I was teaching at Woodstock High School. Near the end of my first-period Sophomore Lit class, an assistant principal came to my door, handed me a memo, and left. The first sentence, in all capital letters, instructed us not to share it with our students. An all-school announcement would be made at the beginning of second hour. So I tried to keep a straight face as I read the earthshaking news. Of course, my kids knew something was wrong, but I couldn’t tell them what. When the announcement did come, one of my girls burst into tears. Her father worked at Sears Tower in Chicago, which was considered another possible target. I later learned he had been sent home early and was safe.
Yesterday at my book club, I asked the group around the table for their stories. Some are more dramatic than others. All are heartfelt. Here they are.
That Tuesday was Judi’s day off work. She was in her p.j.s, watching Good Morning, America and saw the attacks as they happened. Like most of us, she was glued to the TV all day. She never got out of her pajamas.
Barb was working from home. She saw the earliest news reports when she logged onto AOL to email work to her office. She finished up as quickly as possible so she could just watch TV.
Ellie was home getting ready to go help her mother-in-law when her husband called and told her to turn on the TV. She went to her mother-in-law’s as planned, where the two watched TV together all day.
Gerry was at home also. She followed the news closely, worried sick about a close friend whose son worked at the Pentagon. Finally, the friend’s son was able to get through to his mother on the phone. He had been in the Pentagon when the plane hit, but he was not hurt.
Maureen was at home, planning to go visit her mother who lived 80 miles away. She usually didn’t watch TV in the mornings, but that day she had it on and saw it all. She, like so many, did not want to be separated from her loved ones. So when she went to see her mother, her husband went with her. On their drive, they passed O’Hare, staring at the eerie sight of the mammoth airport totally shut down.
Gloria was on the road that day too. She was on her way to Arkansas and would spend the entire day in her car. She had the radio on when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. But in the beginning, it was not clear that it was a terrorist attack. Thinking it was just a bad accident, she turned off the radio and put in an audio book. She listened to that book for hours. It wasn’t until she stopped for gas and found herself waiting in a long line that she asked someone what was going on and learned what had happened.
Lorraine was at work at All State, where radios and TVs were banned. She and her colleagues had to get the news by phone calls and word of mouth.
Carol worked in a lab that had no access to radio or TV. Her husband called to tell her what was happening. As the day went on, she and her colleagues would slip away to the cafeteria, the only place there was a TV.
Angie saw the attacks at home but then had to leave for work. There, she and co-workers kept up on the news by watching a tiny TV, the only one available.
Sue was teaching in a Crystal Lake middle school. One of her fellow teachers always had a radio playing softly in his room. So his students heard what was happening and went into Sue’s class talking about it. The principal did not want to announce anything to the students. Finally, when a teacher who went home for lunch came back with the full story, the teachers convinced the principal to turn on the TVs in the school. At that moment, the power went out. “We were so scared,” she said.
Sharon was teaching in a Lutheran elementary school 10 miles from the White House on 9/11. “It is still hard to talk about it,” she told us. The school secretary went to each room with the news. The stunned staff gathered all of the kids in the gym, where the principal gently told them what was happening. Then they prayed together. Children were crying. Some had parents working in the Pentagon. To make matters worse for Sharon, her husband worked in one of the tallest buildings in the area. Parents who came to pick up their children found themselves in a traffic nightmare as workers in the areas were sent home early. Sharon didn’t get home until 6:30 that night.
And those are our stories.
What do you remember?
On 9/11 I was on a computer at the public library in Nashville,TN reading my email and the girl in the next booth asked me if I could believe what was happening. I didn’t know what she was talking about until she told me about the first tower being hit. I immediately felt sick to my stomach and decided to head home to turn on my TV and call my mom. I got home right before the second tower was hit. I spent the rest of the day in front of the TV going back and forth between feeling anger and despair. Tears flowed freely off and on all day and evening long.
Hi Caryl, great entry. Let me share my story:
As a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, I was working that day, boarding a plane in Los Angeles, first destination Dallas. As passengers were boarding, an elderly gentleman stopped to tell me about an airplane that had hit the World Trade Center. Like most everyone, I was thinking it was a small plane. A few minutes later the captain called me into the cockpit to tell me our flight would be delayed due to a ground hold. However, he then explained that it was an FAA ground hold, which had NEVER happened before. He was quite frustrated because he had no information as to why. We continued to board passengers, and all of a sudden the captain came out of the cockpit like a shot, his face as white as his shirt, and said “My God, that was an American Airlines plane that hit the World Trade Center. That plane was hijacked, and we need to get these people off this plane now!” I remember his exact words to this day. Needless to say, we never made it to Dallas.
Fast forward to Saturday, when I was next scheduled to fly. It was strange walking into the airport and seeing armed police, police dogs, and very few people. We had maybe 3 or 4 people on each leg of the trip, and our crew stuck together like glue. Slowly, very slowly, the planes began filling up, although many times passengers decided they weren’t ready to fly yet and chose to get off.
I continued to fly for 10 more years after 9/11, but the job changed considerably. It was still fun, seeing the world and meeting interesting people, but TSA security checks, Air Marshals, new rules for security on the plane, and always being a little bit suspicious and ever vigilant for any occurrence, knowing that we would be the first line of defense, certainly made the job more challenging.
On the evening of September 10, after spending a long weekend in Boston sightseeing, we flew home on the last United flight to Chicago. We were tired and cranky because some of the other passengers were complaining about checking bags because of their size. We all had to wait while they argued.
We got home and went to bed. The next morning I got up early to check things online at work (I work virtually). Some of my colleagues that worked in our office overlooking Times Square sent out frantic emails saying that there was smoke coming from the Twin Towers. We all lived through their emails describing what they could see and what it looked like to them. What a nightmare!! We watched it on tv and read email all day. All I could think, as we heard the news about the Boston United flight, is that we had been spared. I cried all day for the losses.
Kathy Riskin Lewis
I was in the shower, with my shower radio on listening to music when the announcement came about the first plane hitting one of the Twin Towers. That by itself was shocking, but then hearing about the second plane I knew something was terribly wrong. I was home alone, as my husband was volunteering at a school and I knew I wouldn’t be able to talk to him. I got dressed in shock. I was glad to have a foot doctor appointment that morning to get away from the TV. When I arrived at the doctor’s office the receptionist and I talked about the events that were unfolding. She told me that the doctor’s son lived in New York and walked through one of the Twin Towers every day to get to his job! I was called into the examining room, not knowing what to say to the doctor since this was my first visit to him. I really don’t remember if we talked about what was going on that day but about four years ago I went back to see him. I was hesitant to inquire about his son. The doctor told me that events that morning had changed his son’s schedule and he was not there that morning. I told him that my coming to his office that day was so hard. That I didn’t want to leave the television coverage, but that I knew I needed to get away from all the emotions churning up inside of me and how I worried about his son as well as all those who were there that fateful morning. As he was leaving the room he told me that his son had just gotten married the previous weekend! I’m glad I got to hear the good news about his son. Since 9/11 I never used that shower radio again.
September 11, 2001. I had sent our oldest off on the bus to kindergarten. I came back inside with our youngest son, who had just turned 1 in August. I was getting together his breakfast when my husband (at the time) called me from work. I will NEVER forget exactly what he said…”Kelsey, turn on the t.v. We are listening to Mancow (radio morning show) and you know how cold he can be, he is saying some crap (not that word) about the buildings in New York being bombed or hit by a plane or something.” I remember turning on the t.v. and it was so surreal. It was a scene out of one of those tragic movies, where someone drops a dish on the floor. That was me. I dropped the phone, drop my sons breakfast on the floor. He started to cry, not a scared cry though, almost like a “hey I’m hungry and you throw my food down?” kind of cry. I remember grabbing the box of fruit loops and pouring them onto his tray. Not really paying attention, just filling his tray. I pulled his high chair into the living room so I could have him by me. As the 2nd tower was hit, I was starting to panic. My child is across town. I immediately called the school, they advised us, that if we wanted to come get our children, we could, but security is very tight, and it may take a few to get the kids to you. It broke my heart, but I left him there. He was only in a.m. kindergarten so I knew he would be done soon. I went to the school to pick him up like I did every day. He gets in the van and I wanted to give him the biggest hug! He sits down in his seat, buckles in, looks at me and says “I had a great day mommy, how about you?” Now, not wanting to lie, but I didn’t want to start a horrible conversation in the van, I simple stated ” mine was okay, I spilled a bunch of cereal on bo-bos tray.” Of course, he laughed, which is what I needed. When we got home, we had McDonalds for lunch and watched the t.v. Me trying to explain the tragedy to him.
We were not a religious family (we didn’t attend church regularly), but at this exact moment I thanked God for giving me such a beautiful soul. He looked at the t.v. then looked at me. “Mom, all those people who died work in Heaven now right?” I smiled. “I think so bud, why?” Well, those were big buildings, lots of people you said are gone, that means that now there are people working in Heaven” “yes Christopher, I think you are right.” From that day on, America was changed, explaining everything to our younger son was the hardest. And now, I have 2 sons that are under the age of 4. Explaining the world to them, may not be as difficult. Sadly enough, they may grow up in a very harsh world, filled with tragedy.
I will always think of those who died that day, those who died from being in the clean up crews, and those of us who remember exactly what that day was about.
Thanks for sharing your story, Kelsey. Isn’t it amazing how we can remember the smallest details?