Saturday, September 10, 2011

Where where you on 9/11?

The events of 9/11 are forever seared into my mind. That Tuesday, I was crossing the Hudson River on a ferry when the Twin Towers came into view. Before I left home, I'd heard Katie Couric on the Today show mention one plane had hit; the ticket seller told me about the second plane. Still, I headed into work. I was on the top deck, me and a handful of other passengers. Thick smoke billowed out of both buildings. We stared in horrified silence, but we had hope; it seemed like the fires could be put out.

I went to work. I cried as I watched the towers collapse on the TV in the office conference room. I took the ferry home to Hoboken with throngs of people, the only way out of New York City. At the terminal, emergency workers were hosing down people who had been in the World Trade Center area, for fear of chemical warfare. Fighter planes flew overhead. "There's a bomb!" someone yelled and suddenly we were all running. I went home. From our building's rooftop, Dave and I watched smoke rise from the smoldering ruins. The Twin Towers had, incomprehensibly, become a graveyard.

For weeks after, there were flyers all around town for missing young men and women; Hoboken, N.J. had many residents who worked at The World Trade Center. The full number of people who died in the towers and planes, 2753, would come much later. Plus 224 dead in the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Even this weekend, I read horrifying new stats: More than 1600 people lost spouses or partners in the attacks, and 3000 children lost parents.

Sabrina's school had a ceremony on Friday where they spoke of angry people who didn't use words, only bad actions—airplanes to hurt people in buildings. They also discussed the people who did use kind words and actions, people called "heroes." Sabrina didn't want to talk about it at home, and I didn't push her. Max is unaware; someday, when he is ready, I will tell him.

This whole week, I've been reading articles online: about the events of that day, the memorials, the people who died. I found out that one of the passengers on Flight 93, Colleen L. Fraser, was a nationally-known advocate for the disabled who'd helped draft the Americans With Disabilities Act. Tomorrow, I'm going to a local ceremony where a monument will be dedicated to the victims.

I remember thinking on 9/11 how grateful I was that I didn't have kids to explain this to, and that I was free to sob uncontrollably.

What do you remember about 9/11? Where were you on that day?

If you lost a loved one, my thoughts and heart are with you.


  1. Wow Ellen, you really had a close personal experience with this tragedy. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to be so close and see so many people affected by it.

    That day was my youngest's first day of preschool, and here in California we were in disbelief at that point. I wrote about it on BlogHer yesterday, about whether or not my decision to move on and take her to school was the right thing.

    Still don't know.

  2. I can't even begin to imagine what was what it would be like to be so close to this tragedy. And I couldn't begin to imagine losing a loved one on that horrible day.

    I remember I was in 5th grade. At the time I was too young to understand the full scope of what had happened and why. I remember going home from school and asking my mom a lot of questions on what had happened, and feeling sad that so many innocent people lost their lives, and being sad for the children who lost their parents.

  3. what a horrible day it was for us all. I can't imagine seeing it from your perspective while heading into work. all the more surreal to be coming home with so many who were around there.
    That day I lost a cousin who worked in the North Tower. She had reluctantly returned from maternity leave just three months prior. I also knew 3 people who were on Flight 93.
    Ten years later I still find myself filled with sadness over that day.
    I remember a few weeks after 9-11, one of my daughters and I were hiking in the Almaden hills near San Jose, CA where we lived when we suddenly heard a plane fly overhead. We were at first startled and a little scared. It was then that we realized that it had been a few weeks since we had last heard a plane, any plane fly over the airspace that we called home.
    May we never forget.

  4. I was in the classroom. We didn't tell the kids, elementary age, what was happening. I found out before most of the teachers. I was the techy and was pulled out of class to get the new system that let you see some cable channels to work.

    When we took kids to specials we were met by an administrator escorted to the office and told. My 5th graders knew something was up - they asked if we were having a hurricane.

    The next day they were angry we didn't tell them. One little girl said she had been angry but her mom explained there weren't enough grown ups at school to hug everyone and make them feel safe.

    The kids kept asking me if police were going to patrol were Muslims lived. I started to have a conversation about not blaming everyone for the action of a few.

    I was stopped short by a boy stomping his foot and saying - "Ms. Herbert we know that. The police need to patrol were Muslims live and near their (what do they call their churches? Me Mosques) Mosques because the other bad people like the KKK might try to use this as an excuse to hurt American who are Muslims. I hugged the 10 yo boy and tried to not to bawl.

    A little while later the boy's mother came by and asked to speak to me in the hall. Turns out there had been a little boy in the grade who was Muslim the year before. The family had moved to DC for the Dad's job. The Mom had finally got hold of them and they were Ok. Was it ok to come in and tell the kids? Of course it was OK.

  5. I was in DC on a business trip (I live in Los Angeles). I didn't know about the attack on either tower until I was in a cab going to a business meeting with an official from the Customs Service (I was tied up in a meeting with my Director about possible work looking at Northern Border issues). The cab driver told me what had happened in NYC. When we arrived at my destination, we heard about reports of the Pentagon being on fire. After I got out of the cab, I could see the horrible smoke and knew that it was probably an extension of what had happened in NYC. I will never forget that awful day.

  6. Our awareness began in a van taking us from our Disney World hotel to the airport - the driver took a call on his cell; said it was like Towering Inferno. In the Orlando airport the drama of finding a way to return to Texas began. I learned the towers fell while talking with my Mom on a pay phone. We were literally ordered out of the terminal. By God's Grace we met the right people and made the right decisions leading to renting a van and driving 20 hours straight. We never saw or heard from those right people again. Four wonderful days in Disney, and then...


  7. What a beautifully written piece. I was driving to work, first it sounded like an accident. A plane made a wrong turn, and then the next plane.

    Later that day I was sent to Atlantic Highlands as a ARC volunteer to meet the ferries bringing people back from NYC. I will never forget the sight of the billowing smoke from what had been the twin towers.

    My son is 6 months older than Max. He's started asking questions. In kindergarten, first & second grade they had a "memorial" at school. But it was not well explained and my son just went with the flow. Now in forth grade he wants to know some more. I have some photos of the former NYC skyline. He loves going into NYC. I've not taken him to ground zero.

    We were touched personally as my mother's cousin was military, had just switched to desk duty at the Pentagon, and died as his office was in the middle of the crash. Before hearing the word about her cousin, my mother's heart was broken when she heard of Fr. Judge's death. He was the pastor in the church when we were young and had baptized my younger brother.

    The skyline has changed forever. The world has changed forever. Our lives have been changed.

  8. The phone rang early that morning. My roommate's mom called us and we ran to the TV just as the second tower was it. I went to work that day, not wanting to be alone. Many others were there. I worked on TV products, so we had TVs all around us and had all thenews channels on at once. By the time I drove home a few hours later, people had put American flags up on all the freeway overpasses.

    We were in disbelief, but I also remember a real sense of community and solidarity in this country I'd never felt before.

  9. I was a junior in HS. We were in Spanish class, making jokes using ser and estar, when the dean of students got on the intercom and told us someone had bombed the pentagon and a plan had crashed in NY. That was just as the class was ending anyway and all of the school had our usual 15 min. break then. My next class was American History, so our teacher turned on the TV and we just crowded around and watched it.

    That night my sister came home from school...she was in 3rd grade I think. She asked why people were falling from the windows. Her teachers had shown all the footage to the kids, which made my mom really mad because they were so young! So, Mom told her it was just debris, because she didn't know how to explain.

    My mother lived in an apartment that overlooked the towers during her pregnancy with me. She was on bedrest for much of her pregnancy and so she'd spend a lot of time looking at the window at them. She cried when she watched them fall on TV.

  10. Oh no. Ellen, I didn't know you were in NYC too. I actually tried to get to work. I work in the WFC. i had trouble getting in. I didn't know at the time God was protecting me from making it in because normally I get in around 8:30.

    We lost 11 employees that day. :-(

  11. I don't think anyone or any nation ever fully recovers from a 9/11. We cry, we grieve, we heal, we learn, we share, but we never ever forget. Until we and our memories have put 9/11 out of our hearts and minds, it will always be with us. As for me, I'll never forget, and I'll never understand 9/11.

    1. I agree. My family have never forgotten what happened that day. My uncle died when the first hijacked plane crashed into his office in Tower One.

  12. I was getting off an elevator in a hospital in Florida. Right in front of me was a group of people crowded around a visitor seating area with a TV mounted up high. We watched in disbelief. The rest of my story is on my blog at Feel free to share your story there too.

    Blessings to all.

  13. My husband and I and our two-year-old daughter were leaving on vacation that day. Originally, we had planned to fly from Oregon to North Carolina, but for reasons I can no longer remember, we had abandoned that plan. Instead, we planned on a driving trip around the northwest, starting with Mt. St. Helens. That morning, we were packing when my husband spoke to some friends on the phone. They told us to look at the news. We left shortly thereafter and tuned into the car's radio. I remember very clearly driving down our street, listening to the report of the situation in New York, which I didn't understand at first. It was really incomprehensible. I think the second plane had just struck when we tuned in. As the reality of the situation quickly dawned on us, I was overcome with a feeling of deep dread and horror. When reports of the Pentagon and Pennsylvania plane crashes came out, I wondered how widespread this would be. Selfishly, I was glad we had abandoned our plans to fly for this vacation.

    We drove past the Portland airport on the way to Mt. St. Helens. The pretty, clear skies were eerily silent. The absence of planes was startling. Our stop at Mt. St. Helens was similarly quiet. It was a somber reminder of the devastation of that day -- underlined by the fact that we were at a mountain that had blown itself up more than 15 years prior. The mountain was slowly recovering, but our country was in the midst of disaster.

    That night, with our two-year-old in our hotel room, we watched a little of the TV coverage. Under other circumstances, I would have watched much more -- but it was enough to get a sense of the terror, as I clearly saw that expression in the dusty faces of those who escaped the falling buildings. I am thankful for the many heroes of that day (emergency personnel, passengers on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania, etc.).


    Thank you for sharing.

  15. I'm still sickened about 9/11. Will continue to be horrified. Not only did people lose their lives at the 3 crash sites, but a host of rescue workers and fireworkers are dying of multiple myleloma and lung issues. Unbearable to think that your spouse or relative died years after 9/11. Makes me hope that the families of those who die will get compensation like the ones killed on 9/11.

    1. Compensation isn't enough. My family sued the government for failing to prevent the attacks. Money won't bring back my uncle so we don't care. The government had numerous warnings prior to the attacks. 9/11 could have been prevented.

    2. As someone who knew one of the victims, I don't want compensation. My uncle died when AA 11 crashed into his office in Tower One.

      But compensation won't bring him or the other victims of the attacks back. It's not about money. My family opted to sue the government. I spent the rest of my childhood not knowing my uncle ever. I was six years old when it happened.

      No we deserve answers. 9/11 could have been prevented.

    3. Err, 9/11 could HAVE been prevented if our government paid attention to the warnings. We both had immediate family members working in both towers of the WTC. To answer your question, yes many families were awarded compensation from the governmental compensation fund including Holly's.

      Holly's dad was in Tower One while my mom worked in Tower Two of the building. And even though Mary's dad received compensation, my mom didn't accept it. We deserve answers, not a pile of money from the government. Did we get them? No.

      Money doesn't ease our losses and pain. Even after all these years, we still think the government could have prevented 9/11 from happening in the first place.

      Holly and Mary,
      victim's children

  16. We were in Illinois, at a funeral. We were expected to fly out to DC that day. I finally got a hold of my father worked in Crystal City, close to the Pentagon. He was okay. His description of the military/police response was both scary and heartening. Strangers holding on to one another, trying to help.

    We were one of the few people who got a rental car. We drove halfway and ended up staying with cousins around midnight. We listened to NPR nonstop as we drove from IL to VA over two days.

  17. I was giving birth. I had been hospitalized already for two months in San Francisco, CA as I started to go in to labor way too early with my first child. My water broke at the same time the first plane hit. I remember watching it on the hospital t.v. I had my first child, Lance, that day at 28 weeks. Lance now has cerebral palsy and turned 10 this past Sunday. I'll never understand why he came in to the world so early when so many people lost their lives way too soon. If you met Lance, you'd see he has angels inside him for sure. He has taught me so much and my life has been forever changed. My husband went on to become a firefighter and I'm amazed at all of our country's heroes .. including firefighters, the people that lost their lives that day, and all children with special needs.

  18. I was at home in Philadelphia Pennsylvania. We watched the planes crash into the buildings on the television. Did you know 11 unborn children perished in the attacks as well. Someday I'll tell my child about 9/11. My uncle died when AA 11 crashed into his office in Tower One of the WTC. I was four years old when it happened. I'm never going to forget what happened that day either.

  19. Oh and here's another fact. 11 pregnant women died that day too. One was on AA 11, another was working on AA 77 and a third boarded UA 93 as a passenger. In the towers, one perished as AA 11 barrelled into her office. Yet another one failed to make it as Tower Two collapsed. I don't think the terrorists were legally allowed to be here. They were ALL members of Al Qaeda. My mom's body was never found.

    victim's daughter.

  20. I'm really sorry but the actual number of Pentagon victims were 184 not 224. I don't know where you got that figure from but it isn't accurate.


  21. I was at school that day. My mom dropped my sister and me off at our school earlier that morning. At the time of the first plane crash, we were in our classroom with the teacher. At about 8.45 am, we hear a plane flying very low towards the WTC. We think nothing of it at first, we were getting ready for our first lesson of the day.

    Several minutes later, we look up again. This time we silently watched a second jet fly into the South Tower of the WTC. At that point our teacher realizes that we are under attack but says nothing.

    We carried on working until recess. During recess, all the teachers turns on a radio so we can hear the news. She explains bad people crashed 4 passenger planes into targets to the entire class. The fourth plane either crashed into the Capitol or the White House.

    We could see the WTC on fire from our windows. However the teachers decide to carry on with their classes.

    At lunchtime the next day, the Head takes me and my sister into her office. In a kind voice, she explains that my mom called them. She then goes on to tell us my dad was dead, he was killed at the WTC. He lost his life as AA 11 crashed into his office. His remains were never found.

    Another student Mary in fourth grade also lost a relative. Her mom had been working in the South Tower. Mary's mom was on floor 75 so she survived the plane crash. She died as
    the building started falling however. Her body was found in a elevator in the rubble of the building.

    When me and my sister Elizabeth got home, my mom met us. She had been crying and looked sad. But she smiled as we entered our apartment on the first floor. Me and my sister were six years old at the time. We had literally just started first grade at a school near the WTC.

    Did you hear about the planes crashing into the Pentagon and White House, Ellen? As some heroic passengers tried to seize control, the hijackers locked the cockpit door. This was on the last plane UA 95? Military jets were flying towards it but the aircraft dived into the White House.

  22. Thara, you're wrong.

    It was UA 93 and no it didn't crash into the Capitol building rather it was destroyed when it barrelled into a strip mine in rural PA instead. Passengers tried to fight off the hijackers for control of the jet. They learned from phone calls about the fate of the other three flights and correctly realised that the same would happen if they did nothing.

  23. I was in NJ at my grandmas that day. My parents dropped me off there the Saturday before and were coming to collect me that day. We watched the news at night back in our apartment in NYC.


Thanks for sharing!

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