Summit Daily readers share their memories of 9/11
On the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we asked Summit Daily News readers to share their memories. Here’s what they had to say:
After landing in St. John’s, Newfoundland, on Sept. 11, the words of the pilot over the loudspeaker are still clear to me today: “Folks, there is no easy way to say this, but the United States is currently under terrorist attack.”
An hour earlier, the pilot of the transatlantic flight had stated there was heavy air traffic over the U.S. and that we had to stop in Newfoundland. I looked at the woman seated next to me, and we both shrugged, unsure what to make of this strange remark. I felt bewildered, unsure of where Newfoundland was even located. I grabbed the map in the seatback pocket and located our destination, an island off the east coast of Canada.
As we prepared to deplane, the flight crew explained that there were many planes grounded in Newfoundland and that it was important we only remove essential items such as medications and travel documents due to security and logistics. The planes were lined up, filling a field by the airport.
As I left the plane, I had many questions: How do I call my worried parents? Is there anything to eat? Where would we stay? How long would we be here?
All of these questions were quickly answered. Everything was so organized and delivered with incredible kindness. There was a phone bank set up, and toiletries and homemade food were passed out. A mobile pharmacy with vital medications was available as well as translators and services for disabled passengers. Schools and churches were set up as shelters. Literally nothing was forgotten.
I spent six days in St. John’s, and I formed friendships that I still cherish to this day. I will never forget the palpable compassion and hospitality of the people of Newfoundland.
— Jill Vesner, Silverthorne
I was just a sixth grader. I attended school at the school my mom taught at. My mom burst into my classroom and motioned for me to come out to the hallway. She informed me of the attack and told me we couldn’t get in touch with my uncle at the Pentagon. We finally heard from him at 9 p.m. Hands down one of the scariest days in my life.
— Jonathan Bellew, Breckenridge
When the events of 9/11 took place, I was at a conference in Philadelphia while my wife and kids were back home in Silverthorne. With flights canceled, I first tried to find a rental car (all taken) and then got a train ticket, first to Chicago and then to Denver. It took me five days, but I made it to Denver Union Station, where I then had to take a taxi to DIA where my car was parked. A long and exhausting week!
— Bill Linfield, Larkspur
Sept. 11 is one of my earliest memories. It was a hot summer day in Allen, Texas, and my mother had just picked me up from school not two hours after dropping me off. I was in first grade, and at first I was happy that I was getting out of school for the day. But then I noticed a troublesome look on my mother’s face. She looked as if someone had died. I worried, fearing that one of my family members had passed away, but little did I know I was about to witness my first crisis on TV.
By the time we got home, the first plane had already hit the first tower. My mother told me I needed to watch the news and tried to explain that bad men had attacked our country. I sat a few feet away from the old tube TV with my eyes glued to the calamity unfolding in New York City, a place that was foreign yet part of home. And that’s when the second plane struck the second tower.
I watched in horror. My mother tried to turn the TV off, but I protested, demanding to watch. I sat watching, absorbing everything — the people jumping out of the towers, the escape efforts going on and, inevitably, the collapse of both towers. As 9/11 came to a close, I had this new feeling I had never felt before: complete rage. I couldn’t believe how someone could do this to our country, and all I wanted was revenge for the strangers I didn’t even know.
I was 6 years old at the time, and I still remember the events of 9/11 as clear as day.
— Trevor Trepanier, Steamboat Springs
I woke up normally that morning, got the coffee brewing, turned on CNN as was my habit and headed to the shower. Dressed and heading to the coffee, I looked toward the TV and saw an airliner fly into one of the World Trade Center towers.
Very quickly, I headed to work at the Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center in Longmont, where I worked as an air traffic controller. I was assigned to an arrival/overflight sector on the east side of our airspace. We were aware of the attacks on various facilities on the East Coast using airliners and that a national emergency had been issued ordering us to ground all aircraft in the National Airspace System immediately.
As each successive aircraft checked in on my frequency until there were none remaining, I informed each pilot that I had a clearance for them and to advise ready to copy. This was not unusual, but the clearance for every single aircraft was, “You’re cleared to Denver via (arrival routing) to land due to a national emergency.” Many of these aircraft had destinations on the West Coast or countries west of there; however, every pilot complied. This was occurring simultaneously all around the country with my counterparts.
When all the aircraft under our jurisdiction had exited all our airspace, we headed to the cafeteria where there was a TV, and like all of America, we watched the rest of the events of that September day unfold.
— Kevin Bainer, Silverthorne
In September 2001, I finally landed my career: a Spanish teacher at Summit Middle School. I couldn’t have been happier to be a first-year teacher in such a wonderful community.
Barely a week into my career, while making the drive to school, I was listening to the radio, but instead of normal rock music, a live news report was airing. Apparently, a plane had collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. The DJs were discussing this horrible accident. Having grown up in New York state, I had a handful of friends living and working in the city, and I was concerned. When I got into my classroom, I turned on the television, and the newscasters were talking about the smoke billowing from the North Tower and pondering how a pilot could make such a mistake. And then right before my eyes, I saw the most horrific scene I have ever seen: another jet flying into the South Tower. This was no accident.
Over the public address system, an announcement said an emergency staff meeting would be held at 7:30 a.m. The staff convened quickly, and it was decided that TVs should remain off to allow parents to be the messengers with the news.
I have no idea how I managed to fill 40 minutes with instruction during that first hour. But immediately after the bell dismissed, my next class came bounding in. “The Pentagon was attacked!” I tried to calm them and dispel the “rumors,” but they insisted. The attacks were still continuing, and the events were far from over. With big eyes, that small eighth grade class with nine students begged me to turn on the TV so they would know what was happening. And I couldn’t say “no.”
— Julie Thompson, Fort Collins
On the morning of 9/11, I was at a hotel near Love Field Airport in Dallas. I was there for my six-month recurrent simulator training for Southwest Airlines captains. I had the TV on when I noticed the special report about an airplane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. I was certain this must have been a stray Cessna but was shocked when they replayed the video showing an airliner.
I called my wife in Arizona just in time for both of us to watch the second airliner hit the second tower. Then, everything stopped. It became eerily quiet at Love Field without the sound of jets taking off or landing.
There were two events that really touched me:
- That evening in the lobby, there were 10 clean-cut young men from the military reserves who were there for their interviews to be a pilot at Southwest. We were all glued to the big screen TV watching the tragedy unfold. Other people in the hotel were scrambling to find a rental car to drive home. However, every one of these young men was only concerned about getting to their base so they could fly their fighters in combat against these cowards who just killed over 3,000 civilians.
- Several days later, I was notified the first flight out of Love Field was leaving in 1 1/2 hours. I rushed to the airport and got on the flight. The sound of jet engines was like hearing the airport’s heart beating again. I sat by the window on the right side of the airplane and saw hundreds of Southwest employees lining the fence. Each was waving an American flag. That’s when I lost it. I love our country and our flag. I miss how unified we all were after 9/11.
— Brian Anton, Paradise Valley, Arizona
On 9/11, I was the captain of a Midwest Airlines flight from Milwaukee to Newark. As we descended into the New York metro area on that blue-sky morning, air traffic control told us to go into a holding pattern, with no explanation.
We started hearing pilot chatter over the radio that an aircraft had hit the World Trade Center, and I realized we weren’t far away from downtown New York, so I took a look down out the window. As I was looking at the smoke plume from that first aircraft, not understanding what I was seeing, I saw the second plane hit, followed by a mushroom cloud. At that moment, with no other information than what I had just witnessed, I realized our country was under attack.
Things got hectic as air traffic control had directed all aircraft to “get as far away from New York as possible.” We had fuel to get to Cleveland, so we headed that way. We had just leveled out at cruise altitude, catching our breath and planning our next move, when air traffic control demanded that we make an immediate emergency visual descent into Pittsburgh.
We later discovered that United Airlines 93 was heading right at us, and they were clearing a path for them (and the fighters chasing them). We landed at Pittsburgh with the air traffic control tower and entire airport already evacuated. As we touched down, two military KC-135 refueling tankers were taking off on the runway right next to us, heading up to refuel fighter aircraft.
Two days later, we were the fifth airliner to get airborne after 9/11, flying home with only our crew in an empty airplane, most likely with shadow fighter aircraft escorting us. My life, career and aviation forever changed that day.
— Chuck Savall, Dillon
It was such a staggering event that I vividly remember my senses heightening. I can even tell you what the air smelled like.
My bride’s family has a third-generation cottage on an island in Lake Erie, where you need to take a ferryboat to access it. It is located on the water facing Cleveland. The beach is rocks and boulders. I went for a walk along the beach and eventually turned around to head back to the cottage.
After five minutes, I could see my father-in-law, Roger, coming toward me at a pretty good clip. His face indicated that he was fully stressed out. I wondered what the heck was up. He went on about the planes hitting the World Trade Center. I immediately felt nauseated.
I grew up in northern New Jersey just outside of Manhattan, and I quickly wondered if any of my classmates were in the towers.
This is one of those events in your life, much life when President John F. Kennedy was shot, when the recall is crystal clear. It’s been 20 years, and still I vividly remember where I was and how it felt.
— Scott Brockmeier, Breckenridge
Excited to be in Washington on the morning of Sept. 11, I joined Sierra Club volunteers lobbying Congress on environmental issues. Gathering in a historic church near the Capitol, we called senators for appointments. My senator’s aide replied, “You’d better turn on your TV.”
We discovered an old black-and-white TV, turned it on and watched, horrified, as the second plane crashed into the second World Trade Center tower. Reports surfaced that a third plane struck the Pentagon not far away. Then reports warned another plane was headed to the Capitol — just across the street.
Everyone was ordered to evacuate Capitol Hill. Surprisingly, people remained calm and orderly (under the watchful eyes of police sharpshooters on rooftops) and without panicking divided into small groups to ensure everybody stayed safely together.
We witnessed a mass of humanity pouring out of all buildings and moving away from the Capitol. A box truck stopped in front of us, and the driver jumped out and ran toward us. Instinctively, we braced ourselves, since any assault seemed possible, and we feared he would detonate a bomb. But he was just scared, too, yelling, “Where should I go?”
The growing swarm of people (lobbyists, senators, representatives, staffers) walked briskly but quietly down streets suddenly empty of vehicles. Approaching Union Station, the crowd veered away from the building. An unfounded rumor circulated that bombs were planted there.
After hours glued to our hotel’s TVs, we ventured onto D.C.’s eerily quiet, abandoned streets, making our way to the Potomac River. Smoke still poured from the wounded (but not defeated) Pentagon. Gunboats raced down the river, searching for terrorists. Helicopters ferried the president and advisers back to the White House.
America had suffered deadly attacks, but Americans united to defend and protect our beloved country. Could that possibly happen today?
— Jim Callison, Silverthorne
Everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. Like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 was a cataclysmic event that brought us into war. It also brought the country together in ways that no one could imagine; the American spirit of what we stand for was on full display. People remembered the fallen with a vow to “never forget.” First responders gave their lives. One such person, U.S. Army Sgt. Craig Miller, gave the ultimate sacrifice that day serving with the U.S. Secret Service. He and all the first responders and ordinary citizens who died will always be remembered.
On 9/11, in the chaos and fog of war, resourceful Secret Service men and women performed a protective action to move our leaders to safe locations. The days that followed 9/11 were filled with uncertainty, speculation and fear. This was a security nightmare filled with threatening intelligence, errant aircraft warnings and worries of additional attacks.
At ground zero, a herculean endeavor unfolded with a delicate balance of security in the midst of the rescue/recovery operation with respect for the first responders. When the president arrived at ground zero, it was a surreal scene, and he walked through concrete and debris dust a foot deep. First responders saw the president and surrounded him. Some cried. Others thanked him. Emotions ran high.
The president climbed onto a crushed fire truck with a bullhorn and joined retired New York firefighter Bob Beckwith. The crowd shouted, “We can’t hear you.” The president answered, “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you. And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” The crowd started chanting, “USA!” It’s scenes like this that make me proud to be an American. I hope these stories are taught in our school’s history and civic classes.
— Al Concordia, Silverthorne
Before relocating to Breckenridge 10 years ago, my wife and I lived in New Jersey — always within view of Manhattan. In 1970, I attended high school in downtown Jersey City and watched through my classroom windows as the towers were being built. In fact, my daydreaming almost resulted in my failing Latin class.
More than 30 years later, my wife witnessed, from her high-rise workplace, the second plane hit tower two. Five days later, with our two young children, we attended a play, which was surprisingly not canceled, near Union Square not more than a mile from the World Trade Center.
It’s difficult to describe the sadness, the smoke, the responders from all over wanting to help. People were walking around dazed with pictures of their loved ones pleading with everyone, including us, “If you see him/her, tell them we are here looking for them.”
From our home overlooking Manhattan, our family watched the towers smoldering for another six months. We will never forget.
— Rick Galgas, Breckenridge
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