9/11 In Our Words: Brookhaven Patch Reporters Share Their Recollections
Contributors recall where they were on that fateful day a decade ago.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was a senior airman in the United States Air Force, stationed at Ramstein Air Base in Germany.
My superiors stuck me into an open cubicle in the help desk office in the communications squadron - monitoring computer and television screens filled with blinking green, red, orange, and yellow lines and squares.
Sometime in the afternoon, Tech Sergeant Hudson from Circuit Actions came in and turned the televisions on, tuning them to CNN. He stood near my desk, holding his coffee, watching CNN on my screens. He called over the squadron supervisor and the first sergeant. Soon we were all watching. A plane had just hit one of the World Trade Center buildings in New York, smoke billowing up from the wounded tower, filling the screen. It was completely bizarre.
"Who the hell is dumb enough to hit a building? They're huge! Was the pilot drunk?," said Hudson. The first sergeant and squadron supervisors shook their heads and shrugged.
More people started streaming in. Officers and senior level enlisted mostly, but some of us low level airman too, on the fringes. I still sat at my desk before the screens, gaping up at the images of the flaming hole in the tower. I remember feeling terribly sad for everyone that was in the plane, and wondering if it was a small plane or large. I swore silently as I had many times before that I'd never step foot in an airplane again. I imagined in horror what it was like for the poor souls in the building to see a plane coming at them.
The room cleared within seconds. Everyone of us of every rank had exactly the same thought: We are under attack. America is under attack. Our homeland is under attack.
I felt completely useless, unsure of what to do. When the broadcast shared that a plane had hit the Pentagon, I thought of my parents. They lived just a few metro stops away from the Pentagon, and my father worked there. The size and scope of the attacks was unknown. I was filled with a terrible, unfamiliar dread. It was much bigger than me, bigger than I could contain, and I did contain it, because it came along with something I'd never understood, felt, or taken seriously before then. A real feeling of patriotism.
There was another concern among us, one I realized when I overheard supervisors discussing essential personnel. Ramstein was a very important military base in Europe, a central hub for communications and command, and at the time a storage base for U.S. nuclear weapons. If our enemies were attacking civilian targets in America, what might they be planning for us?
An emergency meeting was called and all of the major commanders met in their war room. The base was taken to Threatcon Delta immediately. An officer took my seat and began making calls to shut down the post office and the other parts of base. Everyone scrambled to ensure that the communications circuits between us, the U.S., Europe, and downrange were in service. My counterparts in telecom and I were considered essential personnel, and we reported to work as usual over the next few days.
I called my mother, who was shopping in the Crystal City underground when the plane hit the Pentagon, just a mile away. She had felt the vibrations from the crash. My father's office, which was in the section of Pentagon hit by the plane, was undergoing renovations, so he was working in a different building at that time. They were shocked, but fine.
The horror unfolded slowly on the television screens in the days and weeks to follow. Remains found in the rubble. Another plane in Pennsylvania. Terrorists claiming responsibility for the attacks. Everything started changing.
In the decade that followed 9/11, I observed the changes in the military and society. Deployment went from a possibility to almost an annual guarantee. I felt dismay at the growing ignorance towards Islam. Half of my family is from Turkey, and my beloved grandfather, a Muslim, was one of the greatest men I knew.
More parents dreaded the idea that their children might join the military, and those who joined thronged to the in-processing centers with the singular and blazing desire to serve their country in a time of need. My own mother, who had waited patiently while her husband served for six months in Iraq during the Gulf War, had had enough after enduring the simultaneous deployments of me and my brother Jason. She demanded that I get out as soon as possible, and not reenlist, and not join the reserves.
I now live in Atlanta, a journalist, watching the world with my various lenses, filled with hope and dread.
I was a freshman in college at Kennesaw State University and we were scarcely in the third week of classes. I had a 9 a.m. class and arrived early that morning. As my classmates filed in we learned of the first plane that struck the towers. There was no television or radio in the room so my professor dismissed the class to the student center.
The student center was packed with hundreds of people surrounding the big screen televisions. Moments later the second tower was hit and I remember this feeling of all happiness and hope being sucked out of the room. Even though I was surrounded by people, I felt as though I was in a vacuum of loneliness and fear.
I wanted and needed to be surrounded by the people I love, so I went straight home. I only stopped to pick up my 6 week old nephew from daycare. He slept in my arms all afternoon while I watched the events of that tragic day unfold on the news. I remember thinking over and over again, "This baby will never know the world as I have known it."
It was on 9/11 that I decided I wanted to be a journalist. There was a great sense of responsibility and importance on being the storyteller of history unfolding before the nation's eyes. I wanted to be a part of that. I am happy to live in a country where dreams still come true.
As we honor the survivors and heroes of September 11, the coverage is still difficult to watch a full ten years later. That morning is so vivid, even for those of us that weren’t apart of the direct destruction. I had just recently graduated from Emory University and was only a few months into my first “real” job at Fox Sports Net, when a friend called asking if we had heard that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. I remember wondering how a commercial plane could get that off track? And thinking “Man, no one is going to fly that airline anymore.” My initial thoughts were far from terrorists. But the enormity of what was happening sank in as my colleagues and I huddled around an office TV and watched live as the second plane struck.
I was born and raised in New York, about 30 minutes outside Manhattan, and all of my family remains within the city and Long Island. Therefore, my first call was to my mother, to confirm that my step-dad wasn’t anywhere near the Trade Center. Thankfully, he was traveling out of state at the time. Then I remember picturing how only a year prior to the attacks, I had stood on the 107th floor of the North Tower at Windows on the World, with friends I had invited back to New York with me from Atlanta. How innocent we all were, clinking our champagne and martini glasses, feeling as though the sky was the limit. Yet only a year later, so many innocent, amazing people from both that exact restaurant and that building had perished, and we all looked at the world so differently.
I was living in Atlanta in Home Park area and was a junior at Georgia Tech. A friend of mine came over early (early for a college student) because we were going to study for an art history exam. It was around 9am when my friend cam over to the house, he said to put on the news... he'd been following what was happening while I had been unaware at this point of the events going on. We watched the news together (woke up our roommates as well) in our apartment. We ended up going to school and watching the news there. All classes had been canceled, so was my exam. We spent the whole day on campus at GT.
I woke up September 11 in Las Vegas, dreading another day working at a convention I didn't want to be at. I had no idea the things that were going on in New York, in Pennsylvania, or in DC, my home. I turned on the tv, not ready to start my day, and was instantly hit with images of planes flying into buildings, images of confusion, images of terror. I quickly learned that not only was New York under attack, but so was the my city, a city I love, the first city I ever lived in on my own, a city filled with friends and family, a city that would never be the same again.
I held the hand of one of my best friends, a coworker, as we watched the buildings collapse. I cried with her as we tried to call her dad, who worked next door to the Twin Towers. I reassured her as we watched people make the heartbreaking choice to jump, ensuring a fate that had already been decided for them. I hugged her as she found out, hours later, that he had escaped. He was one of the lucky ones. Many months later he told us he would never be able to describe the things he saw that day, the horror he was faced with, the tragedy he lived.
I will be with my husband on September 11, with our 3 year old son, and our 5 month old daughter. I will relish this time, these months and years before my kids learn about what happened that day, when all they care about is who can come out and play and what their next snack will be, not worrying about why bad men flew planes into buildings and took so many innocent lives. I know I will tell them this story someday, but for now, this year, we will simply live in the moment, quietly thinking of and praying for all the families who lost so much that horrible day 10 years ago.
I was on the phone with an ex-boyfriend who abruptly interrupted our conversation with the exclamation, "Turn on the TV." I remember being extremely annoyed because I hate being interrupted when I'm talking. He then said, "Do you see it? Oh, my God, do you see this?" He was someone who was relatively even-tempered and the urgency in his voice alarmed me. Of course, once I turned on the television, I had no idea what I'd be looking at and really couldn't comprehend what was going on. I didn't believe it was New York or even real for that matter. It took a while for me to process all that was happening.
I was working for a newspaper in Delaware, and although I had the day off, once I realized what was going on, I got dressed and took the 45 minute drive to work to see what I could do. No matter how hard I try, I can not recall anything else that occurred that day.
It's a complete blur.
Watch Sarah's video as Brookhaven residents recall what they were doing that fateful day.
Read Brookhaven Patch's coverage of the September 11 events.