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We remember: 20 years later, Dan River Region residents share thoughts on the day of terror

We remember: 20 years later, Dan River Region residents share thoughts on the day of terror

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Sept 11 Book Excerpt Afghan Journalist

People run from the collapse of one of the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

The air still hasn’t cleared

I grew up in Mt. Hermon and Blairs and attended Chatham High School. After I graduated from the College of William & Mary, I moved to New York to get a job in publishing. In 2001, I was a junior executive at The Economist magazine. I was at my desk in midtown Manhattan on the morning of Sept. 11. I was listening to WNYC — the New York Public Radio station — when I learned from the broadcast that a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. I walked upstairs to the editorial department to switch on a television, and watched live as the second plane hit. I remember instantly the recognition that this was no accident.

Walking outside to stare down 6th Avenue, we could see the smoke billowing from lower Manhattan. The rest of the day was a blur. In the office, journalists were trying to do their jobs — reporting on the story as it happened. Some of our fellow employees were in Lower Manhattan, running a conference that day. We tried to account for them. Emotions were high.

With some fellow employees, I tried to donate blood, but the lines to do so were too long. As it would later become clear, there would be little need for it anyway — there were few survivors when the towers fell.

By the time I made it home to Brooklyn that evening, the air was thick with ash and smoke. Singed spreadsheets fell from the sky in the middle of my block — I remember one was a balance sheet from Standard Chartered Bank, which had offices in 7 World Trade Center. It had collapsed at 5:21 p.m.

The months after the attack were a frightening and tumultuous period. Everyone had a connection to someone who had died. Candles and makeshift memorials littered the streets. I think of Alysia Basmajian — not a friend of mine, but a friend of my fellow May 2000 graduates of William & Mary. She left a daughter and a husband behind that day.

Every year, the city memorializes the anniversary of the attack with two bright lights that shine vertically into the sky from the site. Now when I see them, I don’t think simply of that day. I think of the long stretch of days since — and all the mistakes this country made in response to the terror attack.

I think of the Taliban flag, flying again over Afghanistan — and the oceans of blood spilt there and in Iraq. I think of torture at Bagram, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. I think of the two decades of terror visited on my Muslim and South Asian neighbors by the NYPD and the FBI. I think of Donald Trump — the bigotry of his campaign and his presidency, and his enduring appeal to so many. I think of the image of a man, falling to his death from the burning towers, and its grim symmetry with the image of another man falling to his death from an aircraft he tried to cling to as it took off at the Kabul airport. I think of desperate people, no different than you or me.

In 2001, the stench of the smoke from the World Trade Center pit hung in the city’s air for weeks after the attack. I can still remember that smell, and when I do I taste it in my mouth. Every life lost that day was a tragedy. But so was our collective response — and the hundreds of thousands of lives it has cost. From that, the air still hasn’t cleared.

Justin Hendrix

Behaving like Americans

I think I remember most everything. Seeing the planes hit. People trapped. FDNY bravery, but I also saw The United States of America become one nation! Flags flew. People were kinder to one another. We were America behaving like Americans!

Vickie Richards

Live lesson on history

Twenty years ago, the events of 9/11 occurred while I was teaching at George Washington High School in the English department. I was in the library to duplicate papers for my students during my planning period and saw the events unfolding on television there. Students and teachers were horrified. Scrapping class plans for the day, I knew students in each period would need to share information and ask questions in a calm atmosphere. More information would be forthcoming; we needed to wait for it. My assignment was to write their thoughts and fears about that day. Then they were to begin collecting photographs and articles over the course of two weeks to make a book for their children and grandchildren who would study 9/11 as history. Everyone completed the assignments, and I hope they have shared those booklets with their families.

Bernadine A. Hayes

Many difficult days

As was customary in my job at the time, I drove to a bank near the Danville airport on that bright, clear Tuesday morning, dropping my wife at a nearby medical facility on the way. We rarely play the car radio when driving together, so we arrived at our respective destinations completely oblivious to the events taking place 500 miles away.

When I stepped from my car, I did note that I was the only customer in the parking lot, which was unusual, and that the aircraft traffic at the airport, which the previous day had been heavy with Averett University aviation students practicing their touch-and-go landings, was noticeably absent.

As I entered the bank lobby, at least two of their personnel were crying. When I asked about that, one of the tellers broke the horrific news that the first tower of the World Trade Center had fallen and the second was burning. It was with disbelief that I completed my business and drove back to where my wife was.

This time when I exited my vehicle, I noticed that the airport was completely silent and that even U.S. 58 seemed quieter than usual. Stepping into the waiting room of the doctor’s office, I joined my wife just in time to see the second tower fall. We were horrified, as was the rest of the nation, that such events had taken place.

Later that evening, I sat in my car in the parking lot of a charity thrift store as my wife and son shopped, listening to then-President George Bush address the nation, calling us together to weather the crisis of multiple terrorist attacks on America. It was quite a day, the first of many difficult days, as our nation came to grips with, and began to recover from, the tragic loss of so many lives.

Richard Gardner, Ringgold

We all came together

Sept. 11 is a day I will never forget as I was working inside the Pentagon. I know how it was in the Pentagon, so I can’t imagine what the people in New York felt that day. It was and still is a tough and difficult experience. However, I saw so many agencies and first responders working as a team; doing a great job. Our country may have different views, however, 9/11 is one day every year we all come together.

Larry Grant, 1983 George Washington graduate retired from the U.S. Army

Frozen in time

I was in my earth science class when my teacher turned on the news. I never heard of the twin towers until September 11th. Amazingly how my school did not go to there respected classes do to they were frozen to the news as this happened.

Wil Gordon

Miles from the horror

I was living in Takoma Park, Md., which borders Washington D.C., at the time. I was in the post office dropping off a package when someone in line said a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, but didn’t know anything more. I assumed it was a small private plane and pondered how someone could NOT see the World Trade Center. “What an idiot,” I thought. But when I got home 5 minutes later and switched on the news and saw images of it, I began to feel a little uneasy. It was a jet, from a commercial airline.

Then, right before our eyes, ANOTHER jet crashed into the other tower. I could not believe my eyes. This was no accident. I watched it over and over still in disbelief. How were they going to rescue the people in the top floors? I thought.

I called the only people I knew in New York City to see if they are OK. They are, but can see the whole thing from the window of their high rise apartment, but are utterly stunned, shaken and terrified.

Suddenly, the news breaks that a plane has crashed into the Pentagon — only 10 miles from my house! I knew people who worked there! DC is immediately completely shut down. Friends and family members are struggling to find their way home from work because all roads are blocked. Phone lines are jammed. It’s hard to reach anyone.

Horrifying live footage of people jumping from the top floors of the towers to escape the fire and then splattering onto the pavement below appear before me.

Now, it really feels like we are in a war! There is all kinds of speculation about other possible hijacked planes still in the air and some speculation that they may be headed toward other targets in D.C. or other places in the country. Now, for the first time, as I’m only about 6 miles from the White House or Capitol Building, I feel personally endangered. “What if they drop a nuke?” I thought. “I’m toast!”

Then, I witness the sheer shock and horror of the first tower collapsing, pancaking down floor by floor. It’s so difficult to believe this is all real. The collapse blankets the city and everyone within blocks of the towers in a ghostly gray dust. I realize then that thousands of lives have just been taken and our world will never be the same.

Someone from the American Red Cross is pounding on my door asking me to donate blood because of the anticipated mass casualties from the Pentagon. I donate, wanting to do anything I can to help.

Almost immediately after donating blood, I come back into the house to learn that yet another plane had crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Apparently, it was headed to D.C. Fortunately the passengers had figured out what was going on by now and fought the hijackers, forcing the hijacker pilot to abandon his plans for DC.

By this time, I’m almost numb with all the horror and chaos, but wondering what will happen to our country. Then, the second tower collapsed and I just felt so helpless and afraid of what was going to happen next.

All commercial flights are been grounded, so by the end of the day, it seems clear that the worst is over.

I knew then that his was just the beginning. We would be engaging in an all-out war with some unknown enemy and more lives would be lost. When all I wanted to understand was “why? Why does someone hate us that much??”

But, I vowed I would move away from potential enemy targets like Washington, D.C., and within months, I moved to Floyd, population 500.

SueEllen Lawton

Missing the World Trade Center

We still grieve for those lost on 9/11. We cry watching TV. We wonder what’s going to happen next.

But since America was attacked, respect has grown for firemen, law enforcement officers and rescue workers. And not just in New York City or Washington D.C. Here in Caswell County, N.C., we appreciate more those who respond in emergencies and work to keep us safe. There is renewed respect for everyone who takes pride in their work: like linemen for the power company who keep things going, telephone technicians who keep the lines of communication open, teachers who show our kids the way, politicians who want to do the right thing, health care workers, postal clerks, truck drivers, mothers and children —everywhere, you can see it and feel it — 9/11 has recharged us and the power of that spirit makes the world a better place.

But nothing will bring back my favorite New York City landmark. Living in Manhattan from ’73 to ’83 gave me the chance to get to know the World Trade Center. For a time, I rode a bicycle delivering packages all over the west side of town. The “WTC” was a routine stop. It was a marvel. It marked the city as the greatest on earth. The towers were so tall they created their own weather. Currents of wind would swirl and draft between and around the towers. I once lost a yellow packing slip to an updraft. The sheet blew off a package and was sucked up the side of one of the towers and out of sight in seconds. Standing at the base looking up, the exterior ribs of the building took your breath away. But discovering the express elevators to the restaurant at the top called, “Windows on the World,” remains my favorite memory of living in New York. I had to show my brother. The elevator was big enough to hold a truck. Press the 110th floor! With no one else there, when the doors closed, we would lie down flat on our backs on the elevator floor. And like being in the space shuttle, we would be launched to the top. The indicator floor lights flashed by “tens” as we zoomed up pulling Gs…..10th, 20th, 30th, up and up and up, our bodies would compress as we screamed. When the bell sounded as the car hit the 110th floor, we would stand up quick, catch our breath and try to get presentable for anyone at the door getting on to go down. I gave a few more friends the memorable ride knowing I had discovered something special. A secret thrill.

The restaurant had a billion dollar view, 360 degrees. You could see for miles. But I rarely stayed because they wanted $4.50 for a cup of coffee and I had packages to deliver. Someday, I’ll go back and show my family where I rode into the sky with my brother and looked out over the world in awe — that man can build such a monument, and share it with the people of the world, even the little guy on a bicycle with his big brother, looking for a free ride.

Gordon Bendall

Silence was overwhelming

I lived near Dulles airport at the time. I remember coming out of the train tunnel and seeing the most blue sky and when I got home the silence was overwhelming.

Carolyn Zimmer


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