It’s come again, the month of September, the month in which our nation faced the most horrific attack on our soil that we had ever witnessed, 16 years ago. It was called this generation’s Pearl Harbor, but it is known today simply as 9/11. A day that will continue to be remembered even long after the last of us who lived through that day has finally passed away. The events of the day and the tragic tales of loss, along with the heroism of the first responders and volunteers… all these things could fill entire books. I can’t begin to describe everything here in this article. So I thought I would share with you just one person’s experience of the day: mine.
I was sixteen in the year 2001, living in the Bay Area, California…
We (my father, mother, younger brother, and I) had just returned from our yearly vacation up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and my dad had to go on a business trip to New York state right after. It was a running joke in my family that every time my father went anywhere for work, something bad happened. So we were expecting the car to break down or the air conditioner to go out or a visit to the vet for one of our pets. Something small, but troublesome. We never expected a terrorist attack. Not in a million years.
That morning, early California time, I was stirred from my sleep by the sound of the house phone ringing. My mom picked it up from her bedroom and then the next thing I knew, she was hurrying into my room, waking me up the rest of the way, “Come downstairs. We have to turn on the news. A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.” Being half-asleep, the news really didn’t sink in, but she went on, “Your dad’s okay. He just called. He wasn’t near it.” And it was at that moment I began to realize something very bad had happened.
Twin Towers September 11’th
Still in our pajamas, my mom, brother, and I rushed downstairs and turned on the television. The smoke and fire coming from the North Tower were all over every news channel, with newscasters speculating on what had gone so wrong with the plane that it would fly directly into a high rise building like that. And while they were talking…a second plane flew into the other tower. It honestly felt like I was watching a movie. Even at sixteen years old, my mind wasn’t fully prepared for a sight like that. It didn’t seem real. But I had a horrible feeling right then in the pit of my stomach. I remember thinking that this was too much of a coincidence. This wasn’t an accident. It was done on purpose. And little by little, as more information was revealed about this actually being a planned act of terrorism, it became more real.
FDNY Firefighter in Smoke and ash
We continued to watch the news closely as the Pentagon was attacked and then later, the plane crashing in Pennsylvania, brought down because brave passengers attempted to retake the plane before the hijackers could complete their mission. I remember thinking, “Just how many of these hijacked planes are there?!” And that was one of the scariest parts. With each new attack, the alarm grew. When the towers began to collapse, one after the other, we watched in horrified silence. I remember putting my hand over my mouth and I don’t think I moved from that position for the next ten minutes. By this time, they had grounded all flights everywhere in the U.S., something that had never been done before. But it still didn’t assuage our fears. Were there more? How many? Where would they hit? Even all the way across the country in California, it was a terrifying thought.
Video of Tower one Collapse
Video Credit: Gary Licker
I don’t think we turned off the television all day long. And when it got dark, and we heard a plane go over, we all froze and looked up at the ceiling. The sound of a plane going over, something we hear every day and really don’t even think about, was suddenly something that could make your heart stop. My mom called the local police station to ask if the ban on air traffic had been lifted, and the policeman on the phone informed her that only military aircraft were allowed in the air. What we heard was a military plane going over our house, and that idea actually comforted us all.
The Next Day..
The next day was the same. Watching television most of the day. My brother and I were homeschooled and our mom was our teacher, so she gave us the day off to watch the news instead. The days after the attacks kind of ran together for me, but one thing I remember clearly from the second day was when the United Kingdom played the U.S. National Anthem during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. I watched the British people gather around the gates, tears in their eyes and on their cheeks as the anthem played and I felt shivers run down my spine and goosebumps appear on my arms. America was not alone. And this show of solidarity came from the very people America had won her independence from over two centuries before, the enemy in her National Anthem. It was truly the most moving experience I had had in my young life, watching my National Anthem being played by British guardsmen as a show of their love and support for my country and her people. It still touches my heart watching it even now.
Changing of the Guard – September 12
Video Credit: phlibbertigibbet
With flights still grounded and buses and trains filling up with people heading out of New York, my dad was having a lot of trouble finding a way home. He and a co-worker eventually had to rent a car and drive all the way across the United States to get back. I remember telling him not to go through any major cities, worried that something else might happen even with air traffic suspended. We put a map of the U.S. up on the wall and at the end of each day when my dad called to let us know he was okay, we put a marker in the map wherever he was, so we could track his trip home to us.
In the days and weeks that followed, stories of sacrifice and heroism emerged about ordinary citizens, passengers aboard flight 93, first responders, and even rescue dogs. People began to tell the stories of their experiences or the experiences of their loved ones. And their loss. The number of missing, dead, and presumed dead was staggering.
FDNY Firefighter and Rescue Dog
Looking back now, as an adult, on the 16th anniversary of the attack, the significance of that time is even more apparent to me. The way our country drew together in such a moment, politics and petty differences forgotten. I’m reminded of how special our country and her people are. I don’t remember the names of the men who hijacked the planes, nor will I look them up for this article. What I choose to remember are the people who lost their lives, the people who saved lives, and the fact that no matter what we face….we, as Americans, are strong. May we never forget what happened on September 11th, 2001.
9/11 Victim Wall
Author - Sarah Mann