September 11, 2001 was one of those days where you always remember what you were doing when the news broke. Our contributors recant their stories.
I’ll never forget that day, driving from Ames to work in Ankeny, listening to Mancow’s morning madhouse on the radio. That really shows my age and douche level back in 2001, huh? I couldn’t believe it was anything other than an accident at first. “What a shitty pilot” I thought as I turned to another station to verify it wasn’t some stupid Mancow skit or something. For the next ten or fifteen minutes, that’s what I continued to think, but then the second plane crashed into the south tower which pretty much confirmed that this was not an accident, but rather the worst terrorist attack in US history.
The rest of that day was just a blur as we all tried to go through our day just working and speculating on what happened. When I look back on it now it’s really hard to explain how things were then. Flying was different and terrorism seemed like a plot you saw in movies and television. That day really changed so much for all of us. It’s really fascinating to think back. To this day when I watch 9/11 programming, it takes me back to that day and the following years and always brings those feelings and emotions up again. I will also never forget how “together” America was back then. It’s hard to explain that mindset fifteen years later with all the divisiveness we have in America today. It’s sad that something as horrible as 9/11 is what unites us together as a nation. Let’s hope that someday we can get back to that without the tragedy involved.
The morning of Sept 11, 2001, the FedEx guy and I were bs’ing like we did every morning on the paving job in Horseshoe Bend. I had him stopped, waiting on the pilot car to return and guide he and the other few motorists through the mess of equipment we had tearing up the highway. He always listened to AM talk radio, and that morning, a few minutes in, they reported that a plane had hit the WTC. First thought – gotta be a Cessna. Bad pilot. Those poor people working there. The pilot car returned and took the traffic. I turned on the radio in my car and left it on, listening in horror as the second plane, then flight 93, and the Pentagon went up in flames, at least until that afternoon when a panicked man in a rental pickup stops at my sign. He was from NYC. He and his wife both worked in the towers, but he was on vacation, fly fishing in central Idaho and now was just trying to get to a plane home. Didn’t have the heart to make him wait, even though all the planes were grounded. His panic was entirely obvious, but he knew there would be no way home. The eerie silence in the sky was one of the most odd parts of the days after.
I went home after my shift and spent all night watching people decide to fly rather than die in an inferno, and trying to figure out why it all had to happen. Still can’t answer that, even 15 years on. That one act of terror rocked us – it was one thing when terrorists were crazy, home grown white guys that blew up federal buildings or got in shootouts with the feds. But an outsider? The reaction that the US had about “turning the middle east to glass” has led to a future where we are theoretically safer, but less free and a whole lot less innocent. Where politics mix even more closely with societal manipulation that got amped up on that day. No, there will be no forgetting. Not ever. Because of the people who died and those that rebuilt. Because of how our world changed.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, I was in before-school care. Just before 9 a.m. I made my way to my fifth grade classroom and found our teacher watching the little TV on the wall. I don’t think I had ever noticed it before. We all watched in silence for a while and my classmates started to ask what was happening.
My teacher didn’t have a good answer for us and now I understand why. I remember thinking what a bad accident this was as I watched the World Trade Center burn. I didn’t know how many people worked there. I didn’t know how hard it would be for them to get out. I definitely didn’t know about terrorism.
Unable to grasp the full horrifying significance of that day, what had the most lasting impact on me was the unity that followed. I remember the local newspaper printing full page American flags and everyone taping them on their walls and in their windows. I remember the way people spoke openly about their love of this country and the people in it. Sometimes I think back on that feeling of unity with amazement. It was something I had never experienced before and, unfortunately, have rarely seen again.
Setting: A basement apartment in Ottumwa Iowa.
I am 19 years old.
I wake up to my landline telephone ringing beside my head. It takes a moment for the fog of a late night the night before to clear. I pick up the phone. It’s my mother. She tells me a plane hit the World Trade Center in New York City and I need to turn on my TV. I stumble out to my living room plop down on a couch I had found on the curb a few weeks earlier and turn on my tube TV. At first as I watch, I can’t figure out where the 2nd tower is. I assume it is hiding behind all the smoke. Did a small plane hit it, or one of those sightseeing planes, I think? Then they show the replay of the first tower and my whole world changes.
The rest of the day is seared into my brain. I go to my Econ 101 class at Indian Hills. My professor, with a very heavy European accent, proclaims that the world’s economy is going to change, but there is nothing we can do now. He then proceeded to have his regular two hour class. For two hours I had no idea was what was going on. No Twitter, no Facebook, no Instagram to check under your desk. Just two hours to think about what could be happening. Later that day, I remember sitting in line for gas for over two hours because we were sure gas was going to go up or go away. The local radio literally just put a microphone up next to a TV and was broadcasting CNN over the air. It’s funny now how most of us, me included, have a hard time going ten minutes without looking at our phones. Back then the only place for information was a TV or radio. Those hours listening to a radio in line with 50 other cars – that is the memory that sticks out the most when I think of 9/11.
I can’t believe it was 15 years ago. I was a freshman on the 9th floor of Dancer Hall. Dancer and Bender made up the “Towers” at UNI. Dusty, the kid in the room next to me, hopped in and said “They just crashed a plane into the twin towers.” Usually slow to get up, I was awake instantly. I hopped down the stairs of my loft and turned on my 19″ VCR/TV combo. I was just in time to see the 2nd plane hit the tower, live. I had a class not too long after. It was a weird walk. The whole campus seemed different, everyone looked at the ground, nobody talked much. Not the usual chit chat.
I went to my humanities class. We didn’t have a lesson, we all turned to our professor, Breuss (or Bruess) for guidance. We all liked him, he was smart and entertaining, but he was like a parent in this instance. He had gone through wars: the Cold War, Vietnam, etc. My generation, we hadn’t dealt with anything. The Gulf War paled in comparison to what this was. It was a war in a far off land, not on our home turf. He told us to just go about our daily lives. Don’t let the terrorists win. That phrase would become a mantra for the media and everyone for several months, “don’t let the terrorists win.”
The conversation then changed to trying to figure out who did this. Facebook wasn’t what it is today. Twitter wasn’t around. People used Xanga, MySpace, and AOL Instant Messenger to communicate. The spread of information (and misinformation, for what it’s worth) was a bit slower back then. We still actually made phone calls, not a ton of texts, back then. There were already rumors of who did it. Algeria was the name I heard. Others had heard Kuwait, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, etc. One kid in class said Afghanistan. I knew nothing of the country at the time. We would certainly learn everything about that country by the end.
That weekend, I drove home. By then we knew who did it and we were going after them. I was just south of Ames on I-35. It’s when you go down a hill and there is an overpass above. There is a water treatment plant on the east side of the I-35, for perspective. There were two guys on that overpass. They were on top of their truck, with a giant American flag. They had tears in their eyes, so did I. “The World I Know” by Collective Soul was on the radio with a bunch of audio from 9/11 spliced into the song. Football, baseball, and all, didn’t matter – We were Americans. For the first time in my life, we were the UNITED States of America. Not Republicans, not Democrats, but ONE nation. It was beautiful. More than anything, I remember that flag and those guys on the truck. It was a simple memory but I remember it vividly, and always will.
I was in 6th grade at St. Mary’s and in the bus line. A girl walked up to me and asked: “Travis, did you hear that a plane crashed into the World Trade Center?” I responded that I hadn’t and was honestly surprised a news topic like that would get brought up in that setting. The bus ride was only 5-10 minutes long, but I really began to notice the different nature of the tragedy, as KISS 107.5 was talking about the plane crashes for the entire ride instead of playing music. Little did I know how personal the tragedy was about to become.
I arrived at school and walked into my classroom around 8:20am. Right as I entered, my teacher walked out of the room visibly distraught and crying. I would later find out that her son David worked in the World Financial Center, adjacent to the twin towers. At 8:45, all students were funneled into church for a prayer service where they told us of her son and that we were still unknown of his whereabouts. Luckily, David overslept that morning and was running late into the office. Once David got on the train and made it into Lower Manhattan from Jersey City, he was stopped at Battery Park (3-4 blocks south of World Trade Center) where all were told to get off the train. He then proceeded to watch the two World Trade Center towers collapse from that point at the tip of Lower Manhattan. Telephone communication was overloaded in New York following the attack, and it took until 11:00 CDT before he could get ahold of his mother and tell her he was late to work, and most importantly, was safe.
The doors to my school were locked that day, and that our parents had to walk into the school to get us once classes were over. After my mom picked me up from school, we waited in line at a gas station for 30+ minutes to get gasoline, out of fear that the price was going to rise quickly or there would be a shortage. Once we got home, I remember seeing my Dad on the couch and asked him: “How long do you think they were planning this, Dad?” He responded quietly: “A long time Travis… a long time.” Between the added personal story to the tragedy, along with the news coverage and constant conversation throughout the day and in weeks to come, I’ll never forget the events of September 11th, how it changed us as people, and how it changed how we view the world today.