got an early morning (Arizona) phone call from a pilot friend who called from an eastern airport "turn on your TV". He was soon grounded, and I mostly remember going to bring my mom to stay with us and watching the news with her and trying to reassure her. But I was sure of nothing.
We were outside London, doing touristy things before our planned flight home on 9/12 after a two-week end-of-summer vacation. We were walking around St. Albans Cathedral when a priest ascended the pulpit and announced prayers for America following the terrorist attack. We had no idea what he was talking about. Intercepting him a few minutes later, we inquired. He told us a plane had flown into the WTC and one tower had fallen. Another tourist, sitting on a nearby bench, overheard and said “No. Both towers,” and began to cry. The Internet was not yet everywhere, so we ran to the local library to access it. Unlike the US, as we later learned, the UK showed unedited footage, which was horrifying. Because airspace was closed for a few days and we had flown standby, we couldn’t get plane seats for ten days. While we waited anxiously to get home, an infamously hostile Muslim cleric in London was praising the attacks daily and threatening that London would be next. Columnist Julie Burchill dismissively wrote of the attacks that the US was a bully state and that “a bully with a black eye is still a bully.” It was the pure kindness of the usually-undemonstrative British people that helped keep us from despairing. Cab drivers would hear our accents and grab our hands and cry; chambermaids would run up and hug us; and shopkeepers and people on the street would put a hand on our arms and express their heartfelt condolences. We are forever grateful for their outpourings of love and fellowship. They kept us sane in those insane days.
A reminder that the sorry excuse for a human who later became President, was bragging that he then owned the tallest building in Manhattan.
I was teaching art at a rural, TN, elementary school, when the PE teacher told me the breaking news. He was getting a very snowy TV picture from a rabbit ears antenna, because cable service ended at the house beside the school. I got the ABC feed on my radio and listened to Peter Jennings tell us the facts in real time, impressed that he would ask, 'Has this been verified?" Even without images, it was horrifying. We adults did not mention the attack in front of the children, waiting til the next day to alleviate fears that the school would be attacked next. It was such a traumatic time which required calm for the children. I think we are still traumatized by the loss of faith in the safety of our homeland.