9/11 Memories

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I'm interested in what everyone's memories are of 9/11 - arguably the defining moment of the past twenty years.

I remember having to interview my grandmother for school when I was young. One of the questions was "What is something from your life that you will never forget?" and she immediately explained what she was doing in 1963 when President Kennedy was assassinated - cutting my dad's hair in the kitchen, a tea kettle loudly whistling on the stove. For many of us on this site, I imagine 9/11 would be our response.

I was in 8th grade, sitting in computer class, which was interestingly one of the only rooms that had a ceiling-mounted projector capable of showing cable tv as opposed to one of the big sets on a tall cart that was wheeled from classroom to classroom. We were working on something laughable like "how to put a picture in a Word document" that the teachers thought was a big deal but all of the kids grew up doing so we completed the assignment in 5 minutes and then usually screwed around the rest of the class.

After the first plane hit, the teacher put the news on the projector, and we all watched in a sort of detached awe as smoke billowed out of the building. Then, the unthinkable - the second plane hit, and we saw it either live or immediately after. The teacher began to cry, and our principal, a grizzled Desert Storm vet, came on the loud speaker and instructed the teachers to all turn off the feed. Soon, we were sent home, but my mom didn't get off work, so the rest of the day was oddly relaxing - no school and no supervision meant as much AIM and PlayStation time as I wanted.

It is odd thinking back on it all - the details that are so vivid that I can shut my eyes and picture them now and others that are so hazy or blurred by the last 18 years that you wonder if they're real or not.

Comments (17)

Sep 11, 2019

I was in high school. I grew up on the west coast, so it was early morning - I was coming downstairs to grab breakfast before heading to school, and I saw my mom standing in front of the TV, pale, with her hand over her mouth.

My hair stood on end. Some events happen in your life and you know something is wrong, and this was one of them for me. I went over and stood with her and watched the coverage for a few minutes before heading to school.

School was essentially suspended. Most class periods consisted of either watching the coverage or having quiet free time while the teachers watched the coverage. The big surprise was that when I got home, my dad was too - he worked on the 42nd floor of a building downtown, and he (along with everyone else in a tall building) had been evacuated.

It's hard to convey the uncertainty we felt at that time. My dad was never an overly dramatic guy, he's a pretty even-keeled straight shooter. But after we watched the coverage for a while that afternoon, and I asked him what he thought was going to happen next, he just turned to me and said softly, "Son, I don't know."

I didn't know anyone who lived east of the Mississippi, so I was pretty far removed from any of the pain and sadness that people who lived in or had family in NYC felt. But we were pretty sure we'd just witnessed the beginning of a world war, and it's like everyone was holding their breath to see what the next step was going to be.

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Sep 11, 2019

Very similar here. I was in high school, in band class so we started practicing earlier than first period, so I was already at school. Also with no family east, I had never traveled east of New Mexico. So, when I heard from someone that the World Trade Center was attacked, then I heard later that the Twin Towers were attacked, I thought, "Those, too?" Didn't know it was the same thing at first. I thought one was in Chicago and the other in New York

Same impression of school. Actually a lot of parents that could, pulled their kids out of school as soon as they could, and kept them home for the next several days / rest of the week. Lived in San Diego so enough kids had military family / the city was military focused enough to consider us to be a target, so there was a lot of widespread worry.

The young people also will never know (and hopefully never have to know) such a unified country in the aftermath of this attack. So many males in high school were charged up to go to war and get payback, and the rest feared getting drafted. People were incredibly impressed with Bush's demeanor and everyone was behind the leadership of the United States, and this was not long after a super divisive election decided by the Supreme Court.

Also, people were glued to the news. Laptops, cell phones and the internet in general were very simple and untrustworthy. People had their TV on all the time, and looked to the TV newsrooms and newspapers for guidance. This trust in the media and government lasted all the way until the Iraq war.

For some reason the image that is most vivid to me was not the towers collapsing on TV. It was later when we got to Afghanistan and I watched a CNN reporter at night, while in the background all manner of holy hellfire rained down onto some target. I had only known a childhood of peace / never seen our military in action before (Iraq War 1 I was too young) so watching all of these artillery strikes and missiles was just surreal.

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Sep 11, 2019

A few friends and I were walking past the college counselor's office. His secretary (a lovely old lady) had a tv across from her desk and near the entrance and it would always be tuned to news, just sort of droning on in the background. We often stopped by for a few seconds in between classes/assemblies etc to say hello and exchange pleasantries.

This time she called us in and told us to watch the TV for a second. It was clips of the first plane hitting the tower and we were all shocked. I'm not sure what others thought, but I know I thought it was strange and that it must have been some horrible accident. Things get fuzzy there and we sort of left a bit shaken.

I can't remember if we saw the second plane hit while in her office and then left or if we were in class when it happened. I just remember that a short while later we were all called for a sudden full school assembly where the headmaster addressed us and pretty much excused us all from school for the rest of the day.

We didn't know what to do aside from leave campus. So my best friend and I drove off to a local pastry shop/cafe, which had a handwritten sign (clearly written in haste) saying that it was closed for the day. We didn't know what else to do since we'd be bored at home.

My friend is a great guy but can be a bit odd. He loves hotels. So we decided to go to a nearby hotel that is in a complex with offices, condos, shops etc. Nothing special. We went to the bar and not being 21 (neither of us drank anyhow), ordered sodas and sat at the hotel bar talking. The news was on every TV with all sorts of pundits trying to figure things out/pontificating and repeat clips of the planes hitting the towers. A number of people at the bar were just pounding drinks. I remember the woman next to us who kept saying "Oh my god" and demolishing a few drinks.

This hit me pretty hard today for a number of reasons.

It is the 18th anniversary of 9/11. That means that a whole generation of new adults, especially those as freshmen in college now have literally never known any other world other than one in which the US is at war abroad. More than just the deaths of nearly 3,000 people (and that does not include the brave folks who got ill/died as a result of their efforts to help or the many innocent who have been collateral damage in our subsequent military campaigns), the culture of this country literally changed over the course of a morning.

The first thing to hit me today was that my friend got married on 9/10/2011 outside of NYC. A number of us were on a train back to NYC late at night after having had a few drinks when this young guy just started talking to me. He was on his way to the towers for the 10th anniversary of the attacks, something we had not even thought about. Long story short, he had lost both of his parents in the attacks and had been in college at the time. His father was late to work that morning because his mother had insisted that he eat a home-cooked breakfast (as he did daily). For some reason because he was late, she decided to accompany him to work. Being in class, he had seen numerous calls from his dad and had ignored them. As class ended he heard the news and immediately called his dad who told him that he and his mother were ok. He then heard in the background someone yell "RUN!" and a second later the phone died. The guy was (understandably) still shaken and rattled with guilt, not to mention (he admitted) very drunk as he told us this story. Chilling stuff.

I am actually in my home town today and went back to the hotel. Of course, things have changed. The bar is no longer there/has been made smaller. I just stood where it used to be a looked around. The bartender came up to me and I told him this story. We introduced ourselves and he told me where he was that day when it happened. We shook hands and parted ways.

Life is precious and it could end at any moment. Do your best to seize the day. Take risks. This is not just advice to others but something I should follow more as well.

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Sep 11, 2019

9th grade, first period class in high school, believe it was political science . It's kind of crazy to think this happened during the first week of high school and naturally you're a little jittery / nervous as is, entering this transitionary period. When word quickly spread that something is majorly awry, every classroom got one of those old school, glass screen, boxed TVs rolled in on those roll cart. Insane even thinking about those old dinosaurs, it was truly a different time. We were living on the cusp of the past and the future.

Anyway, the entire class just sat there in stunned silence. For whatever reason, the thing I remember most vividly is the actual classroom and the impact and significance of that very moment. I instantly recognized that this would be something I would never forget for the rest of my life, and the image of that old TV propped up on the roll cart in the middle of class is still frozen in my mind. The rest of the day was a blur with classes, as obviously everybody was slightly disoriented. That's the other things I remember that i have never experienced again in my life and hopefully never will - this overwhelming air / aura of disorientation and general devastation. The sense of "what is happening? / how do I exist in this moment?" was very palpable in the air, as was the sense of sincere and pure sadness.

To the poster above that mentioned the implications and how an entire generations of 18 year olds entering college now have never known a pre- 9/11, pre- war U.S., that gets me emotional and is a fucking sad observation. Not just casually saying this, but our society changed forever beginning that day and the change was very tangible in many walks of life. It was truly our loss of innocence moment

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Sep 11, 2019

I worked across the street at 3 World Financial Center. When the first strike happened, we all went to the window to see what happened. We were hearing that it was a plane, but we didn't know for sure what it was. It definitely sounded like a missile and the idea that it could be a commercial airliner just did not compute.

Someone came across the hoot to say we should stay in our seats, which I ignored. A bunch of us went downstairs near where the current Goldman building is now. People had no idea what was really happening because all we had were flip phones and it was nearly impossible to get a hold of anyone. I was desperately trying to get a hold of my wife but I could not get through.

Then, the second plane hit and I was sure it was a missile at this point (I assumed we were getting attacked by the Russians because that was who you grew up fearing). I don't think most people left immediately as they were frozen with fear. I took off immediately.

I went home and stocked up with cash, water, canned food, and the like. I got a hold of my parents and in-laws who told me my wife was ok, which was the only good news that day. I knew only one person who died that day personally.

To put it mildly, it was the most memorable day of my life. It's shocking to think that we have junior employees in the firm right now who have no memory of that day at all. We're just a few years away from adding people who weren't even born yet.

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Sep 11, 2019

I had a much older cousin who was an MD at Sandler O'Neill at the time (I was 8 or 9 y.o., he was mid-30s), working out of the towers when they were hit.

Our extended family was very close - weekly phone calls to cousins/grandparents and held an annual family reunion kind-of-thing - and mostly blue collar or career military. My cousin was the first guy to move to "make it big" so-to-speak, so he definitely stood out as the poster child within the family.

Everyone was devastated when we got the news he didn't make it, and I think that definitely had an impact on my career trajectory. I didn't really know him too well personally because of the age gap, but he and his "big city" finance job were such a topic of discussion growing up after 9/11 that it skewed a lot of my choices going into high school and university.

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Sep 11, 2019

I remember it being one of those fucking perfect fall/spring days that NY get's less than 20 of each year. 70s, low humidity and nice out. That made me real happy, because I had to commute in from Jersey to HS on the UES, and most classrooms didn't have AC. I was a senior, and we had to 'give back' and volunteer somewhere every Tuesday morning starting the following week, so we started the day with a mass in the school chapel to kick it off.

Nobody knew anything afterwards, and most classrooms weren't wired, but when we got back to homeroom one kid who had a radio said that something was seriously wrong. (we were 17 in 2001, nobody had anything but a flip-phone)

We went to first period history, and the normally very fun, opinionated, arrogant and irreverent history teacher looked shaken, and basically said "things have happened, nobody knows anything yet." There was no teaching, and class ended early.

When we were sent back to homeroom on the 4th floor, nobody's cell phone worked, because the main trunk lines for the area were right next door to WTC, there was also this weird boiler/smoke plume that you could slightly see. There was what I thought was classic boys school hyperbole about what had happened. Shortly after that, we heard a loud noise and were able to run and stick our heads out the windows to see the F16s circling above us at low altitude.

Eventually they asked if some of us could come downstairs and help with something, and I volunteered. With phone numbers, the three digits after the area code are the exchange number, and for landlines indicate where the phone number goes. We were asked to pour through every student's parental contact info cards for numbers from (212) XXX-???? to (212) XXX-???? for phone numbers that led to the WTC complex. Thankfully, I didn't find any, and when we were done I had a chance to go to the payphone and try to call my parents in NJ. On something like the 20th try I was able to get through and tell them I was OK, and trying to figure out what I was going to do.

Eventually around 4pm they re-opened Penn, and those of us that needed to go home through there were allowed to leave school. We crossed the park, and tried to get on the C, but the subway was closed. Eventually we got on a downtown bus, but had to get off at 42nd, because traffic wasn't allowed south of there, and walked the rest of the way. When my parents picked me up at the station we went to a lookout spot on a hill, and it was the first time I had seen lower Manhattan all day. I didn't see any of the video until we left there, went home and I saw it on TV.

School was closed for a few days, and the following Tuesday I began volunteering at the place I had picked--It was St. Vincent's hospital, the nearest major trauma center to lower Manhattan. There was a large Gristedes on the 6th Avenue side with floor to ceiling display windows for over half a block. For over a month you couldn't see anything through them, because they were completely covered in "missing" flyers.

From what I understand, St. Vincent's received less than 20 patients from the World Trade Center

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Sep 11, 2019

I was working in Chelsea in those days and my man worked at the NYSE. I'd gotten to work a little later than my usual 8:30, as it was a primary day and we'd gone to vote before work. I'd just gotten off the elevator and was passing the hallway windows facing South - I always looked over at the WTC, I'd worked at 1WTC in the late 1980's and it was always a less typical, but preferable NYC skyscraper view than the Empire State or Chrysler Buildings, for me.

I did a double-take when I saw something massively black, like a big long smudge. I must've just missed the first plane hitting by seconds, because the fireball was gone but the wind hadn't begun to shift the smoke around. Tried to figure out what floor it was, thinking of the electrical closets and all the HVAC stuff from my time there. I had my breakfast in my hand and decided to head to my desk, drop off my things to come back and gawk a bit.

Minutes later, I'm back at the windows and there's now a handful of other staffers too, all muttering about "a plane" - I'm thinking a tiny Cessna, like what JFK Jr. crashed in. Then someone says "jet" - but no way a military jet would hit a building, those pilots are trained to move away from populated areas if they're in distress. A co-worker gets off the elevator, says she heard it was an "airliner".

We're now watching helicopters approaching and hovering, whether news or NYPD or FDNY. My co-worker says "What's that plane doing flying so low?" As I start saying "That's a helico-" I catch the plane banking slightly and in it went. That was when it was obvious that the first plane had been no accident.

In the next instance, I come to the realization, holy fuck, my husband works at the NYSE - I ran to my desk to call him to see if he had heard or seen anything. He couldn't leave the Exchange because he couldn't see a foot in front of him from all the debris. He'd felt the building shake and everyone thought a transformer had blown. My kid bro called me, wanting to come drive in and pick us up, I told him to stay in the Bronx where it was relatively safer since we were still clueless at that moment of more potential targerts in NYC. Hubby was adamant that he wanted me out of the office and told me to meet him at a friend's apartment in midtown, promising he'd see me soon. The bosses told us all to leave, but tons of people were stranded as the subways, buses and ferries were quickly coming to a standstill and the city's infrastructure was shutting down, both intentionally and not.

That 25 block walk uptown to our friends' apartment - was surreal. Everyone was making eye contact which NEVER seems to happen in NY - men and women crying, lines for pay phones [remember those?!] because cell towers were knocked out. People sharing cabs BEFORE Uber and Lyft. Vendors and store owners handing out water. People sitting on the curbs, heads in their hands.

I knocked on the apartment door and when it opened, I walked into the arms of my friend. He hugged me, handed me a glass of straight vodka and a Valium - the look on his face I will never forget, he worked with my husband at NYSE but had had a meeting elsewhere that morning. His wife walks in from the kitchen, on the phone - their babysitter and infant son are MIA, as they often go to a park near the United Nations and they couldn't reach the sitter on her cell and were terrified that the UN could be next.

Sitter turned up shortly, thankfully, she and the toddler were fine. But when the doorbell rang some time close to 1pm and there stood my husband with his black sneakers whitened by dust, dress shirt and slacks rumbled and dusty, a filthy damp bandana around his face, I never saw a more beautiful fucking sight in my life.

A few other displaced friends made their way to us. We watched the tv for hours. We tried to wrap our heads around the hit at the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania. We tried for a sense of normalcy by having dinner together before we tried to make it to the Bronx. Since there was zero public transit by then, 10PM at night, our friend loaned us his car.

We stayed home the next two days, fielding calls and making calls trying to track down and account for all our friends and family, alternating between crying and silence whenever the news regarding someone's whereabout wasn't promising.

6 of our peoples were among the nearly 3,000, they went to work on September 11th and never came home, including Lt. Charlie Garbarini, who like so many of NY's Bravest and Finest and Port Authority law enforcement... went running into the mouth of Hell and never came back out.

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Sep 13, 2019

Wow.

I have the image of the jumpers - you who what I mean - "escaping" the towers and I always wonder about those men and women and the lives they weren't allowed to live. I can't imagine the craziness you or the hubby witnessed. Even though there's a lot of infuriating crap going on today, it makes me thankful I can go to work and expect a normal day. But I won't ever take it for granted.

Sep 12, 2019

It is weird to think back. I was pretty young and on West Coast time, so the whole family was at home still. I was sleeping when the first plane hit. My sister woke me up with an excited energy. As kids that were 11-12 years old it took us hours to begin to empathize. That day was the first time that the things on the TV became real to me. Suddenly the world felt smaller.

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Sep 12, 2019

I was six, a few weeks away from seven on that day. I remember going to school like any normal day, doing the same shit that kids that age would do when they arrived. My mother certainly made me kiss her goodbye in the car that morning. I always felt like a badass because she would sometimes let me ride in the front if I behaved, which none of my other friends could do. I remember the seats of that car--an old 80's Mitsubishi Galant. She sold it two years later. Can't recall if I rode in the front that day.

I remember being in school when the teachers just stopped teaching for a few minutes to convene in the hallway. A local police officer was with them as well, likely briefing the schools teachers and leadership on the situation. My town seemed to be a little slow on sending kids home, as we left around noon. My friend's mother came into class to pick her up before school even cancelled.

So fast forward to me being sent home--my father picked me up, clearly shaken. My mom worked about 40 minutes away, so I didn't see her until later. My dad worked closely with many members of our military, intellegence, and defense agencies, and has become a respected figure in the field. He would go down to the pentagon every Thursday to work with his colleagues there. I never really knew what he did--I just thought he was a spy, going to take out terrorists like Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, my favorite movie at the time that I saw at far too young of an age.

But when we got home, there was no badass Dad shit to be had. He sat by the phone, making call after call, most of which did not pick up. I saw him start to cry when he learned of his close friends in the Pentagon who were missing, and breathe a sigh or relief when someone he cared about answered the phone. I remember on our old boxy TV watching the news, and learning more about what happened. I always wanted to be strong like my Dad, and thought walking around with this little sword from my Halloween costume that I made my mother buy months in advance would inspire some sort of badassery or courage that could somehow help the situation. It didn't. It took me a while to grasp what was going on. I was six. This type of thing made no sense.

So my dad cried a good amount that day, the only time I had seen him do so. I honestly don't think he is capable of doing so anymore. My mom came home and cried as well. My family, which taught me about our country, the importance of patriotism, the history of our Italian American roots, and how our ancestors given a place in this country over 100 years ago in the firery furnaces of Pennsylvania steel mills, was clearly mourning a nation under attack. It was tough to grasp at the time, but it truly is one of my first complete memories.

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Sep 12, 2019

I just joined the military and was in boot camp. We were called off the parade deck in a hasty fashion by someone yelling at us and telling us to take cover.

We all ran inside a building and they pulled up the video of the towers, but we hadn't seen any TV in weeks and most of us thought it was fake. We thought it was just another training exercise.

Then they went to DEFCON 3 and put heavily armed guards on the gates of the base with blockades and Hummers and we knew this shit was real. Most of us felt very good to be wearing the uniform at the time and it only made our patriotism stronger.

"If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." - Bruce Lee

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Sep 12, 2019

I was thinking about how we went from Middle Eastern wars to Bush and 9/11 to a president named Barack Hussein Obama, and then ended up electing Trump who promoted banning entry to Muslims and building a Mexican border wall to keep latinos out, along with distrust of most democratic institutions. Kind of really isn't that crazy of a development. 9/11 and the Great Recession are the defining moments of this generation.

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Sep 13, 2019

I was a young Marine lieutenant, on the 4th or 5th day of a field op, when one of our staff sergeants says he heard over the radio the WTC and Pentagon had been attacked. We'd basically been playing war in the field so it didn't register at first. Wait, what? Seriously?

Stunned silence from a few, tough guy talks from others, but we trucked back to HQ thinking the fucking world was ending. Like shit, are they even going to need us grunts, or is everyone going to be bombed to shit by the time I find a television?

We got locked down on the base that night and watched CNN all night. My fiance and family had a hard time trying to call. A year and some change later, for better or worse, I was invading Iraq.

Man, so much has changed, but the songs of that era, the clothes, the TV shows, all take me back to that moment, sort of like the stereotype Vietnam Vet listening to Hendrix and smoking a joint. I was for the war, then later against it (like John Kerry, and I never faulted him for saying that), and I think we will see the effects for a very long time, and I don't like most of them. (Though we can probably blame circumstances dating to WWI, which was due to other shit, etc.)

Sep 13, 2019

I was in the IB program in high school. The teachers were under such pressure to demonstrate performance via student performance on IB tests that they turned off the feeds and got back to teaching classes. I was pissed off then and am still pissed thinking about it--we were denied the right to live through history in favor of sitting through a history class.

Sep 15, 2019

Thanks for all of the stories, guys.

Sep 17, 2019
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