As the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks nears, we asked our readers to share what they remember most about that day. Below are some of the responses.
My first memory of September 11, 2001, was the weather. Downtown Washington, D.C., gets very hot in the summer, made worse by all the hard surfaces that soak up the heat and spit it out even hotter. However, on this day, the weather started out very pleasant with no oppressive heat and a clear blue sky. I drove to my office that morning with my car windows open. What a gift.
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I was a psychotherapist with an office near Dupont Circle, which is located within a couple of miles of the White House, the Capitol Building and the Pentagon. In those days the known or even talked-about terror threat was small. All that was about to change by the end of the day.
My first client worked for a major news outlet. He always carried two cell phones, one for "regular calls," which he had turned off, and another for "drop dead" calls. Toward the end of our session his phone rang. I could hear the shouting coming from the caller. My client did not respond with "Hello," he answered with "WHAT?" Without another word spoken, the man leaped to his feet and bolted out the door, leaving it wide open as he ran down the stairs and into the street. I looked out the window to garner any problems but saw nothing unusual.
There was a radio hiding somewhere in my office, which took about ten minutes to find. "This just in, an airplane has just hit one of the twin towers in New York City." Could that have been the cause of my client's frantic departure? Surely this was not the reason. Then I thought, well a plane hitting the tallest building in New York City would probably draw a lot of attention. I had no idea that a band of terrorists had that very same thought.
The next 90 minutes (from around 9 to 10:30 a.m.) were indeed terrorizing. Information from the radio, phone calls, and voices from the street poured into my head non stop. The catastrophe that was happening all around me was too much for my brain to process. Another plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, both towers had collapsed, an airliner had hit the Pentagon, and there were reports of still more planes heading toward Washington, possibly targeting the Capital Building or the White House, both of which were too close to my office for comfort.
Primal survival mode kicked in and my "flight" response started running the show. All I could think about was getting out of Washington, D.C., ASAP. Without even locking up my office, I got into my car and headed out of the city toward Arlington, Va., and my home. Surely I would be safe there.
Traffic in the streets was massive, almost total gridlock. I wanted to move at about 80 mph, but was moving more like 3 mph like everyone else. However the trip home was a most enlightening event. There was no mass hysteria, no aggressive driving, road rage or acts of hostility. Instead people had their windows down, were sharing the road, waving cars in, comparing information they had heard, and in one case giving out bottles of water. These things do not happen in downtown DC traffic. There were no horns blowing, no one was abandoning their cars, or beating up their dash boards or even playing the radio loudly. A weird sense of calmness prevailed almost as if there was an immediate acceptance of the gravity of the situation we were all in and a sense that we were all in this together. It was a most remarkable experience in the midst of this chaos.
As I approached the Key Bridge which crosses over from Washington to Arlington, Va., there were hundreds of people briskly walking in the street and over the bridge, more people than cars by a large number. My "flight" to safety was suddenly made bogus by the sight of thick black smoke coming from the burning Pentagon, which was located about 3 miles from my home in Arlington.
Once over the bridge, I saw people hugging and kissing the ground and crying as if this ground outside D.C. provided safe haven. The truth was, none of us were safe. We had all just experienced terrorizing and traumatic events which will be with us for the rest of our lives in some form. There would be no erasing of the reality of that trauma, no totally safe place to go, no denial that would withstand the constant replaying of the planes hitting the Pentagon and World Trade Center over and over on all the TV stations.
My journey from Sept. 11, 2001, to May, 17, 2004, when I moved to Beaufort was heavily influenced by the events of 9/11. The terror of that day visits me occasionally, and when it does, I have learned to turn toward it and engage it, wearing out the trauma like rushing water wears out a stone. Writing these words invited such a visit. With a lot of help and hard work, I now know what to do with that embedded scar. When I am successful my mind turns to a different task, simply letting in how good it feels to live in the paradise that is Beaufort. It is my responsibility to let that in and believe it is a real as the trauma of my experience on 9/11. I work on that every day.
Hilton Head Island
I worked at the World Trade Center from August 1977 to Sept. 11, 2001. On that morning I was boarding a ferry from Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., just across the Hudson from the World Trade Center and heard a noise and looked up and saw smoke coming from Tower 1 or the North Tower. I, like so many others, assumed a small private plane had struck the upper floors of Tower 1. Upon reaching the NY side and the marina at the World Financial Center, which is directly across the street from the World Trade Center, I noticed lots of debris falling from the windows and then was shocked to see people jumping from burning windows on the upper floors. Our ferry was turned around to return to the New Jersey marina.
When I got ashore I looked across where the Statue of Liberty is and noticed a plane flying very low and fast and thought that air traffic control had failed. When that plane went toward the South Tower and crashed in the midsection of the building that's when I realized we were under attack.
During the next half hour I tried to contact my wife to see if she heard from my oldest son who worked with me and always in work early. The only phone service that worked was collect calling, and I found out my son was out of the building and on his was to Staten Island on the ferry. While I was on the phone, I noticed the South Tower was listing at its midpoint, and then it collapsed. The screams, tears, fear and gasps from those around me told me that this was a life-changing event.
The marina on the New Jersey side was to become the staging area for relief and triage to handle survivors and injured. Those of us who could stayed and helped carry people off the boats that were bringing people over from the New York side. When the tower fell, many people jumped into the Hudson River to get away from falling building, not knowing where the debris field would reach. It was chaos trying to get boats to dock, unload people and go back to rescue more. There were families who lived in Battery Park City across from the World Trade Center, firefighters and police officers who were injured and covered in dust. When the second tower fell, I thought the death toll would be 10,000 to 20,000 because the World Trade Center complex has about 35,000 people at any given time on its premises.
Fortunately those of us in the buildings during the 1993 bombing did not stay in the building and immediately evacuated, thus saving many lives.
There are many stories told about that day and my story is my youngest son was supposed to be on the 83rd floor of Tower One that day but Monday was told to report to Princeton, N.J., office on Tuesday. Anyone who lived in NYC metro area lost someone that day, whether it was a relative, mother, father, sister, brother or friend, and WE WILL NEVER FORGET.
It was the saddest day of my life, and I still can't explain fully my emotions on that day and how I managed to get through it all as an eyewitness and then rescue worker.
I only hope this helps explain what happened that day and how so many people helped each other.
Sept. 11, 2001, was a day I'll never forget. I remember when F.D.R. died, when WWII ended, when JFK was shot and plenty of heartwrenching circumstances during the many years I worked as a uniformed police officer. None of them can compare with the emotional trauma resulting from being at Ground Zero at the beginning of the World Trade Center attack. My friends and I were just finishing up our second cup of coffee on a lazy sort of morning at the Forensic Lab. Suddenly there was huge concussion -- a building-rocking boom which seemed to come from the top of my building (the first office building north of the World Trade Center.) We immediately evacuated the premises, and when we reached the street, we saw that the north tower had large burning hole in it.
I believed that a bomb had exploded in the World Trade Center and that I was safely distanced from the problem. I went back inside, telephoned Marty, and went to the big postal work floor windows on the south side of the building -- from here I had an unobstructed view of the terrible event. It was at this time that the real horror of the catastrophe became evident. I realized that what appeared to be debris falling from the blast zone was the many unfortunate people leaping to their deaths to escape the flames. Just as I was feeling I couldn't bear to watch any more (the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming), I saw the second airliner come swooping down into the south tower and the resulting huge fireball and burning debris crashing down in a northerly direction -- where I was standing. I leaped to the inside of the building, grabbed my valise from my office and fled to the street with hundreds of others streaming down the staircase. Church Street, immediately in front of my office, was littered with hundreds of pairs of shoes from women who fled in fright from the second crash. There were books, business papers, small handcarts, hats and some really odd things strewn over the wide street. I picked up a waiter's corkscrew and will always save it as a reminder of this day. I found what I thought was a protected niche at a building corner which afforded a view of both towers -- of course it was raining papers and bits of debris -- when a fireman came over shouting that the towers were unstable and could fall on us all. I didn't realize that a piece of the airliner was burning on the roof of the church two stories above my head.
The situation was becoming increasingly dangerous. Nobody knew if there was another plane on the way to the Federal Reserve Building, Federal Plaza or any of the other financial district businesses downtown. At this time, the only intelligent thing to do was leave the disaster area. Rescue personnel were streaming in from every direction and the air was vibrating with sirens and airhorns.
There was an orderly exodus of thousands of stunned people northward in the hopes of finding transportation home. Every transit terminal was closed, but I got on a 1/2 mile long, six-across line and was able to cross to Hoboken, N.J., on a ferry and from there I took a commuter train to the little town of Gladstone. While on the train, someone shouted, "Cell phones are working" and I called home and asked my wife, Marty, if she could make the trip over to pick me up. I hadn't realized that she hadn't heard from me since before the towers collapsed on all below, and her joyous reply, "Anywhere! Anywhere!" is now so understandable.
Upon reaching home, I entered the kitchen and there, completely covering the top of our old oak table were dozens of notes, phone messages from friends and relatives all assuring Marty that I'd be OK. Friends offered to stay with her and wait for word of safety. There were calls from Germany, Austria and Italy. I looked at that heart-filled display of loving sentiments from dear people, some of whom I hadn't seen in years, and hugged Marty, finally letting the tears pour down.
I never was able to return to the office where I worked for 25 years. The old Federal Office Building at 90 Church Street was contaminated and required complete renovation. All my reference and research materials amassed as a Forensic Handwriting Analyst were lost. My colleagues and I were wrenched from a state-of-the-art Forensic Document Laboratory to two crowded rooms in an ancient postal facility. I never regained the enthusiasm I had in a career that saw investigations that spanned the years between the Son of Sam killer and the anthrax letters. I retired one year later realizing that despite all the horrors I witnessed on 9/11, I was one of the lucky ones.
Hilton Head Island
In the mid 1980's a marketing survey for the Borough of Manhattan in New York was conducted to determine where the 8 million people who moved in and about the city during the day congregated at what hours. The purpose was to measure the effectiveness of mass transportation, security and other public services. The study pointed out that among the many crowded places, the area in and around the World Trade Center had approximately 37,000 people constantly present from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.
The New York/New Jersey Port Authority that owned and operated the World Trade Center took notice of the report and did a review of its own to determine how best to serve and protect the occupants of its seven buildings. The Authority noted that medical services were a matter of concern. They contacted St. Vincent's Hospital and Medical Center, the major hospital and trauma center serving the lower west side of Manhattan and asked for assistance in developing a program of medical care for the World Trade Center. As a first effort, the Hospital and the Port Authority established a physician medical office in the World Trade Center. This was not the answer since most of the medical needs were emergent. As a second effort, the Port Authority built an infirmary adjacent to the lower parking facilities in the World Trade Center. The hospital agreed to staff the infirmary with paramedics and to place three ambulances at the curb of the World Trade Center for immediate response.
In addition, to reduce the response time for people who suffered heart attacks or other life threatening events the hospital agreed to train individuals on each floor of the twin towers in CPR and first aid. The Port Authority Police established a medical emergency call system that connected to the infirmary and summoned the paramedics. They in turn were in radio contact with the St. Vincent's Emergency Trauma Center. The system worked well.
On February 26, 1993, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center at approximately 3 in the afternoon. The buildings and streets were crowded. The method of attack was to place a truck filled with explosive material in the underground parking of the World Trade Center. The intent was for the explosion to cause mass casualties and collapse the foundation of the towers, killing thousands. It was a poorly planned attack. The area where the truck exploded was the strongest point of the structure. Nevertheless, six people were killed, all within the parking facility, and more than 1,000 suffered various degrees of injury. The explosion did demolish the World Trade Center Security Office and the Infirmary. Fortunately both were vacant at the time. Within minutes of the explosion, St. Vincent's ambulances were filled with victims being transported to the hospital. The hospital, at the first call, went into Disaster Plan Response. The majority of injured people were treated at St. Vincent's. It was obvious that a strong bond would be forever present between the World Trade Center personnel and St. Vincent's Hospital staff. They were neighbors and friends.
Following the 1993 attack, the Port Authority did a detailed analysis of its disaster program. It noted that a high percentage of casualties resulted from smoke that filled the north tower up to the 94th floor. People tried to evacuate the buildings without direction or control and became injured in the process. The Port Authority took advantage of the established medical response plan and trained people on each floor to take charge in the event of other emergencies such as fire or another attack. A detailed evacuation plan was put into place. This program saved thousands of lives on Sept. 11, 2001.
I had the privilege of being an employee of St. Vincent's Hospital throughout the 1980s. I was honored to work with the Port Authority officials over those years and formulate the medical response program. A few years before the first attack occurred, I had transferred to St. Elizabeth's in Boston where I retired in 1994. After moving to Hilton Head in 1995, I volunteered for the national disaster response program of the American Red Cross. I was assigned to a government liaison position within the National Disaster Response Plan conducted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Red Cross and FEMA sent me to a special training program at Mount Weather in Virginia to learn the conduct of response to terrorist attacks. The training reminded me of the computer games my grandchildren played. Massive explosions, mass casualties, and bad guys running all over. Nevertheless, I pushed the right buttons and had things under control when a terrorist threw an anthrax bomb into my shelters. We were all killed. This could never happen, I thought.
The morning of September 11, 2001, I was enjoying the comfort of my home in Palmetto Dunes on Hilton Head Island. Around 9 a.m., as was my custom, I placed myself in front of the television to get the latest news.
Suddenly on the screen, my World Trade Center appeared. The North Tower was burning. The commentator reported that a plane had crashed into the building. I called my wife into the room to see the report. "There's been an accident. A plane has crashed into the World Trade Center," I shouted. My wife watched the report and wisely stated that it was no accident. Within minutes another plane crashed into the South tower. Then the South tower collapsed followed shortly by the North tower. I remembered the marketing report that 37,000 people were there. I told my wife that I estimated at least 20,000 people had been killed or injured.
That afternoon the phone rang and the Red Cross directed me to go to New York as a part of the Red Cross disaster response effort. Because all planes had been grounded, I was advised to go the Amtrak station at Savannah and report to the station master. He would see that I was given a seat on the next train to New York. That night I was on my way to New York tightly squeezed into a roomette. A few hours into the trip, I heard a knock on the door. A gentleman asked if I was the Red Cross worker going to the World Trade Center. When I said I was on my way to New York, he asked if I would look for his son who, when they last heard from him, was in the North Tower. He gave me his business card and wrote his son's name on it. I promised him I would do what I could. His visit was followed by another with a similar request. When the train finally pulled into Grand Central Station 20 hours later after security checks at every major stop, I had the names of 16 people reported missing at the World Trade Center that I had been asked to look for.
I collected my bag from the security room and found a cab that took me to the Red Cross building on West Amsterdam Ave. on the Upper West Side. People were milling around the building without any particular order, but there was a sense that organization was in process. I roamed around and finally found the liaison desk. It was manned by one person who had been at his post for 24 hours. I asked how I could help. He asked me to find him a cup of coffee. When I returned with cup in hand, he was sound asleep. The phone lights were all flashing. I placed the coffee next to him, sat down and began answering phones. The calls were almost all the same -- "My husband is missing"; "Can you tell me how I can get into the city?"; "Is there anyone who can help find my daughter?"; "Where are the injured?" Carefully, I wrote each request with a call-back number on the list already containing hundreds of names and requests. I added my 16 from the train. I had no answers. At that point there were no answers.
I remained at the desk for several hours. Other volunteers arrived. We began to relieve the New York Red Cross volunteers who had been on duty since the attack began. A supervisor appeared and advised me that I had been assigned to Ground Zero. On the way, I was to stop at a hotel where I had been assigned a room and check in. The hotel was on 7th Avenue across from Carnegie Hall. The lobby was filled with refugees waiting for the airports to reopen. We set up a desk to help them with accommodations and to make contact with family. It was late at night by the time we had completed the task. I checked into my room and went to sleep. Early the next morning we again set out for Ground Zero.
The lower end of Manhattan was closed south of 14th Street. From there we had about a mile walk to the World Trade Center. On the way I passed St. Vincent's Hospital and I made a brief visit to say hello to my former colleagues. The hospital was in full disaster mode. Physicians and nurses, technicians, and ancillary personnel were all in waiting, but no casualties had arrived except for a few responders who had been injured.
At Ground Zero, we were taken by NYPD to the command center, a school building at the edge of the World Trade Center property. Inside it resembled a World War II front line command bunker. FDNY, NYPD, Port Authority Police, and the New York City Emergency Management team worked with state and federal officials in attempt to form the disaster response. We could only wait directions. Meanwhile the New York City Red Cross volunteer who had been on duty for nearly two days remained in charge of the ARC group. He suggested that I move out to the "pile" and see if I could be of help to the firemen. With reverence, I walked out of the command center toward the mountain of debris that had been the North and South tower. An EPA worker handed me a respirator and directed that I should wear it at all times. I thanked her and dutifully adorned the mask.
At the base of the "pile" I stared with amazement at the gigantic amount of debris. It was smoldering; smoke rose from every area. The air was thick with fumes. The odor was unbearable. In spite of it all, rescue workers walked over, around, and in some cases under, the remains in search of survivors or the bodies of victims. I noted with surprise how quiet it was. Thousands of people were buried here. Many of whom, I was sure, were friends and associates with whom I had worked to prepare for this. We never thought it would happen. People seemed to be speaking in whispers as all ears strained to hear sounds from those buried alive. There were no sounds.
A few yards from me, a fireman got off his knees and tried to stand. He fell and tried again to stand. I rushed to his side to help. This time he grabbed my shoulder and pulled himself up. He was a large man and he used me as a human cane. We walked off the "pile" and I guided him to the school yard of the command center. I sat him on a bench, ran inside found a bottle of water, and handed it to him. He unscrewed the top, took a long drink and poured the remaining water on his face. He took off his fireman's helmet, and I saw the thick red hair that went along with his very Irish face. I tapped him on the head, shook his hand, and asked, "How you doing, big fella?" He smiled, then began to cry. He punched me on the shoulder, and said, "OK, little guy." He closed his eyes and slept. They kept coming, and we continued to help them with water, food and a place to rest.
Outside the school yard, lines were forming of firemen from around the country that had somehow managed to get to New York. I was directed to keep track of the number in line so they could be used in relief of the FDNY personnel. New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, were first in line but soon others from the Midwest, South and West arrived. Emergency Management had set up respite centers on tour boats, cruise ships and tugs. Local restaurants opened their doors to emergency workers. The disaster response was getting organized. My liaison assignment was finally made. I was assigned to the liaison section of the American Red Cross headquarters in an old school building at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge. In less than three days a full blown emergency plan had been implemented. The Emergency Management team for the City of New York had carefully followed the National Emergency Response Plan. The response was happening.
This ARC Headquarters was another old school building more recently used as a Red Cross Service Center.
All of the disaster functions in which the Red Cross was participating were headquartered in this building. The liaison desk coordinated the functions and did what was necessary to avoid confusion and delays. Our job was to expedite all requests. It was very similar to the control tower at a very busy airport. All kinds of requests and information came to us and we in turn forwarded the information to appropriate agencies, followed up on all requests, sent activity reports to city, state and national agencies, gave orientation to arriving disaster personnel, and assisted individuals with locating their assigned positions. Because of the broad scope of our activity we were aware of the conduct of entire disaster response. We knew, for instance, that all of the many requests for information about missing persons were now being answered, including the sixteen that I had added to the list from my train ride. We knew that body parts, human remains, personal effects such as wedding rings etc. were collected and taken to temporary morgues where identification was being attempted. We knew that feeding stations in and around Ground Zero had been opened to feed homeless and displaced people from buildings adjacent to the impact area. We knew that social workers and mental health experts were walking the streets of lower Manhattan counseling all who needed their assistance. Social workers and mental health advisors were also in the suburbs assisting the families of those missing or known dead. We knew that the City of New York had opened Madison Square Garden as a reception and counseling center for all who had come to the city in search of their loved ones. We were made painfully aware of looters and schemers who offered to help victims for a fee and then disappeared with the money. We helped the NYPD trace these activities and apprehend the criminals. After midnight we coordinated the influx of truck convoys bringing supplies into the City still locked down and under control of City Police, State Police, and National Guard. Every other day we would take turns riding the supply trucks around the impact area. The purpose was to review the activity and meet the people who called us with requests and reports. People lined the streets and applauded the trucks as they passed by. There was no small amount of gratitude for the response effort from the people of New York.
All of these activities and many more were on going and constantly changing. We kept track of each and every change and made sure all who needed to know were informed. My duty shift was from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day and night. Another volunteer was with me at the desk during those hours. We were constantly busy although after the first week routines were established and the calls began to taper off after midnight. One night my partner was on break when the phone rang. I answered it to hear an official voice tell me that a call was being forwarded to me from the Governor's Office in Albany. The caller explained that a person had called the governor, who wasn't available, so the call was being forwarded according to protocol. There was a click and a male voice said, "Hello, I'm calling to tell you that I am now going to kill myself." He sounded serious. This was no joke. I had handled many difficult calls, but this one scared me. Carefully, I asked the caller if he wanted to talk. He, at first, repeated his threat, and then he wanted to know when the governor would be available to listen to him. I said I didn't know but promised to find out and call him back or, better yet, if he wanted to stay on the line, I would try to find someone who could answer his questions. He proceeded to explain that he had been in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11. He saw it all. His place of employment had been destroyed, friends had been killed, and he was out of a job. He wanted the governor to know how he felt before he killed himself.
The mental health section of the Red Cross was just across the hall from my desk. Desperately, I tried to flag the mental health duty officer to come to my assistance. Finally, a person saw me waving my arms and brought the psychiatrist on duty to me. I motioned for him to pick up the other phone. He listened carefully and then began to talk to the caller. I carefully bowed out without further comment. After a while the doctor hung up. He told me the caller was living in the Bronx and agreed to come to see us tomorrow. The doctor was confident that he had talked the caller down. I felt that I had made a save. The next day the caller arrived and care was given. Instead of being a casualty, this man became a victim. I realized that, while all casualties were victims, not all victims were casualties. 2400 people were brutally murdered in the World Trade Center. Several thousand more were physically injured. There were, however, tens of thousands of people throughout the country who were victims of this terrorist attack. They would need care of various kinds for many years to come.
Three weeks on the job, and it became obvious that New York City was showing signs of recovery. Stores were opened. Commerce was restored. Schools and universities were back in session. Subways and rail transportation were partially restored. Air traffic in and out of New York was still limited but functioning. One afternoon as I reported to my duty station I was told that I was to attend a general staff meeting at nine the next morning. It was going to be a short night. The next day at the staff meeting, we were told that the Red Cross with the rest of the disaster effort was transitioning from the response phase to the recovery phase. Furthermore, relief personnel were arriving. A few hours later I was introduced to my relief who would work with me that night, and I was handed a letter that authorized my transportation by air back to Savannah. I was scheduled to leave the next morning from LaGuardia at 10:00 a.m. I had to be at the airport three hours ahead of departure. Another short night.
With bag stuffed with laundry, I arrived at LaGuardia around 7 a.m. Long lines had formed outside of the terminal. No one was allowed in until cleared by security. I tried to figure out which line led to my airline, but it seemed that all roads led to Rome. Several members of the NYPD walked along the line checking tickets and ID. When they came to me, I produced my letter from the Red Cross. The cop looked me over and called for backup. The second cop conferred with the first and then informed me to grab my bag and come with them. "My God," I thought, "they think I'm a terrorist." We walked into the terminal, went back of the ticket counters and into a large room with a few tables. Several cops and firemen were standing behind the tables. They looked me over. A fireman took my bag and placed it on the table. He explained that he had to do a security check that was being done on all luggage. The fireman was a very large man with an Irish face and red hair. As he finished checking the bag he asked me where my official NY Identification Badge was. I had worn it every day for the past three weeks, but today I had put it in my wallet when I left the hotel. I explained that I didn't think I had to wear it since I was off-duty. He seemed to think little of my reply. "Aren't you proud of what you did here ?" he asked. "Damn proud," I said. "Then wear it with pride," he said. With that he said, "OK, little guy. You go home. Thanks for the help." I knew I had seen him before. The "little guy" remark did it. A tear came to my eye. "It was my pleasure, big fella," I said. Then the cop who took me out of line handed me my ticket and boarding pass. I went home.
A few months later I received a letter from the American Red Cross directing me to attend an advanced training program in disaster response at the recently formed Clara Barton Training Center at Fort Smith, Arkansas. The subject material concentrated on response tactics to terrorist attacks with weapons of mass destruction such as improvised explosive devices utilizing chemical, biological or radioactive material. The classes were similar to those that I had attended at Mount Weather. More computer games, I thought. Only this time I prayed and have continued to pray everyday since then that I never have to use this training. That was nearly 10 years ago.
The World Trade Center is gone, but it remains as a strong memory. Last year, St. Vincent's Hospital closed its doors permanently after more than 150 years of service to New York City. The hospital was a very significant part of my life. The Palmetto Chapter of the American Red Cross was downsized a few years ago to a service center. The Palmetto Chapter inspired me to be a disaster volunteer. Last August, I took special note of the amount of heat rising from the number of candles of my birthday cake. It's time, I thought. A few days later, I resigned as an American Red Cross Disaster Volunteer. All things come to pass.
It was approximately 6 a.m. when our flight from Denver landed at Newark, N.J. airport. It was an all-night trip; we had just lost to the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Television. As our plane taxied around the terminal, in the early morning light several United Airline Airplanes were making ready for their morning departures. I wondered what their destination was that clear September morning. Approximately two and a half hours later one of them slammed into the countryside near Shanksville, Pa. It was Flight 93 destined for San Francisco.
That is my first memory of 9/11.
After we deplaned, we boarded buses for our return to the stadium where our offices and practice facilities are located. I was the Assistant General Manager of the New York Giants. It was always my habit, when returning home, after playing those late-night, far-away games to go immediately to the stadium and get some work finished.
My office had a TV, which was turned off. A fellow worker came in as asked to turned it on because a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I initially thought it was some kind of freak accident, but when the second plane hit, I knew something bigger was occurring. I and several of my coworkers went to the southeastern corner of the upper deck, where you can see an unobstructed view of the Twin Towers. After a while, we watched in amazement as the Towers came crashing down, one after the other. Thick plumes of smoke and dust took their place and remained there for several weeks.
We had several workers who lived in the city and could not return home that evening; the city had shut down!
Going to work on Sept. 12 was eerie. Our stadium parking lot was filled with ambulances, expecting to be needed in the city. The stadium parking lot served as a marshaling yard.
Indeed it also served as a park and ride for commuters going into and out of the city. On Sept. 12 the authorities were recording the auto licenses of those cars left overnight, the presumption being that those cars belonged to those who might have perished at Ground Zero. At noon that same day I returned to the upper deck and could not believe that those magnificent Towers were no longer with us. What stands out in my memory is the quiet. Utter quiet! This is normally a busy place; it is one of the flight paths to Newark International Airport and also to Teterboro Airport, a smaller airport just to the north of the stadium. Everything was quiet, all planes were grounded; the silence was deafening.
Several days later, at the invitation of the New York Police Department, the team was asked to come over to Ground Zero and add some emotional support and encouragement to rescue workers. We visited several firehouses and police stations, where both firefighters and police officers were among the missing. We met with many family members waiting for their loved ones to come home, but sadly, none did.
For me it was an all-day wake. Throughout all of this, the team traveled with a police escort in a bus. Finally, in the early afternoon we arrived at Ground Zero.
What a shocking scene. Security was extremely tight, and everything was locked down. We had to pass through several checkpoints to continue farther. I was born and raised in the city and had never seen anything like this. At one checkpoint, just prior to making a left turn to go to Ground Zero; I saw uniformed policemen with machine guns ! At Ground Zero there were tremendous piles of debris. Huge cranes were loading enormous steel beams onto flatbed trucks just after welders cut them down with acetylene torches. There were hundreds of workers climbing all over the debris; it looked like an anthill. Off to one side was a bucket brigade of workers removing stones. There must have a been a hundred of them. Aside from the noise of the cranes, it was quiet.
Then suddenly and unexpectedly, a loud piercing whistle blew, and everything came to a stop. Now extremely quiet. We were told that a body had been found, in this case a fireman. Men from that man's unit came to carrie him out; nobody else was allowed to do this. It was as solemn a thing as I'd ever seen! These pallbearers, in their tattered rescue clothes, were fierce and grim-faced, determined and proud. The American flag was placed over the body as they carried him out. It was so profoundly sad, the entire day and for many weeks to come.
I was living in northeast New Jersey with a view of the skyline that was forever changed that day. My daughter was just under 2, so we were up early. I watched the news as it unfolded right before me. I, like everyone else, was in shock. I never turned the TV off ... not even at bedtime. It was somber and surreal and the smoke lasted day after day after day. I remember thinking about my daughter who would be too young to remember what will probably be the most historically tragic event in her lifetime.
Hilton Head Island
On Sept. 11, 2001, at exactly 9 o'clock, I was testifying on an immigration case in Trenton, N.J., that was very similar to the Gonzalez case in Florida, only these children were from Haiti. The judge suddenly left the room and came back looking quite stricken. He said a plane had hit the World Trade Center Towers and court was canceled. My heart stopped. My husband worked on Wall Street and was frequently in the towers. Trying to reach him was impossible as all cell towers were down and EVERYONE was calling New York. My son finally contacted him. He was in Jersey coming home. I went back to my office and we all sat together in front of the television watching the devastation, feeling safe in the familiar group with others to share the enormity of what had happened.
Within days, I had volunteered to work as a social worker, on rotating shifts, at an area at Liberty Island, N.J., that provided FEMA, health insurance services, banking and motor vehicle services, along with food stamps and counseling to the victims and survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attack. As the cranes worked on across the river and the fire blazed for what seemed like months, the people came. Young widows and widowers terrified of what the world had done to their lives. Everyone was sure their loved one was in a "pocket" and protected. They all asked, "Why did God let this happen?" The answers they needed were difficult to give. The stories broke your heart. Cantor Fitzgerald was the name we heard too often. The breaks we took were to watch the fire across the river and to the smell the burning building material. Then the body parts began to be recovered. The widow would take her brother, father or some male figure and return from the site by boat with a wooden box containing whatever they had found of her loved one. It could be papers, a wallet or something more personal. They would look you in the eye with tears and you could see the question, why?
The months dragged on, and after five months we had fewer visitors. Services were finally in place, and some sort of closure had begun. Everyone who lost someone received an urn with remains of the ash found at the World Trade Center site. Although most of what they received was burned wallboard and paper, they had something to bury. I returned to work at my regular job. Body parts were still being found on roofs in NY. My husband lost many friends. They were no longer visible on the train to Manhattan. Eight months later my husband died. I knew which question not to ask, why? Because there is no answer except the free will to choose good or evil.
Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, dawned as a spectacular day in New Jersey with bright blue sunny skies. Having recently retired, I was at our local gym, and my wife, Mary, was at home getting her day started. While on the treadmill, the manager of the gym told me that my wife had called and I should come home immediately. Upon arriving home, I learned that a plane had crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8:42 a.m. -- it was now 9. We were both overwhelmed with emotions as our oldest son, Jimmy, was a trader for Cantor Fitzgerald and worked on the 104th floor of the North Tower. As we watched the subsequent events unfold, we sadly left our home and drove down to our son's home. That was the saddest and longest drive that we have ever taken.
Jimmy and his wife, Tricia, had just moved into their new home in Oceanport, N.J., about 50 miles south of us. They had a 4-year-old son, Finn, and had just brought their newest son, Charlie, home from the hospital -- Charlie was born on Sept. 5. Life was really good for this young family. Over the next several days we gathered as a family each and every day and night, praying and hoping that a miracle might occur and that Jimmy would be located in one of the many hospitals in New York where victims were being treated. In fact, our other four children, two of whom worked in New York City, spent their time scouring the NYC hospitals where victims were being treated in the hope that Jimmy would be one of them, but that was not to be. No remains of Jimmy were ever recovered, and that void in our lives will never go away.
In 2005, we moved to Haig Point on Daufuskie Island and each and every year we memorialize Jimmy and his family via a golf tournament in New Jersey and memorial services on 9/11 with our children, our daughter-in-law and our 11 grandchildren. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that horrible event in our history and we will be in New York City once again. Life will never be the same without Jimmy, but we know that our faith and our commitment to family will allow us peace.
Diane E. Neal
I have had innumerable memorable professional experiences during my 3.7 decades as an educator. Hence, the horrific events that occurred a decade ago on September 11, 2001, left indelible impressions in my mind and in the memories of my third-grade students at Woodrow Wilson School in New Brunswick, N.J. (New Brunswick is located approximately 35 miles west of New York City.)
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I left my home at 7:45 a.m. I observed the beautiful blue sky devoid of any clouds as I traveled east to New Brunswick. The school day started at 8:50 a.m. with the principal sharing some "Words of Wisdom" on the public address system. Our literacy lesson began with a Read Aloud that enhanced our theme. While we were immersed in the lesson, parents came to the school to take their children home. It wasn't until 11:00 a.m. that the entire school community learned that airplanes struck the World Trade Buildings and the Pentagon. I, like former President George W. Bush, was in a classroom and engaged in a literacy lesson during the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Since September 11, 2001, I began to examine my philosophy of teaching the humanities. Throughout my teaching career, I tried in earnest to demonstrate my commitment to building a strong community and developing the social capital in my school community. In addition, I nurtured in my students a positive attitude about learning and a vision to be citizens who contribute to the positive moral, social, economic, ecological, and technological growth of our global society. Unequivocally, it is paramount that we teach children to be good citizens and to reach globally.
My interdisciplinary teaching of the humanities was fueled by my participation in a myriad of professional development forums and grant awards on the local, state, national, and international levels. I was able to creatively integrate language, social studies, and civics into my "Be A Good Citizen and Reach Globally" projects. The framework of the projects had three components. 1. Nurture a community of learners. 2. Understand and internalize core democratic values (public good, individual rights, justice, equality, diversity, truth and patriotism) 3. Serve the community and keep it strong.
During the 2000-2001 school year, my third-grade class played a special role in my July 25 - Aug. 13, 2001 journey to Australia. I, one of 21 educators, was selected to participate in the Hands Across the Water Teacher Exchange Program. My students wanted to travel with me to Australia. Thus, I compromised with them and we created a banner with patriotic expressions on the handprints. Students were asked to share their thoughts about communities, our government and our Flag Day celebration. Each student traced his/her hand and wrote some thoughts on the banner that was presented to Bilambil School in Australia on Aug. 8, 2001. In essence, I took my students with me. They joined hands across the water with Australian students and established international friendships.
Listed below are some of the patriotic thoughts that were written on the banner:
"Our flag has many names. Some of the names are The Red White, and Blue; The Stars and Stripes' and Old Glory."
"To be a good citizen, you must volunteer to do things at home, work and school."
"A good citizen helps people, respects others, and takes responsibility for their actions."
"Good citizens are people who make their communities better places."
The United States flag was on the side of the banner that had the students' handprints. On the other side, there was a map of the United States. The banner was used as a springboard for classroom presentations at Bilambil Primary School. "My Best Friend Kate" by Pat Brisson was used to impart information about the uniqueness of our country. I also used "Nine O'Clock Lullaby" by Marilyn Singer to take the Australian students around the world. We used a world time zone map to identify the times in other countries if it's 9:00 p.m. in New York. Students learned to recognize and appreciate other cultures.
Unquestionably, I was imbued with extraordinary professional experiences. My sojourn in Australia underscored my excitement about the upcoming 2001-2002 school year. The experience was so much a part of my being that I sought ways to integrate the plethora of information in my classroom, school, and community activities. Hence, when we celebrated International Literacy Day on September 7, 2001, I read aloud "Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge" by Mem Fox, an internationally acclaimed Australian author. The book is about the importance of a memory. Wilfrid overheard his parents say that Miss Nancy lost her memory. He visited the old folks' home and asked several elderly people to define memory. Some of the responses were, "It is something you remember; something warm; something from long ago; something that makes you cry or laugh; and something as precious as gold." He's like a hero because he gathers artifacts that help Miss Nancy remember important events in her life. For students in grade K-3, "Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge" is a book that can be used to begin a discussion about memories. The author, Mem Fox, signed my book, "Love & Memories", Diane!"
Finally, my students' patriotic thoughts were echoed loud and clear, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, horrific attacks on America. The inhumane acts on 9/11 serve as an enduring understanding that memories can be very painful.
I will pause and join fellow Americans to pay tribute to those who lost their lives and salute our heroes who came to rescue the victims.
Hilton Head Island
Sept. 11 started out to be a day of fun and excitement, as it was Fashion Week in New York City, at Bryant Park. Getting tickets to these shows around the world is almost impossible and quite an accomplishment. I had received an engraved invitation to attend the Oscar de la Renta show, and, having been a Ford Model, I was thrilled and delighted to be involved that day!
Before leaving for Manhattan, from Westchester, a 25-minute train ride, my dog rolled into something dead, and I had to wash him, thereby missing the early train. The phone rang, while Scooter was being scrubbed, and it was my son, calling from Brooklyn, telling me not to come into the city because a plane had just rammed into the World Trade Center. My first response was to say it was probably a little private plane and wouldn't have caused much damage. When told it was a commercial airline, I thought he must be exaggerating and asked what channel it was on.
Turning on the TV, I watched the second plane hit the building. Like everyone else's that day, my heart exploded and I stayed glued to the TV, thinking I must be watching a sci-fi movie as I couldn't grasp the magnitude of what I was seeing. What stands out to me, that day, besides the sheer terror of it, was seeing the very best in people -- New Yorkers, all working together. Staying so close to the city, you could see the black smoke, for months, going up the Hudson River, and the cars in parking lots with no drivers coming to retrieve them.
The rest is history. The world will never be the same again. I still have that Oscar de la Renta invitation!
John Di Falco
I normally avoid this subject.
On that September morning I was stringing two fishing poles to go snapper fishing. I was listening to Howard Stern and heard that a plane had just hit one of the towers. I turned on the television just in time to see the second plane hit. I put my poles on my back porch, got dressed and called my wife at the time to tell her I was going into work. After a brief argument I told her to tell the kids that I love them, and I went to work.
At the time I was a New York City Police Officer, assigned to the Highway Patrol Unit in Queens. It seems that I never went home for more than a couple of hours and returned to Ground Zero. The day of the attack I lost two friends, Jerome Dominguez and George Howard. Jerome at one time was a fellow highway cop until he decided that he wanted to become an Emergency Service Officer. George was a Port Authority Officer that was assigned to JFK airport; I don't know how many times he backed me up on the highway protecting me from traffic at bad accidents.
We were told that we had nothing to worry about the air in and around Ground Zero. Paper masks and painters' masks were all that we had, but they quickly got clogged and were useless. 9/11 gave me asthma, chronic sinus issues, and already I have had two surgeries and am expecting more to come. The devastation and the negativity of the whole thing is forever ingrained in my head; if I think hard enough I can still smell the air. Sept. 11 has forever changed my thinking and my feelings. Last year when the Lt. Dan Band appeared in Beaufort, a former NYC firefighter was there benefiting from 9/11. I got sick at his little speech; anyone who benefits from this tragedy should be ignored and not applauded. If you get paid to protect, then no matter what we are not the heroes -- we are simply just doing our job!
So all in all, 9/11 has changed me in lots of ways.
Hilton Head Island
My name is Robert Engle, and I was working in the Pentagon on 9/11. I was working in room 5D453, which is located on the 5th floor D ring between corridors four and five. I was returning to my desk when I heard a loud explosion (it was a whooshing sound), and the building immediately started to shake. I was looking out the window and saw it turn black, then bright red and orange. It was the fireball hitting the window. I then fell to my knees and got under my desk because some of the ceiling tiles were starting to fall.
Someone then yelled to the whole office to evacuate the building. The shortest route out of the office was to go to corridor four and turn right to exit on the E ring. However, when I turned right it was filling up with smoke and the air had a pungent smell. There were also some people coming up out of the stairwell saying that that way was blocked and there was smoke. I then turned and started walking to the A ring and the center courtyard. As I was walking one of the people in our office hurried past me holding her head, she was bleeding from a cut in her scalp.
The people were all walking fast; there was no panic and no running. As I got to the A ring I turned right and headed to corridor two and exited there. I was then in the south parking lot and moved to the outer edge of the lot by interstate 395. From there I watched the heavy smoke drift over the building toward the east.
Two days later I found out that the plane had slid into the building and went through the E and D ring and into the C ring. It went right under 5D453. It tore through those three rings and took out the first and second floors. The E ring collapsed about 30 minutes after the crash. Two people in our office had minor head cuts but there were no serious injuries to anyone else. I later found out that some of the active duty Navy officers from our office went around to the crash site and helped until fire and police arrived.
I knew three people who were killed that day. Two of them were on the second floor directly in the path of the plane. One was a retired navy captain and other was an active duty navy commander. The third person was a retired navy captain who worked for the same company as I did and was on the aircraft that crashed into the building.
Every Sept. 11 I pray for the three friends that were lost that day. I also think of how fortunate I was that the plane slid into the building and took out the lower floors and left the fifth floor intact.
Hilton Head Island
I was working in NYC in Union Square the morning of 9/11. It was the most beautiful fall day. We watched from our office windows as the towers fell and worried about our clients who were in the tower. Many things will stay with me from that day, the complete absence of traffic on 5th Avenue and the people from the towers silently walking up Park Avenue covered in ash. In the following days as you passed open air bars and restaurants the laughter was gone. And during a subway ride three policemen walked onto the subway, and everyone stood up and clapped. To this day I always scatter rose petals in the ocean by my house. That day changed my life. I was very lucky to be alive. I could have been there.
Hilton Head Island
We were there.
My name is Bill Henry. Pitched for the N.Y. Yankees in the mid '60s. Played with Mantle, Maris, Ford, Howard, etc. I worked for WABC-TV for 20 years in sales in New York City. I developed prostate cancer in 1998, and it came back in 2001. I went to NYC Medical Center for tests on Sept. 10, 2001. I started to move into an apartment on Sept. 11, 2001, 8 a.m. on 65th & 1st Ave.
My son Michael had an apartment on 54th and 2nd. My wife, Judy, was with him the night of Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, 2001. I went to unload our sport utility vehicle at 8 a.m. on Sept. 11. A plane passed me by, flying very low. I kept unloading. After I finished, I walked up to 2nd Ave. to head down town to my son's apartment. The whole city was going crazy: sirens, fire trucks, ambulances. As I got to 60th and Second, five fire engines on my right were going south on Second, four ambulances were trying to make a left onto Second to go south to World Trade Center. I was 5 to 10 feet away from both. The look in their eyes I'll never forget. Fear ... the unknown ... what the HELL is happening?
A guy next to me said, "A jet hit the World Trade Tower 1." I looked down Second Ave. and saw a stream of smoke. You can only see that area from Fifth Avenue, looking downtown.
I crossed over and stood by this woman on her cellphone. She was talking to her husband on the 98th floor of World Trade Center 1. He said he saw the pilot, and he was totally focused on the tower and did not try to avoid it. She was screaming, "Get out ... get out!" By the time I reached my wife, Tower 2 had been hit. She saw it live, as did the world. I called my television station, WABC-TV, to offer my SUV to help the victims. They said they could not get to it; no time!
My son was at Prudential and was transferred uptown the month before. He had some classmates down on Wall Street. We tried to reach them through their parents in Connecticut. We gave them our NYC address and said come over and stay with us until they could get transportation home. The scene was not to be believed. Seeing thousands of people walking north, covered in ash. We were attacked. My anger was out of control. The concern, however, was to save lives.
As I later found out, all those fire trucks and ambulances were in fact first responders. The equipment and most of those faces were gone forever. I still can cry over what we saw, to this day. My son, Michael, rushed down there to offer aid. He handed out water night after night, truck after truck. The vigils started a day or two later; candlelights on various corners.
I had to go down to NYU hospital for my bad news about my cancer returning. Thousands of people were outside looking for their lost family members. So, so sad. I had a chance to fight my cancer. They had lost, as it turned out, their family members forever.
We can never forget that day or the lost persons from all backgrounds. Please say a prayer for them and their families.
September 11, 2001, was going to be a monumental day for me. Little did I realize how much so. I was planning on handing in my resignation from a job I had held in New York City for more than 10 years. My husband, David, and I had finally made the decision to relocate to the Hilton Head/Bluffton area. This was THE MOVE we had talked about for more than 20 years. It was time.
After arriving at my office in midtown Manhattan from our home in Westchester County, I was anxiously awaiting the "right time" to deliver my news. Before I had an opportunity, my manager let out an expletive and raced out of his office yelling that a plane had flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center and then he disappeared down the hallway. Shortly thereafter he called me to come watch the TV coverage of what was transpiring. A group of us sat transfixed as we tried to comprehend what we were seeing taking place a mere four miles away.
The morning was filled with anxiety, tears, speculation and rumors. We were instructed to remain in the building and away from windows. Our office had no telephone service. Finally, around 11:00, those who could walk home left. Those of us who relied on subways or commuter trains, neither of which were running, were left trying to figure how to leave the city that had been closed off to incoming traffic. By this time I was standing outside my building, astounded by the number of people on the streets, the bumper-to-bumper traffic going nowhere and the sounds of sirens everywhere. Looking south I could see the hovering clouds of ash and smoke as the towers continued to burn. Seemingly out of nowhere, an emergency SUV vehicle wound its way north on Lexington Avenue, a one-way street south. With its siren and horn going, this ash-covered vehicle managed to make its way through the tangle of traffic. Other than the windshield, every window on the SUV was broken. It is an image I'll never forget.
At about 11:45 a rumor circulated that Grand Central Terminal had reopened and there would be sporadic commuter train service starting at noon. Fortunately the terminal was only a block away and I quickly headed there. The Departure Board showed a train to my station leaving at 12:30P. Being one of the first on board, I found it to be an extremely stressful wait. I felt like a sitting duck nervously wondering if the terminal would be the next target. Fellow passengers loaned cell phones and were anxious to share their morning experiences. Several passengers boarded who were covered gray with ashes. It was an unnerving ride home.
That afternoon and for several days thereafter the skies were devoid of commercial air traffic. There were just the relentless and eerie sounds of military aircraft monitoring the region.
New York City became an armed zone with military personnel on every corner. In Grand Central Terminal, soldiers, along with guard dogs, were everywhere. Scattered throughout the Terminal were hastily erected postings with photos of missing family members and friends accompanied by pleas for information on their whereabouts. It was a heartbreaking sight.
On September 13, my resignation was submitted without any trepidation on my part; I was confident we were making the right decision.
I had spent the week in NYC and was standing in the terminal about to board my plane at La Guardia Airport just as the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center. I visited the Statue of Liberty and World Trade Center just the day before. I never got to board my plane and was immediately forced to evacuate the airport. Nearly an hour later, and after the second plane hit the second tower, I stood outside the airport with thousands of stranded passengers and watched the first tower fall right before our eyes. We made our way to the nearest hotel where no ATM, credit card, fax or cell phone service was available. I remember hundreds of people crammed into the lobby trying to get a room. People were bunking up in rooms with complete strangers. It was so surreal. The next day, some of us asked the hotel shuttle to take us into Queens to buy some things. Many of us had already checked our luggage and knew it would be quite some time before we would see it. I bought a few articles of clothing and rode back to the hotel. On Thursday, I had the opportunity to ride in a rented car, with strangers no less, from Queens to Chicago. I arrived around 2 a.m., where my new friends dropped me off at a hotel near Midway Airport. My brother was waking up about that same time, to drive the approximately seven hours from Kentucky to Chicago to pick me up. He arrived around 9 a.m. Friday morning and drove me to Indianapolis, where I had originally departed from on my trip to NYC. I picked up my car and followed my brother back home to Kentucky, arriving home late Friday evening. I moved to Hilton Head the following May. I have not been back to NYC, but I plan on returning very soon.
Hilton Head Island
The silent space of the blue sky above our suburban Washington, D.C., home is what I remember most post-Sept. 11. We lived less than 10 miles from the unrelenting noise of Dulles International Airport. The massive sound and vibrations of 747s were normal and familiar to us. Silence was not. A late March blizzard that muffled all sound was the only experience we could compare it to.
I also remember a nascent feeling: anxiety. Screaming U.S. fighter jets finally appeared above, reassuring us. Our nation was under attack, but we would be OK. The fortress of the Pentagon had been hit, and so had the colossal Twin Towers, but terrorists commandeering a jet bound for the White House failed, thanks to "Let's Roll" passengers.
Black smoke and white ashes are my memories of New York City on Sept. 11. For a moment, it felt like Hiroshima. But I remember what popular song was playing on the radio: U2's "Stuck in a Moment." American history is a stubborn story of reinvention, and Bono seemed to implore to us, "You've got to get yourself together, you've got stuck in a moment!"
Hilton Head Island
I have two significant memories. The first is similar to everyone else: Where were you when the attack was announced? My wife and I were on a small boat cruise (90 passengers) that departed from Rhode Island and proceeded to New York City. We were cruising down the East River on Monday, Labor Day around 7 a.m. Being a holiday, there was no traffic on the East River. Traffic, all of Manhattan was still, on this beautiful morning. As we approached the Brooklyn Bridge, I wanted to take a picture of it, with something in the background to provide depth and perhaps a familiar landmark. After the trip and the pictures were developed, I was stunned to see I had captured the Twin Towers in the background -- which were attacked days later. We continued the cruise around the southern tip of Manhattan, pulled up to the Statue of Liberty and all passengers on deck sang "God Bless America." We continued our cruise up the Hudson River, Erie Canal and into the St. Lawrence River. On the morning of September 11, we were east of Quebec, enjoying the morning views of the river. Over the PA system, the captain announced there would be a meeting in the lounge, which we thought would be just an update on our cruise. To our shock, he announced the attack on the World Trade Center. My daughter and her husband live in the city, so my first concern was about their safety. The only TV reception was a French station from Quebec, so we had pictures but limited communication. I soon reached my daughter and was relieved to learn she was safe.
The second event occurred about a month later. I was visiting my daughter in NYC when she learned that American Airlines was having a commemorative running of the American flag from the Boston airport to Los Angeles, the flight plan for one of the hijacked planes. Connecticut runners would be carrying the flag to NYC. My daughter (an avid runner) and I decided to join the New York runners. We met the flag at the Firemen's Memorial at West 105th Street. The flag was transferred to us, a dedication prayer offered, and off we started -- a group of 20 runners. With a police escort, we jogged down Broadway, through Times Square and to lower Manhattan. We all shared carrying the flag! What a joy to carry the flag, cheered by onlookers, as we thanked the tourists in their double-decker buses. People joined us for a few blocks. Endurance ruled -- this was a moment of a lifetime. We arrived outside Ground Zero and stopped. The crowds there were 4-5 deep to see the remains -- that morbid curiosity. I thought we had finished our segment, when suddenly we were told that we would be allowed to enter the closed-off area of Ground Zero -- but no pictures as it was a crime scene. We entered slowly, no one speaking -- what could one say. At the center, we saw the workers clearing the massive piles of debris -- the long, slow process. At one side, we saw the remains of a building of twisted metal still standing -- in the shape of a cross. We sang our national anthem and slowly departed, handing the flag over to the next team of runners. We said farewell to our fellow runners, pleased we had represented the city in the flag journey to LA, which provided to us a profound experience.
Hilton Head Island
I had just been in the World Trade Center buildings three days prior to the attacks after attending my wife's naturalization ceremony in lower Manhattan. We debated going to the top of the World Trade Center but (regretfully) decided to do it another time and instead went to the Statue of Liberty. Days after the towers fell, we had photos processed from the trip and there is a beautiful-but-eerie picture of me at Liberty Island with the World Trade Center featured prominently over my shoulder.
I worked for a newspaper in New York's lower Hudson Valley at the time and remember well the many local funerals for weeks on end as new bodies were discovered. Numerous NYC firefighters had lived nearby and left behind broken families and traumatized communities. There was great grief, to be sure -- but also a newfound camaraderie I had never before felt among strangers.
In addition to the panic and horror that most other people felt, I remember two things distinctly: First, before the attacks it was one of the most beautiful mornings in memory. It was a magnificently clear early autumn day with not a cloud in the sky. Second, in the days before the attack I remember trying to buy an American flag as a gift for my wife getting her citizenship. They were surprisingly hard to come by. After the attack, commerce shifted into high gear: every store sold flags (and most still do).
My husband, Richard, and I had flown to New York for a friend's wedding on Sept. 9, 2001. Ann O'Connor, our hostess, and I on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, headed to Jones Beach for a two-mile walk on that clear and sunny Monday. Richie decided to stay home.
The young emergency service officer, Patrick O'Connor, and his bride were at the airport waiting to board a flight to Aruba. Ann's second son, Det. James O'Connor, was in Manhattan on duty in criminal court.
As we neared Jones Beach, I noticed a cluster of people gathered at the side of the lightly trafficked road conversing and holding what might have been a radio. In the far distance toward New York City a gray cloud of smoke seemed to hover. At the toll booth, a middle-aged man told us two planes had struck the Twin Towers, and his brother worked in one of the buildings. We were later to learn his brother was late to work that morning, which saved his life.
Ann O'Connor reversed course and headed for home in Levittown, Long Island.
All members of the N.Y. Police Department were ordered to duty. Retired officers were requested to report as well. Richie was manning the phone at home as calls came in about the whereabouts and safety of the boys. At the time, Patrick was at the airport with his bride, Doreen, awaiting a honeymoon flight to Aruba. By the time Patrick reversed course and reached the scene, the towers were down. James had a case in court that morning, but his partner died in the towers.
I wanted to report to serve, being retired NYPD, but I had no attire that even resembled a uniform, and my husband was emphatically opposed to the idea. We had long been retired on that fateful day.
We boarded our Delta flight back to Florida three days later with fewer fellow passengers and several brave and beautiful hostesses on duty.
Incidentally, Ann O'Connor went in to police headquarters every day for a month to comfort and support the police wives, waiting for news of their missing husbands -- just another unsung heroine.
Sun City Hilton Head
So there I was, preparing to give a morning orientation to 35 or so adults at the Suffolk County Department of Labor's Employment Center in Hauppauge, Long Island, about 35 miles east of Manhattan. It was a lovely, hint-of-Autumn morning. My objective was to introduce the many free employment and training services provided to unemployed/underemployed residents under a federal program -- and to give them hope. Fifteen minutes into the tour, and as the group passed through the large computer room, a muffled scream came from someone viewing the local news broadcast in a corner overhead TV. In short order, all conversations stopped as people moved to the TV, aghast, incredulous, numb at unfolding events in real time as the planes slammed into the Twin Towers. In that fell swoop, hope -- theirs and ours -- was gone.
At the same time, my husband, retired and just starting his day at home nearby, was glued to the TV broadcast. Bob quickly called his good friend, Ken, in Manhattan, to get live feed of the horror from their perspective. Living in a condo on West 43rd Street, 47th floor, our friends had a clear sight of the towers burning and the ensuing chaos on the streets and on the water as full impact hit. In short order, Ken had to get off the phone to comfort his wife in the next room, hysterical at the sight of people jumping to their deaths from upper tower floors -- above the points of impact and with no hope of rescue. She was able to see faces as couples held hands, clinging to each other, then jumped to their Armageddon.