By Erik Martin
DARKE COUNTY — Much like earlier generations remember the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 or the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy, millions of Americans alive today can readily recall where they were and what they were doing when they first heard the news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
For most Americans, the morning of Sept. 11 started off as just an average Tuesday, with many on their way to, or at, work, and with youngsters heading for school. Undoubtedly, some trudging off to work were sleep deprived, having stayed up late to watch the Denver Broncos beat the New York Giants 31-20 on Monday Night Football.
For myself, my wife Jennifer, and our two young children, we were living in Greenville, and it, too, was an average Tuesday morning. Our oldest child, Madeline, was in Kindergarten, and waiting for the bus to take her to school. Jared, at that point our youngest child (Emery, our third, wouldn’t come along until 2010), was happily playing with toys on the living room floor. At that time, I was working for a publishing company in Dayton, and would normally have been there that morning, but for a dentist appointment I had scheduled.
My first indication something terrible had happened came when I was browsing the internet and saw a small snippet on Yahoo News saying a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center — no story, just the headline. My initial thought was, “How could a pilot be so stupid as to hit something so large?” I wasn’t thinking terrorism or commercial airliners — at worst, I was thinking perhaps a small prop plane had been flown into the WTC by a disgruntled stockbroker.
Curious, I turned on the television, and we proceeded to watch what became a horrible and defining moment in the lives of all Americans, and people around the world, from that day forward. Our children were held, hugged and kissed a lot that day.
‘Eerie and surreal to witness’
Advocate Advertising Manager Christine Randall remembers seeing it all unfold on TV.
“I was at work and we had the small television on in editorial. I watched the first plane hit the towers and I had a bad feeling in my gut something bad was going down. When second plane hit, I knew our country was in some serious trouble,” she said. “All I could think about was leaving to go pick my son up at North school. Just wanted him with me because I didn’t know what was coming next. It was a sick-to-your-gut and weak-in-the-knees kind of feeling. I will never forget that moment.”
“I was at my hotel room in Syracuse, Ind., getting ready to head to Milford for our sales meeting for Auto & RV.” said Advocate Sales Associate Annette Sanders. “When I saw the morning news, I had seen that an airplane had hit a building but thought that it was just an accident. When I got to our headquarters in Milford, I saw one of my co-workers in his car on the cell phone looking pale and very worried. When we got into headquarters, our supervisor called us all into the office and announced that America was under attack and told us what was happening with the World Trade Center, Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I was living in Peoria, Ill., at the time and my mom had come along with me on the trip just to keep me company. As we were driving back home, we noticed many cars pulling off the side of the road, looking up to the sky. Others kept driving, but you can see that they were looking up as well. We knew that all commercial airline travel was stopped. When we looked up, we saw Air Force One, along with accompanying fighter jets going through the sky, escorting President Bush back to Washington. It was an eerie and surreal experience to witness.”
Advocate Media Consultant Candy Helm was in downtown Cincinnati on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I was at a State Realtor function. I had a 7 a.m. meeting. I remember going back to my hotel room after the meeting walking into my room just as they showed the second plane hitting [the tower],” she said. “All I could do sit on the edge of the bed and stare at the TV, with an unbelievable feeling of fear that I’d never see my family again. I looked out the window and people were running down the sidewalks, and traffic was crazy to the point of total traffic jam. Within an hour and a half, downtown Cincinnati was like a ghost town.”
‘I will never forget this day’
The Daily Advocate asked members of the community to post their memories of that fateful day.
Kelly Shane Van-De Grift wrote, “I was swimming laps at the Y and someone came to the pool area and told us. It took a minute to comprehend exactly what happened. I quickly got home and saw on TV the second plane hit”
Carolyn Van-De Grift Kelly said, “I was in my 6th grade home room class with Mr. Plessinger, [with] Channel 1 flipped over to the news coverage and everyone stayed in their home rooms all day. Classes were canceled and we watched the news the whole day.”
“I happened to be home ill that day and resting and watching TV,” said Deb Shiverdecker. “It was just unbelievable watching it unfold. I mean really hard to grasp the reality of it. I don’t think I realized until much later how in shock/touched I was by it.”
She added, “I also remember the amazing sense of country and pride I felt watching how people pulled together to help however they could. Lots of heroes were ‘made’ that day. I hope that I would have that ‘heroism’ in me if I were ever close to something like that unfolding. Our service members and first responders do it almost every day. I am inspired and in awe of people like that.”
Matt Miller wrote, “I was a freshman in high school and was in Spanish class. We all thought it was an accident until we heard multiple planes had crashed in the towers, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. I will never forget this day.”
For many Americans, it changed forever their sense that what was once normal would no longer be the same.
“I was at home. My mother had received a phone call from a friend telling her to turn on the news. They already felt pretty strongly that it was an intentional act before the second plane even hit the other tower,” wrote Chris Root. “I turned on the TV in my room just moments before the second plane hit. A friend of mine had crashed on my couch overnight, and we both sat there and watched in complete shock. It was definitely one of those moments that you just knew that some things would never be the same from then on.”
Danielle Hayes remembered, “I was a freshman at TVHS. We were waiting for band practice to end and choir to start when the principal came over the PA and said the first tower had been hit. I was in math class when we watched the towers fall. It’s all anyone watched all day. It’s crazy to think that my daughters are learning about it in history class. Still emotional 20 years later.”
“Emotional,” “Surreal,” Unbelievable,” “Eerie,” “Shock” — words which each in and of itself define what happened two decades ago, and in ways reflect today’s United States.
Then and now
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks changed America dramatically.
In October 2001, Congress passed the Patriot Act. Ostensibly enacted to strengthen the federal government’s ability to combat terrorism at home and abroad, provisions of the act remain controversial to this day, as many believe its mechanisms have been used in ways not compatible with the Constitution and traditional American liberties. Travelers must now undergo rigorous searches before boarding a plane. The government has near unlimited access to search Americans’ bank accounts and communications. New technologies, such as drones, are used to spy upon, and even kill, those seen as a threat. Perhaps most concerning is the unlimited collection and storage of private information of Americans without due process. Twenty years after its enactment, the Patriot Act survives unabated.
As Americans set aside time this weekend to commemorate a terrible event in their history, they continue to be met with fresh horrors — a Coronavirus pandemic which just won’t seem to go away; an ignonimous and shameful exit from a 20-year war in Afghanistan; the worrisome, aggressive posturing of enemies abroad; economic uncertainty at home; distrust in the government, the media, and in our neighbors. Many are openly saying the “Land of the Free, and the Home of the Brave” is crumbling, drowning in a maelstrom of troubles.
The attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, hurt us, but didn’t break us. To the contrary, the Americans of 2001 quickly found themselves more unified than ever before, resolutely seeking to heal their wounds and avenge their country against the perpetrators of the deeds which left nearly 3,000 dead. However, this question looms before us: Can Americans in 2021, seemingly at each others’ throats over so many issues, find a way to make peace with each other without the tragic incursion of a foreign threat? Time, as always, will tell.
To contact Daily Advocate Editor Erik Martin, email [email protected] or call 937.569.4312.