The twentieth century had more than its share of shocking, defining moments in history. My grandparents’ generation endured the stock market crash of 1929. Pearl Harbor stunned my parents’ generation. My generation’s world changed with John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Those times when the world stood still. When things happened that couldn’t possibly happen. Not in the United States of America.
You always remember where you were, how you heard, the disbelief, the fear, the panic.
On September 11, 2001, the twenty-first century experienced a moment so defining, so horrific, that it changed not just our world, but the whole world.
These are my memories of that day.
I was working at home, in my sunny office. It was a gorgeous late summer morning, warm sunshine, blue sky, quiet, lots to do and a great day to do it.
I went downstairs to get a cool drink. As I passed the morning newspaper, I noticed a story I wanted to read…I glanced at the clock to see if I had time to read it now before getting back to work. It was 8:45 a.m. Plenty of time for a short break.
Only later did I realize that was the exact moment the first plane hit.
I went back to work, made a few phone calls, left a few messages when no one answered, and then got a call from a friend. She was in a traffic jam on the Schuylkill Expressway, nothing moving anywhere, and how about that plane crash in New York? Really? Yes, at the World Trade Center. Didn’t I see it on TV?
I never have on radio or TV when I’m working. But I turned on the television just as the second plane hit the tower. Stunned, I sat and stared.
My brain raced. Attack on the United States! What? Why? The news anchors reported more and more horrendous news: hijackers, other possible targets, more crashes, and……I watched as first one, then the other World Trade tower crumbled into dust.
Where are my family? Where are my kids? Are they traveling? At work? My sister in law works for the federal government in Philadelphia…..is she okay? My friend works for an aviation security research firm in New Jersey…what is happening there? What do they know? Where is everybody?
Phone lines were all busy….can’t contact anyone. Emails: let me know where you are as soon as you get this! The Pentagon is under attack. Fighter jets have scrambled. Oh, my god. What is happening?
By then, every television in the house was on and the awful news continued. A plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania….not clear why. The president was on board Air Force One headed for a secure location, with heavy fighter protection. U. S. airspace is closed. The White House was evacuated. Also the Capitol. New York was in lockdown. First responders raced to the crash sites. The destruction and death…just horrific. No idea yet of why, the reason this happened, who is responsible, where else might they attack.
Eventually, my family all contacted me, I told everyone to go home and stay there, and I paced from room to room listening to the televised updates, still not entirely sure it wasn’t all just a series of accidents, completely at a loss what to do.
We all know the stories now, the bravery, the toughness, the sacrifices made. The eerie silence in the skies for weeks after. The resilience of the American people in the face of an attack on their homeland. The whole world knew.
And we will never forget.