Your stories: Where were you on September 11?

As a child I remember on the occasions my mother reminisced with her friends, they would sometimes ask, “Where were you when JFK was shot?” I remember being fascinated by the answer, but equally annoyed by the question because it felt like the passcode to a special club. A club to which, by virtue of my birth year, I would never belong. I felt left out.

For many the question about JFK was replaced ten years ago. Now we ask “Where were you on 9/11?” and I have an answer. I belong to the club. Except now more than anything I wish it was a club that did not exist.

I have to admit I’m having a hard time with all the 9/11 coverage this week. I find the 10 years that has passed has done little to dull how I feel about the day and its aftermath. But what does help is the personal stories of others who bore witness to the horror, whether from too close or too far away.

So if you’re willing, I ask you to share your 9/11 story in the comments. Where were you when you heard? How did you feel? How has it impacted you since?

And since fair is fair, here is my 9/11 story. It’s not dramatic. I didn’t lose anyone I loved during the attacks. I was 2,500 miles away from where they took place. This story is just my entry into the club.

I was in Seattle on September 11, 2001, on a plane that would not take off that day or even the next. It was 6:00 am local time and I was supposed to be flying to California on business. The plane was full and we were getting impatient for it to push back from the gate when the pilot announced “A plane has flown into the World Trade Center.”

This was before smartphones, so the beeps and buzzes of Twitter, Facebook, and texts had not already alerted me to the news. Instead I opened up my (not so little) flip-phone and called my father back in Southborough. He had a TV in his office that was often tuned to CNN, so I figured he’d be able to tell me what was happening.

I’ll never forget the sound of his voice when he answered the phone.

“Haven’t you heard? Don’t you know?” he asked.

I felt the first waves of panic and dread then.

I left the airport as quickly as I could. We didn’t know at the time how many locations had been targeted and an airport did not seem like a safe place to be. On the drive back to my Seattle office I listened to news that the first tower had collapsed. Then the second. I pulled over and called my mother and we cried.

I find I still cry.

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John Kendall
11 years ago

I was working at Southborough Fire Headquarters on Main Street. Everyone there was finishing up with house duties, coffee, what have you. I don’t remember who brought my attention to the news, but we all went to the TV and couldn’t believe what we were seeing. The first tower had been hit. It was unknown at the time what the cause of the crash was. As we watched, Chief Mauro was eyeing something on the screen, exclaimed “what the hell is that?” and we watched as the second plane hit. Everyone was dumbfounded. I wondered if my brother in law Richard was okay. He was on a construction job in Manhattan. Then the Pentagon was attacked. Life as we knew it was changing right before our eyes. The days and weeks that followed were surreal. Fighter jets flying overhead, new security policies were suddenly in place at all town state,and federal properties. We had to have specialized training in responding to reports of suspicious packages, envelopes with white powder in them……the list goes on and on. I was also a part time instructor at the Massachusetts Firefighting Academy at the time. Several of my peers knew many of the firefighters from FDNY who were murdered that day. It was a very difficult time for many, many people. I count myself lucky that my parents, my father in particular, never had to witness any of this. Their age group had seen enough. I will never forget that day, and hopefully, neither will anyone else.

Al Hamilton
11 years ago

I was working in Newton. I took the 9AM flights to SFO and LAX 6 or 8 times a year. Like others I was in shock. It was not until the memorial service in the National Cathedral when a Military Color Guard led the procession out to the Battle Hymn of the Republic that I was certain we were going to war. Since then 2 of my children have served in the military I think part of their motivation was the impact that 9/11 had in their young lives.

I also cant think about that day without thinking about Eamon McEneany, an All American Lacrosse player at Cornell. I watched him on numerous occasions cut, drive, pass, and shoot. Speed, Skill, Grace and Power. He was inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1992 and was considered one of the best to have ever played the game. Eamon worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and led 63 people down 105 flights of stairs after the 1993 bombing. Eamon McEneany was murdered on Sept. 11, 2001

11 years ago

I was at a business meeting when this tragedy happened. A colleague from the office next door stormed in and asked us to go to the nearby conference room to watch the news. By the time we got to the conference room, it was packed with people. The next day I also found out that one close colleague on my project team was on one of the ill fated flight to the first tower. I just had a meeting with him in person the week before! He was in his 30s and had two very young children. How tragic!

11 years ago

I stayed home from work that day with a sick 10 month old. I was listening to music when my wife called from work. She told me that a plane had hit one of the towers and to turn on the TV. My first thought was that it was an accident. A plane actually hit the Empire State Building many years ago, and I thought this was another accident… maybe a small plane or a plane carrying freight. I was watching as the second plane hit. At that point I knew (as did most everyone else) that it was a terrorist attack. I immediately called my wife, and she updated the people in her office. It seemed like only minutes later they reported explosions at the Pentagon. Without a question it was frightening. I don’t think I’ve ever been more angry than I was at that moment. It was heartbreaking to watch the building collapse on the police and firemen. I thought the death toll would be 10,000 maybe 20,000. My wife left work, picked up my daughter from day care, and came home. We went for a long walk strolling both of the kids. It was the most beautiful sunny day that you could imagine…..and thank God my family was safe……but we were certain that many had died and there was little comfort. Over the next few days the obituary sections of the local papers were larger than I’d ever seen. No planes were flying for several days, and there was an eerie quiet.

When I learned that the two planes originated from Logan airport, I felt a sense of shame. I called my mother that morning and spoke to her about the event. She recalled the Pearl Harbor attack, and said she thought this was much worse. One interesting comment she noted was that when the attack on Pearl Harbor was announced on the radio, no-one knew where Pearl Harbor was (in 1941 Hawaii was a territory not a state, and civilian travel to Hawaii was by boat only, and very few people had been there). My mother only lived for another few months, and it was heart breaking that she had to experience this near the end of her life. When I was handling her estate I noticed that one of the last checks she ever wrote was a gift to the American Red Cross to help 911 families.

11 years ago

I can’t believe it was 10 years ago, seems like yesterday. I had just moved to Hoboken NJ from Boston June of 2011. I was working in Jersey City and my fiance (now husband) was in 1 Financial Center (across from the towers). The friday before the horrible day, we went to windows of the world for a drink. I remember thinking how insane it would be to work at Cantor as we passed it on the elevator up. I had a friend from college who worked at Cantor – he was killed on 9/11.
On that Tues morning I went to work, it was SO clear outside. I remember hearing about the first plane and looking out the window (I was on the 33rd floor directly across the Hudson). I could see the fire coming from the building and knew it was not a small plane like they were saying. A bunch of us just stood looking out a window when we saw the 2nd plane approaching….I thought at first it was OUR military, I was wrong. We all watching it come up the river, turn and hit…it was the worst moment of my life. I can still hear the screams, I remember running out of my building, I remember worrying about my husband. I got home to Hoboken before the towers fell. I didn’t watch them fall. Several hours later I heard from my husband, he was trying to get out of Manhattan. The days/weeks after were just as horrible. Walking down the street to missing signs and flowers on doorsteps was awful. 8 years later we moved back to MA, I finally feel safe again. 9/11 will always bring tears to my eyes….

11 years ago

My older brother and his fiancee worked at Two World Trade – the second tower to be hit and the first to fall.
I was at my desk on September 11th and I saw a news alert pop up on that a plane had hit the North tower. I assumed it was a small plane strike – a freak accident – but nothing too serious. However, I called my mom and told her to turn on the tv. How quickly everything changed. The horror of realizing what had happened and then to witness the second plane hit…We quickly got off the phone, one of us called his cell and the other his office line. Of course all the lines were completely overloaded. So we sat watching the news, watching the towers fall and wondering if they were there. I was too scared to leave work – not wanting to leave my phone or my email in case he tried to get through.
Around 11 o’clock my mom called to say they were safe. My brother had been at work on the 47th floor when the plane hit above them. Over the PA system, building security told them there was an emergency situation in the building but that they should stay where they were. But after noticing cracks running down the office walls his company made the decision to evacuate. Thank God they did.
I sat at my parents dinner table that night thinking how old my parents looked and feeling like I had aged a decade in a few short hours. Now I think about having to explain 9/11 to my kids and even though my family was so very lucky I don’t think I could tell the story without tears.

11 years ago

It was the clearest, bluest day in September. I had just sent my kindergartener and 2nd grader off to school. My husband, who travels for business, had left early that morning to Logan Airport to catch a flight to Atlanta on American Airlines. Little did we know that the hijackers were two planes in front of his on the Logan Airport tarmac waiting to taxi off.
I remember making a cup of tea that morning, and something inside me told me to turn on the t.v.
The first tower had just been hit. I frantically tried to call my husband on his cell phone. No answer. I started praying. I called again. The second tower was hit. I kept trying to call and praying. With the grace of God, my husband answered his phone. He was on the tarmac in Atlanta. I told him about the planes hitting the towers. The pilot had just told them that all planes in the U.S. were grounded. He knew something was wrong. We knew that there would not be a flight home for him anytime soon and I just wanted him home.
Everyone that day just wanted to get home. He did just that. He made sure that the other employees packed up their gear from the show and headed back to California as soon as possible. He confirmed his rental car at the airport. It was a good thing too because before you knew it, all the rental cars were taken.
Ironically, the business associate he was flying with told him he knew someone at the show who was looking for a ride back to Massachusetts. This other man and my husband met up and low and behold it happened to be a neighbor who lived up the street from us. What a small world! They didn’t know each other. But after driving for 18 hours straight back to Southborough, they had plenty to talk about.

Dick Snyder
11 years ago

We had just moved into the house we had built on Pine Hill Road. We were standing in our kitchen watching the Today show. When the report of a small plane hitting one of the towers was reported, my immediate thought was terrorists. An hour or so later, it was clear. The next days were just a nightmare. I will always remember where I was when John Kennedy was assassinated and I will always remember where I was when 3000 Americans were assassinated. The TV coverage tonight brings back the pain all too clearly.

11 years ago

My wife and I were actually riding up the highway from a very lovely and peaceful weekend on Old Cape Cod (all the flatlanders had gone home and the aboriginals were at peace). We were heading to her parents to pick the kids up in Wayland. I had just finished saying to my wife that everywhere there is trouble in the world and in the news, there the muslim islamist terrorist are and are involved and when will we stand up to the bullies and punks who strap munitions to there children and women and hide in mosques. It was a beautiful blue sky day when it came on the radio. Honestly, I am 53 and old enough to remember the stories of Orson Wells, “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast my dad and uncles told me about. It was almost eerily identical in nature but in this case the muslim extremists had succeded – or so they think! (“The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama. It was performed as a Halloween episode October 30, 1938 on Columbia Radio Network, by Orson Welles). Often times now I think, “where is the anger toward this religious group and fanatics”. If they had been say, christian evangelicals, would we be so kind 10 years later? Or would we continue to say and print the truth about who and what these people believe? We certainly are not now. Just listen at 911 field on Sunday. You wont hear any truth. Do not bury your head in the sand and think that they are playing nicey nice now. They are planning the next big event and we should remain prayerful, and vigilant as a nation. I am of German decent so I can say this. If we had not defeated the nazis, we probably would be speaking a dialect of Germanic lanuage more here in the US. We have to defeat them, the muslim worlwide threat, here and abroad.

Pat Q
11 years ago

In case anyone is interested, below I have included a link to a “Nick News” video which reviews the events of 9/11 (who, what, why) particularly geared for a teen audience. The segment separates fact from fiction and helps explain 9/11 without all the dramatic and sometimes disturbing video images that we are all used to seeing. It includes teens with some of their questions since they were only youngsters when 9/11 occurred.

I plan on watching it with my daughter, who is 12. As each anniversary year passes I find that she has more and more questions and even though I watched the events unfold that day in live time, I still have a hard time answering some of her questions.

*Nick News is a topical news series put out by the Nickelodeon channel to address current events in a format appropriate for teens……here is the link to the 9/11 segment. It is about 20 minutes long.

Mom of two
11 years ago
Reply to  Pat Q

Pat Q – that video is great. I just watched it and think it would be great for preteens and teens. It’s odd to think that so many kids don’t know what really happened. But it makes sense, since they were so young when it did happen.

Pat Q
11 years ago

Thanks Mom of Two !

I have tried to sit and watch some of the current 9/11 documentaries with my daughter
first, because she often asks many questions when the anniversary date rolls around and second, because I want to teach her about this horrible event as it is now an important part of our history and the reason her two cousins are serving in the Army.

I always end up turning the documentaries off becuase they become too disturbing at
certain points……people jumping out of the buildings, etc. It didn’t feel right to put her through all that just to teach her about that day, i.e. who did it and why they did it.

You have to try and connect all the dots for them at some point………why we send boxes to the troops, why we are at war, who are terrorists, why we went after Osama Bin Ladan and who is Saddam Hussein, etc . I think all these seemingly unconnected events are very confusing for them (as they are for me at times!).

This Nickelodeon segment really does a nice job with the topic, minus all the horrific footage.

11 years ago

I was folding laundry when my sister-in-law called me from Kansas. “Had I heard?, Did I know?, A plane just flew into the World Trade Center!” were her words. I turned on the TV, sat on the end of my bed, and was glued. As we watched the news, by the time the second plane hit, watching all happen in real time, we knew we were under attack! I started to cry I started thinking of my kids, who were in school at the time- one in 4th grade, one in kindergarten in 2001- and thinking about the world we live in. Realizing at that moment that things would never be the same! How could you not think that? I started telling my sister-in-law that those buildings were going to fall….it was seriously like knowing a train wreck is about to happen and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

The image that ‘haunts’ me, the one I’ll NEVER FORGET was the one that was shot by a news cameraman, not sure what channel but probably 7, who was standing in the middle of one of the streets of NY taping First Responders, what seemed like hundreds of them in the street, walking swiftly towards the Twin Towers, all geared up and ready to go. Then watching that same shot as all those same First Responders began RUNNING towards the camera, as the first Tower fell!!! My sister-in-law and I cried harder.

I had to hang up the phone at that point, I think I was in shock, hell I think a lot of us were!! How could this happen? Who could do this? Why? Why? Sometimes I still wonder why. So now we live in a world where our National Threat Level is always Elevated. People are being ‘vigilant’ every day. Reporting abandoned bags and items and people that seem out of place. I still look up every time I hear a plane. Not sure that will ever go away.These are the times we live in now. Thanks to one day 10 years ago that changed all our lives in some way.

Maria Cutts
11 years ago

I was volunteering at Fay School, alongside former USSConstitution Commander Mike Beck, who ran the development office and taught history at Fay. His wife had the TV on downstairs in the waiting room of Admissions with a prospective family from Japan. She alerted us all to the first plane hitting. We all watched as the 2nd plane hit. Then the news came of the Pentagon, where Mike and Maura had so many friends and coworkers, and the prospect of a country at war was so evident in the Commander’s face.
We immediately began a plan to field calls from parents, as we contacted our own families. The Headmaster, Steve White, made rapid decisions to protect all of these children in his care and then called a school-wide assembly.
I was never so impressed with Headmaster White as in those moments that he spoke to children and young adults, grades 1 thru 9, from all over the world. He was calm and clear, reassuring and honest, a protector and leader. He answered all questions, even those that asked “Are we at war?”,”Who did this?”, “Are we safe at the school?” He reminded us that every face in that assembly was part of our family. Then the international students, boarders so far away from home, were given assistance in calling their families around the world, while our local students waited for parents to pick them up.
To this day, I am grateful that Fay School gave my children a view of the world that friends exist everywhere, and they do still.

Jon Alford
11 years ago

I was driving west on the Mass Pike on the way to a sales call listening to Howard Stern when he started talking about The Trade Center, Planes, the end of the world. There was no humor, clearly something was wrong, so I switched over to WBZ. My brother worked in tower 2 of the trade center so I immediatly tried to call him. I called over and over, and wasn’t able to get through. I called my parents who live in New Jersey, was able to connect with my Dad who had no information as to my brother. He assured he would call if he heard something.

I called the company that I was going to see, told them I wasn’t going to get there, and immediately headed to Needham where my wife (8+ months pregnant) was into her weekly check-ups. By the time I reached Needham one of the towers had collapsed. My mind racing, I couldn’t remember which tower he worked in, or even which one had collapsed. Was it the one with the spire on it? Is that the one he worked in? I didn’t know.

I went into the exam room to join my wife, and we were told that she was 2 centimeters dialated. As it was our first child, that news was greek to me – were we having a baby that day? Clearly very emotional at the office, I wasn’t sure if I was going to lose my brother and see my first born on the same day.

News trickled into the office that the second tower fell. I tried to call him countless times. Nothing. I later found out that my mom, a 5th grade teacher, had left the school and driven to a high point of the town were I grew up in NJ, with an amazing view of the NYC skyline, and could see that both towers were down. I can’t imagine seeing that sight live.

The doctor assured us that our baby was not going to be born that day and we drove home to Holliston where we lived at the time. I was glued to the radio in the car but upon returning home, refused to turn on the TV. I didn’t want to see it. I kept calling. Hours went by. The feelings of emptiness, fear, anger, and other emotions were unexplainable.

Finally at some point around 2PM I was able to connect with my father’s secratary who very calmly told me my brother was fine and had gotten out. I lost it in that brief conversation again overcome with emotion.

When I was able to finally talk with my brother later that night, he shared some of the details. He had been at his desk on the 52nd floor of tower 2 when tower 1 was hit. Glass blew out in his building. A guy from his company who had been there in ’93, immediately slammed his laptop shut, told my brother they had to make sure everyone evacuate immediately. That guy saved my brother’s life. Despite the repeated announcements over the intercom that there was an isolated event in the other building and that people could go back to their desks, they continued down the stairwell. They were some where in the 30’s when the building shook. They had been hit. He estimates he was out of the building for between 5 and 10 minutes when he saw his building come down.

He says the image that is seared into his mind is the faces of the firefighters storming UP the stairwells to save people. Safe to say not many of those brave folks lived. If any.

He and my parents came up to Boston for the weekend. We counted our blessings, cried, and drank a ton of beer!!!

It was an awful day everyone, and I consider myself extremely fortunate not to have lost my only sibling that day.


Jim Richardson
11 years ago

I was working from home that morning when my wife yelled from the other room that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I was very concerned as I knew people that worked there. I ran into the other room to watch the television just as the second plane hit.

I called my friend Mike, who worked with me at Thomson Financial, to let him know that 2 planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. We discussed friends who worked at Fiduciary Trust on the 97th floor in the South Tower. We wondered whether they would have had time to get out before it was hit by the second plane hit. As we were talking, Mike looked at his desk calendar and said “do you realize that we were scheduled to be there today.”

About 10 days earlier, Mike and I had a conference call with Fiduciary and tentatively planned an onsite visit for the 11th to do some consulting work. The plan was that the sales person at Thomson would follow up with Fiduciary and get the necessary paperwork signed to confirm the trip. The salesperson didn’t get back to them for a week by which time they were no longer available for a visit on the 11th.

All of the people that Mike and I were scheduled to meet with were killed. I have often thought about what would have happened if that meeting had been confirmed. Would I have made it from Boston to their office prior to 8:45 when the first plane hit? If I did, and was on the 97th floor, would I have had the sense to disregard the announcements over the intercom saying that everything was all right and there was no need to evacuate? If we were there, would our friends at Fiduciary have decided to help us evacuate rather than staying there and thus gotten out safely?

Later in the day, we found out that a co-worker named Carlos was on the plane that crashed into the North Tower. One of the technology people had to login to Carlos’ email account to get his travel itinerary and then his manager had to call his wife to share the terrible news. I can’t imagine making that phone call.

In all, 11 Thomson employees and 97 Fiduciary employees were killed. In the weeks after September 11th, I attended memorial services for Carlos and the other Thomson employees and went down to New York for a Fiduciary Trust memorial service. It was sad to hear stories from people that were in meetings in the WTC in which half the people survived and half the people didn’t based largely on whether or not they decided to evacuate.

It was a very difficult time as a lot of good friends and colleagues were lost.

Kathryn Marous
11 years ago

I was driving into the Newborn Intensive Care Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where two of my children were patients. While much of Boston was evacuating, the nurses and doctors in that high rise hospital were lining up oxygen tanks in case we lost power. Both of my children were on ventilators and would have died without oxygen. Their caretakers were heroic that day. God Bless medical professionals.

Laurie Blackburn
11 years ago

I was teaching toddlers at the YWCA in Westerville,Oh. when a teacher rushed in 4 consecutive times with the latest reports. My fears grew with every opening of my classroom door! A co-worker had 2 family members employed at the Pentagon and 2 at the WTC.By noon,all children at our facility had been picked up by frantic parents.Myself the mother of an 81/2 month old baby girl,I rushed home…I needed to hold her! I needed to know at that moment,that something was still alright in my world! we later learned that flight 93 had passed overhead that morning…just before it crashed! My beautiful daughter is now 10 and does know what happened on 9/11 to a degree. As a mother,I want to protect her from knowing much of the horrors of that day for as long as I can. We focus on the beautiful human spirit that shone so brightly on that day. When her questions come,I answer them,and we fathom the ” why?” together.

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