September 11, 2001: Twenty Years Ago — Seems Like Yesterday

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Sep 112021


It was 20 years ago today. The cloudless sky was so amazingly clear and blue that it’s hard to forget. Tuesday, September 11, 2001, was a deadline day for me. I had stayed up until about 3 or 4 a.m. to finish laying out my newspaper, the now defunct “Amity Observer,” and was prepared to wake up around 9:30 a.m. to make my way into the office to sign off on the pages.

My phone rang at around 8:48 a.m. It was Kathleen Schurman, a co-worker from Bethany who cried into the phone – “Did you see what’s happening in New York?”

“Huh? What? No. Why?” I answered

“Turn on the tv,” she said. I could hear the panic in her voice.

“What channel?” I asked.

“ANY channel, It doesn’t matter,” she answered desperately. “It’s the World Trade Center, a plane just hit it.”

Indeed, just moments before, at 8:46:26 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north side of the North Tower (1 World Trade Center) of the WTC between the 94th and 98th floors. A later investigation revealed that  Flight 11 was flying at a speed of 490 miles per hour (MPH).

Now, I’d been to New York City plenty of times, but I’d never even been close to the World Trade Center or paid much attention. I’d seen the towers in the distance, but what they were used for, etc, really meant nothing to me.

But Kathleen, whose husband was a businessman who worked in the city, had dined inside the Towers and she knew all too well the tragedy and panic that must be going on inside the burning building.

We watched silently, both holding our breath. I could hear her quiet sobs as she mourned the thousands of people that she KNEW were inside. I was still a bit clueless as to the loss of humanity.

Her cable went out for a couple of seconds, and as she mentioned it, I said, “Oh my God, this was no accident, A plane just flew into the other building.”

At 9:02:54 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 crashed through the south side of the South Tower of the WTC between the 78th and 84th floors at a speed of more than 500 MPH. It was later reported that parts of the plane including an engine left the building from its north side, and were found on the ground up to six blocks away.

She screamed, “What?” as I told her, “This was on purpose, another plane just flew right into the other building.”

Knowing that our newsroom didn’t have televisions everywhere and that everyone was busy working — and not surfing the internet, I called one of the copy editors to let him know that something was up.

When I reached Peter on the phone,  I gave him blow-by-blow reports of what was happening in America. He did not believe me when I told him that the South Tower had collapsed.

I had a deep painful hurt in the middle of my stomach. Then I told him that the North Tower was gone. “They imploded, Peter.”

By then the bosses had begun watching the horror on the internet and every editor stopped whatever he or she was working on and was instructed to find a local angle from his or her town to include in a special 911 edition of the papers.

For me, Tuesday was deadline day, so I didn’t have enough time to find Orange, Bethany, or Woodbridge residents with a personal connection to the tragedy.

(source: https://bit.ly/2cBabrB)

(source: https://bit.ly/2cBabrB)

Instead, I wrote a column documenting my day from the time I was awakened by a phone call telling me to “turn on the tv”; to seeing the second plane hit the south tower; to the conversations with my co-worker and his reaction to what I was telling him; and finally the numbness I felt that day.

The Biggest Change

What I remember most from the 9-11 attacks is just how kind everyone was for nearly an entire week afterward. Drivers were more patient with that slowpoke in front of them and laying on the horn for some idiot move wasn’t even on the radar. Everyone just put their negativity aside and let others get in front of them at the grocery store and so much more.

My children and I answered the call when the donation of heavy work gloves, dust filter masks, bottled water, and socks (to help protect the search and rescue and cadaver dogs’ feet) came out.

In 2001, my kids were 14 and 15 years old. They knew what was going on, they witnessed it on TV at school and, I remember they didn’t need a lot of reassurance. They were upset but didn’t dwell on it.

I have not been back to that particular area of New York since that day and only visited New York twice for surgical procedures at New York Presbyterian Hospital in 2009 and for a work thing in 2010.

For all the kids and early 20-somethings who are now in High School and were too young to remember and for all the children who were born after 2001, here is a timeline of what happened that day 19 years ago: 

The North and South towers fo the World Trade Center were struck by passenger planes. Terrorists used the planes as weapons against the United States. (see specifics above)

Then the Pentagon in Washington, DC was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 at 9:37 a.m.

(source: https://bit.ly/2cBabrB)

(source: https://bit.ly/2cBabrB)

9:59:04 a.m.: The south tower of the World Trade Center suddenly collapses, plummeting into the streets below. A massive cloud of dust and debris quickly fills lower Manhattan. It is later explained (disinformation) that the collapse was not directly caused by the impact, but the intense heat caused by the fire fueled by the jet’s fuel weakening the steel support beams of the concrete floors. The WTC towers were built to withstand a 707 being flown into them. A 767 carries almost the same amount of fuel as a 707.

The Palisades seismic data recorded a 2.1 magnitude earthquake during the 10-second collapse of the South Tower at 9:59:04 and a 2.3 quake during the 9-second collapse of the North Tower at 10:28:31 a.m.

10:06.05 a.m.: According to seismic data, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed near Shanksville, PA, about 80 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Hearing what was going on elsewhere in America, the passengers overtook the hijackers, sacrificing their own lives in order to save others, and the plane went down in a remote area before it could hit its target at Camp David or in Washington DC, perhaps the White House or other significant building.

NOTE: Delta Flight 1989 was in danger of being shot down by American Fighter jets after it could not be determined if it had been hijacked or not. A radio transmission from Flight 93 stating there’s a “bomb on board” was thought to have come from the Delta flight. Thankfully, the Delta plane was re-directed and landed safely in Cleveland with everyone on board safe and sound (although terrified).

Here is a breakdown of the victims:

Deaths by Area of Attack Deaths
World Trade Center 2,606
Airlines 246
Pentagon Building 125
Hijackers 19
Total number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks 2,996
Casualties in the World Trade Center and Surrounding Area Deaths
Residents of New York 1,762
Persons in North Tower (Tower 1) 1,402
Persons in South Tower (Tower 2) 614
Residents of New Jersey 674
Employees of Marsh Inc. 355
Firefighters 343
Employees of Aon Corporation 175
Port Authority police officers 37
Police officers 23
Paramedics 2
1 firefighter was killed by a man who jumped off the top floors

Talking To Your Kids About 9/11

My granddaughter is 9 (almost 10 years old) and I asked her last year if she knew what 9/11 was all about.

She said she’d heard about it, but “not really.”

I asked if she wanted to know more, and being an inquisitive child, she, of course, said “yes.”

I had found a documentary that I’d DVR’d a few years ago, that I thought would give her a sense of what happened without upsetting her or scaring her too much. It didn’t show the people jumping from the upper floors, or anyone on fire running through the lobby of Tower One. It didn’t dwell on the heartbroken family members pasting photos of their loved ones up on the bulletin boards near the site. Just the basics.

And as she watched it, I shared some thoughts about what she was seeing. I told her that I knew a Paramedic and a Priest from Bethany who helped the people deal with the terrible things they’d seen and the guilt they felt about surviving on that day when so many others died.

She has an appreciation for the first responders who risked their lives to help save others, and the many who gave their lives during that effort.

She liked that her mommy and uncle were willing to help donate things that the rescuers needed in the days after the attacks. And she understands so much more than most kids her age without having night terrors about what she’d learned. Just the knowledge and appreciation for those who were willing to help.

You know your children better than anyone else, and you know how much information they can handle. September 11, is a historic event, and one of the most tragic events of our lifetimes. Nearly 3,000 people died on Sept. 11 and scores more have passed away since then as a result.

Knowledge is power. Don’t sweep it under the rug. If you think they can handle it, tell your kids at least something about September 11, because they will see it in history books or on the Internet before you know it.