9/11 Memorial | Photo via https://www.911memorial.org
Today marks fifteen years since our country suffered an attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
On September 11, 2001, I was in the 6th grade in Maryland. School hadn’t been in session for long. I was getting used to the transition from elementary school to middle school. Bells signaled the end one class and the beginning of another. We had lockers to keep our things in instead of cubbies. I remember feeling very grown-up, but I wasn’t grown up enough to know what was really taking place that day.
A bell rang that signaled the start of my English class with Ms. Bower. I was settled in my seat for a few minutes before Ms. Bower could work up the nerve to speak to the class. She was sobbing. She told us something very bad had happened, she mentioned an airplane, and told us that we were okay, but that we needed to ask our parents to explain when we got home. Moments later, our principal came on the loudspeaker and announced that we were being dismissed early.
When I got off the school bus and walked home that day, I found my mom sitting on our patio with her friend, Kate. They were watching the news over a small television my dad usually reserved for football games. Both of them were crying. I asked my mom what happened. My sister, who was still in elementary school at the time but arrived home before I did, listened too. She was nine. We could both sense that my mom and Kate were not only upset, they were afraid. The scene of the first crash played on that small screen over and over again.
“An airplane crashed into two important buildings in New York City today,” my mom explained.
Then Kate used the word attack. In an effort to protect us from the harsh truth of what happened that day, and probably to dodge the need to answer what was likely my next question, “Why?,” she sent us inside for a snack.
I resisted the urge to be inquisitive, which at that age I usually was, because it was clear to me that it was difficult for my parents to talk about what had happened.
In the days after the attack, I noticed changes in my environment. We lived close to Andrews Air Force Base at the time and I recall numerous helicopters flying over our house. What I didn’t know at the time was that they were flying to ground zero to retrieve remains.
I learned more about what happened that day in the following years, mostly by searching it on the Internet because the older I got, the more I felt ashamed by my ignorance; the more I was afraid to ask those around me about a subject that seemed to affect everyone so deeply.
Five years later, for my 16th birthday, my mom took me on my first trip to New York City. She took me to ground zero, which at the time, was very different than it was when I returned in 2014.
There were photos taped to the fence that surrounded the site. There were pictures of people who lose their lives that day, flowers, candles, memorabilia and even some rubble. We had to walk through a tunnel of sheetrock to get close.
It was during that trip that I began to really understand the magnitude of the event.
In 2014, I revisited, at the age of 24. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum had opened to the public just weeks before. Lines to get in were stretched long. I visited the memorial, which had been dedicated almost four years prior, but was crowded with somber people.
I got married last year on Sept. 12, but we scheduled our rehearsal dinner for Sept. 10. Despite the passing of 14 years, we didn’t feel comfortable asking people to celebrate us on a day reserved to remember those whose lives were lost.
Each year, the anniversary of the attacks reminds me of how lucky I am to be here, working for Veterans and for my country, and how good it feels to be an American.
I was a few months in to my freshman year of high school in Mililani, Hawaii, fast asleep with a six hour time difference from the East Coast. My dad, an intelligence officer working for the Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, came into my room at 5 a.m. to wake me up. He received a phone call from his office at 3 a.m. to turn on the TV. With sleep still in my eyes, he told me that somebody flew a plane into the Twin Towers in New York City. I had no idea what any of it meant. He explained to me that it was likely a terrorist attack and that the Pentagon had been hit as well.
“There hasn’t been an attack like this on American soil since Pearl Harbor,” he said. Since the details of the attack were unfolding, they were instructed to stay home from work in case the base was a target. So we sat in our dark living room at 5 a.m. and watched replays on CNN of the towers collapsing, the Pentagon burning, and smoke rising from a field in Pennsylvania.
Before I went to school, I called my best friend and told her what happened and that we had to wear our most patriotic outfits. We both dressed in red, white and blue, and knee high American flag socks. That day, our classrooms were tuned into the news while we sat, watched, and waited, along with the rest of the world, and tried to understand what happened.
Last year on September 11, I was on an 8:30 a.m. American Airlines flight out of Washington, D.C. to Rhode Island to out process of my Air National Guard unit, on my way to Officer Training School for the world’s greatest Air Force. We flew over the National Mall, the sunlight bouncing off the Reflecting Pool between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. At 8:45 a.m., we paused for a moment of silence to remember those on American Airlines Flight 11, the minute before they crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I looked out the window as I flew over our nation’s capital; a nation that was forever changed by those events that happened 15 years ago.
I was a sophomore in high school and off to my morning class. I had just left a conversation with a friend that was criticizing the United States government. I walked into my health class, and my teacher had the news on the TV. That’s when I first heard what was happening.
Throughout the day, it never really sunk in. I couldn’t wrap my head around the significance of the event. I mentioned to my mom the implications it may have on gas prices, but that was about it.
It wasn’t until I was at home with my girlfriend that I started thinking about the lives lost, and how dramatically different our nation would be.
The impact of 9/11 finally set in a couple years later, when President George W. Bush officially announced the start of the Iraq War. At that time, I didn’t know that I would serve during that war. While I never deployed to Iraq, I was always able to trace my efforts in the Marine Corps to the efforts overseas.
I will always be heavy-hearted by the events on Sept. 11, 2001, and the impact they had on our way of life; but I am also grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the military efforts that followed.
If you’ve ever seen the late 1990s movie Sliding Doors, it follows the story of a woman in a parallel universe – what happens to someone when one thing changes in their life. In the movie, it’s about the lead character making or missing a train. For me, the premise of the film is always something that comes to mind when I think back to 15 years ago and Sept. 11, 2001.
On that clear, cool morning, in one universe, I would have been standing in the lobby of 7 World Trade Center, next to a colleague who was there when the first plane hit the towers. A few days earlier, however, I was pulled from that work trip to New York. Because of that change – that shift in my universe – I wasn’t there as the planes struck.
I was, though, in Washington, D.C., at my desk at Secret Service headquarters when the terrorists attacked. Like so many Americans, I watched on TV the news of planes crashing in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania. I watched as one tower fell. Then another. And then 7 World Trade, where the Secret Service had its New York offices. My friends and work colleagues were at ground zero that morning, many of them among some of the first responders on site.
Even though federal offices in D.C. closed down that day, I was one of the few in our office who stayed at work. We were busy responding to the media about the safety of the president and other protectees. More importantly, we were busy accounting for our employees assigned to New York. It struck me then, as it has every year since, that in that parallel universe, I could have been one of those people evacuating Manhattan.
I drove home late that night, greeted as I crossed the 14th Street Bridge southbound by the smell of burning fuel and the sight of flames and water hoses still leaping high from the Pentagon. For the first time, I let myself break down and cry. In the years since, I have continued to shed tears on this anniversary for those who died, thinking of the friends and family they left behind.
The Secret Service lost one employee that day, Master Special Officer Craig J. Miller. Craig served in the Army, a Veteran of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and Bronze Star recipient. He used his military and Secret Service emergency response training and went into the towers. He died trying to help others get out.
On Sept. 11, I will always remember where I wasn’t.
– Megan Moloney
I was the managing editor of a small daily newspaper on 9/11 and I remember it starting as a rather a slow news day locally, so I asked my team to scour the AP wire and find a story to fill the last open space on the front page of the paper while I stepped out to meet with my friend Rose.
We were about 10 minutes into our meeting when her legal assistant open the door and said a plane had just flown into the World trade Center.
“An air traffic controller or someone is going to be in big trouble,” I remember saying to her, thinking it must have been a Cessna or some other small commuter plane involved in a freak accident. Other than that our conversation didn’t skip a beat until her assistant came in again and told us “a second plane just hit the other tower.”
Rose said something like, “What in the world is going on?” as we both stood up. I didn’t have a clue what was going on, but I knew it was no accident and I had better get back to the paper because this story was going to be big. Little did I know at that very moment, how big the story really was and how much it would change us as people and change us as a nation.
Days later, I drove by a smoking Pentagon on my way to an interview to see if I could come back to active duty and serve again. I got the job and spent the next five years writing about and reporting on some of the most patriotic men and women to ever have worn the uniform.
Sept. 11 is, to me, what Pearl Harbor was to my grandparents and great-grandparents – a horrible day that will forever live in infamy, but also an example of America’s resolve, patriotism and willingness to root out evil wherever it threatens democracy, freedom and our way of life.
– Gary Hicks
Benches at the Pentagon Memorial | Photo via http://pentagonmemorial.org
The news of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks first hit me on a crisp, but sunny fall afternoon in Würzburg, Germany. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. I was stationed in the country where I had long dreamed of living. I had a job I enjoyed, as an Army journalist in the Public Affairs Office of the famed “Big Red One,” First Infantry Division.
On this particular day, our leadership had even released us a few hours early to go home to our families. Just as I exited the installation, Leighton Barracks, I got the call to come back, with very little explanation; but the tone of the conversation was enough to alert me that something really serious was coming our way.
Moments later, I joined my colleagues in listening to CNN Europe on TV. We hovered over the computer for any updates we could glean from Internet news sources, our expressions eventually turning from confusion to disbelief.
Just after the attacks, no one knew what to expect next. It wasn’t long before we were assigned to stand on 12-hour guard duty shifts just outside of the installation gates and ordered to remain in the company area. As a married soldier living off-base, I became temporarily separated from my husband who was similarly confined to his own unit in nearby Kitzingen.
I recall sleeping on the floor of my female colleague’s barracks room, because there was nowhere else to go, and quickly having to go on shift in “full battle rattle” at a moment’s notice—hearing loud knocks echo off the doors down the hallway, and wondering when I would called upon.
It has been 15 years, and yet the memories are still fresh. We didn’t suffer nearly as badly as those who were impacted personally by the attacks, but we were quickly jolted back to reality. Despite all of our public affairs duties and training, we were quickly reminded of the fact that we were all soldiers first and foremost.
– Jennifer Sardam
The attacks of 9/11 were meant to drive fear into Americans hearts and render the nation ineffective both at home and abroad. The killing of Americans was the terrorists’ means to their end. They failed. America’s resolve was never stronger.
Today, the Vantage Point team remembers the fallen, honors those who protect and defend us and asks what more can we do serve each other and our nation in their honor.
Please share your 9/11 moment with us or how it affected your life.