Ruth McWilliams, 61
On Monday, Sept. 10. 2001, I started my ninth week of a new job at the Pentagon. After Tuesday, Sept. 11, I didn’t work in the Pentagon again because my office was lost to smoke and fire.
Pre-internet, the TV gave you ‘breaking news.’ Colleagues told me about watching planes striking the World Trade Center. When the plane struck the Pentagon, I was on a phone call, and I thought it was an earthquake.
My colleagues came in, and we decided to evacuate. We streamed out the door, into the beautiful fall day. My foot kicked a piece of metal, curved with sprocket holes, and I thought how much trouble the contractors would have for leaving debris from the Pentagon’s on-going renovation. I didn’t know it was a piece of the plane.
As we rounded the corner of the building, I saw Marines running down the hill, in short sleeve dress uniforms, running toward the conflagration that burned the side of the building. Their selfless act was overwhelming, both in the moment and in retrospect.
We moved away from the building and tried to account for everyone. Having my purse, I gave $20 dollars to someone who came out with nothing. Living one mile away, it took me hours to get home, waiting for trains and buses that weren’t running. My phone allowed someone to call family. My boss reached her husband who reached my husband to share that we were safe. Colleagues died; I am grateful to live.
Deborah Maupin, 75
I was working for The News & Advance in Lynchburg, Virginia. I had a meeting at the post office to discuss the way and times newspapers were being mailed. I recall they had a radio on and we were listing to the happenings in New York. Larry Temple was supervisor over bulk mail at that time. Larry has also retired and is currently living in Florida.
Floyd Artrip, 78
I was at work when the news broke that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. I immediately recalled the story about a bomber accidentally striking the Empire State Building decades earlier. Although there were many lives lost in that accident, the building had remained standing.
One of my employees had driven his van to work that day. It had a TV, so we went out to see the events develop. Words could not describe the tragedy which was developing. When a plane struck the second tower, and reports started coming in about other hijackings in progress, it became apparent that, unlike the earlier bomber striking the Empire State Building, this was no accident. As I watched, individuals jumped to their death from floors above the fire.
I remembered the earlier attempt by radical Muslims to destroy one of the towers with a bomb. Although they failed to destroy the tower, they killed and injured more than one thousand people, and left a six-story crater in the bowels of the building. Were they now returning to complete their heinous plans?
One thing which stood out was the fact that for 4 days after the attack there were no contrails from civilian aircraft crossing the sky. I remember that our country was more united than I could recall in my lifetime. I was born in 1943.
Jennifer Springer, 53
I was living in Flushing Queens at the time. My boyfriend called me at home from work that morning and told me the Twin Towers were under attack. Shortly after that, the ability to contact anyone became difficult. My friend and I immediately went to a local blood bank to give blood but found it closed. We wanted to help, but all we could do was watch the latest developments on TV and hope none of our friends or family was hurt. My family was fortunate, but my friend was not—she lost her cousin in the South Tower.
Several days later, a pervasive debris cloud from the disaster enveloped my neighborhood—the smell was and is indescribable. When it was appropriate, I went to the site in lower Manhattan and mourned with other New Yorkers. Some tourists were taking pictures which felt disrespectful, so I didn’t stay long. On every street, wall, subway station, and light post were posters of missing loved ones.
The impact of that experience will forever remain with me.
Janet Beheler, 49
I was living in Tysons Corner and I remember how quiet it was with no air traffic. It was something I never really thought about or noticed on a regular basis, but the sudden silence was unnerving.
A few days later I had to drive to Crystal City and having tanks with huge machine guns trained on my car as I drove down Rt 110 by the Pentagon was surreal.
Gary Berry, 70
I was in the Army on 9/11, stationed one mile west of the Pentagon. I went for a dental cleaning at 7:30 that morning and noted the knock down gorgeous day with not a cloud in the sky. Shortly after I returned to the office, the first tower was struck. Most agreed, that was intentional, i.e. terrorism. We heard a large low flying aircraft fly near our building. Later, we heard from people in the smoke break area that they had seen faces plastered up against the windows. We heard the crash and climbed to the roof where we saw smoke coming from the Pentagon. Shortly after that, we went into lock down.
Paul Henderson, 63
My sister-in-law Hanna, who worked in the Towers, was a bit late for work, and as she entered the building saw the first plane hit the tower. Behind her was a tourist from England on the way to the observation desk. The tourist asked Hanna “what is happening?”, and Hanna said “take off your shoes and run with me.” They ran all the way to the tip of Manhattan and boarded the Staten Island Ferry, watching from the ferry as the second plane hit. They walked to Hanna’s family home and the tourist stayed with Hanna and her family for over a week (since all transportation was shutdown). They’ve remained friends every since.
Joe Shaver, 75
9/11 was on Tuesday, and my wife and I along with her mother had gone over to a realty office to receive a fax on her mother’s sale of a condo back in Ohio. That’s where we heard what had happed. But the real memory for me was in watching the memorial service held at the National Cathedral in DC. When I witness a rabbi and a Muslim Imam standing together at the ambo to offer a prayer, I was greatly moved, and that witness aroused some strong hope for me as to what was to come. But here we are almost 20 years later, and I’m still waiting for Peace to be emphasized in the Middle East.
Eric Lindenbaum, 62
On Sept. 11th, 2001 I was assigned to the Joint Staff, room 1D963 in the Pentagon. My office was watching the events in New York on TV when someone said “Turn on channel 4. The Pentagon is on fire.”
Turning on channel 4 and watching the building you are in on fire was a surreal moment. I called my wife to tell her I was OK but she was not home so I left a message. Shortly, thereafter we heard the fire alarm and we started our evacuation procedures.
Our office went out the River Entrance where we mustered. Periodically we were told to get on the ground as false reports of another hijacked flight in the DC area were being circulated.
Eventually we were told to go home. I had “slugged in” so I had no car. The Metro was stopped as were the busses so I went out to I395S and started to hitch hike. A car stopped and it was a reported for the London Times. I gave them an interview and I ended up being quoted in the London times the next day but they got my rank wrong. They also would not give me a ride.
Eventually I did get a ride home from a driver who was drinking (I remember thinking I was safer back in the Pentagon while it was on fire). I got home but found out I was recalled back to the Pentagon…but I am out of my 250 words.
David Manka, 47
My wife and I had just moved from Charlottesville to Brussels in June 2001. We happened to take the day off on 9/11. My mom called from the US in the afternoon to share the news. We didn’t have a TV, so we went to the Irish bar down the street, with the sound turned off. We didn’t know if what we were seeing was live, or a replay of earlier events. We were the only Americans in the bar, and the rest of the crowd mostly shrugged it off and went back to their beers. A friend from NYC called me as he walked from Manhattan to his home across the Brooklyn bridge. He asked that I call his parents in WI to let them know he was ok. Apparently domestic, but not international calls, had been blocked. It was surreal. In the subsequent days and months, we felt very isolated as Americans. There was no flag-waving in Brussels.
Zanne Macdonald, 73
When 9.11 events were unfolding in the U.S., my sister and I were landing in Edinburgh, Scotland for a 2 week trip. After checking into our b&b and before boarding a sightseeing bus to view Edinburgh, a local TV journalist approached us with microphone in hand and camera person behind. He asked if we were Americans and then asked if he could interview us about the happenings in our country at that moment.
Of course we had no idea what was happening in the U.S. He informed us of the events in a very cursory way which left us doubting if all he said was true. After we returned to our b&b and then saw on the TV what had actually taken place, we contacted our family members, which we felt needed to be done, using our kind host’s email.
We did continue our trip, because we couldn’t return to the US at that time anyway, but we were not spared sadness. When we were in an email cafe, we received an email telling us that a family friend had died in the Towers. As we traveled, we could forget for a bit the horror at home, but in the evenings we would watch TV and mourn together.
When we were to leave Scotland, we were unsure of the many details of the return trip: could we leave Scotland in a timely way, what could we carry with us, how would we navigate the airports.
Bill Fisher, 65
Hard to believe it’s 20 years since I witnessed a plane striking the tower; was caught on West St. when the first tower collapsed; and too many other vivid memories. Many people ask me what’s changed in how I view the world after all this time. I know I am more sensitive and aware to stress around me; angry people, inconsiderate people, who previously just annoyed me, now frighten me. I often feel a strong need to create a safe space around myself and my family. And yet I am more inspired by the goodness in people, by their commitment when they give all they can for others. I definitely feel more vulnerable at times. I’m anxious in tall buildings; nervous of planes flying low; and even distant thunder (sounds like the towers collapsing). I don’t like being in situations with large crowds at visible public events. I’ve done things I never would have made the time to do. I’ve read more books than I probably have my entire life. I love calming activities like fly fishing and kayaking. I’ve biked in Netherlands; hiked in Patagonia; the Galapagos Islands; and Alaska. I’ve been to every state and 87 countries. And I’ll take every opportunity to be there for our grandchildren. Has my life changed? Absolutely. I’m more aware of the world around me, and the impact I can make. And I’m a lot more appreciative of the life I have and the friends and family that make it so special.
Melissa Dorris, 32
I was in 7th grade when the attacks occurred. We knew something bad was happening, but weren’t given many details. They sent us all home early. No one knew what was going on. I remember comforting a friend on the bus whose father was visiting D.C. that day for work, encouraging her that he was fine (he was). I remember my mom waiting for me in the driveway when the bus dropped me off. She gave me a big hug and told me that something terrible had happened, there had been several attacks which killed a lot of people, and that our country might go to war. I remember being terrified, not understanding what that meant, not knowing if an attack would happen where I lived in Hampton Roads because of all the military bases. Political discussions held in the coming weeks were lost on me as a 7th grader, but I remember the rise in patriotism throughout my neighborhood, school, and larger community. The flags were both comforting and a reminder that the world was not as safe as I once thought it was. Twenty years later, I’m married to an airline pilot and we have a beautiful son. I have a new appreciation for what airline families endured that day. I’m grateful for the changes in air travel security that keep my husband safe, and I pray I never have to meet my son in the driveway as my mom me.
James Ford , 39
I was helping an old hippie build his house in Nelson County.. He told me about the planes hitting the WTC when I arrived in the morning but for whatever reason I didn’t grasp the gravity of the situation and forgot all about it until I got home that day. My mom was sitting on the front porch with a bandana in her hair and I could tell she was disturbed or upset. Once she told me what was going on, reality finally sank in and I ran off to consume the news.
Jared Lake, 78
I was in France on vacation that day. Having returned to our hotel the young lady at the desk who spoke no English, tried to explain what is happening but finally said watch the TV. In our room we saw the fall of the twin towers like most Americans we could not believe it was happening. As we went back out to the streets of Paris the French say little to us. After a few days we moved on to London Where the British greeted us with tears and support.
So what is my take after all these years. My government was willing to compromise our core beliefs to cooperate for oil with the Saudis and their support for schools that taught hate throughout the middle east. As I watched today our failure in Afghanistan and again it was a failure to be honest that the culture is 400 years behind us. Warlords, criminal drug dealers, rapists of little boys were ours partners!
Now they are partners with the Taliban! Am I surprised the 300,000 afghan government troops did not fight. Nope.
We should have given the guns to the afghan women who now have the most to lose.
George Floyd’s family, specifically his sister Bridgett
Fayetteville, North Carolina
This is the George Floyd’s family, and we are here to talk about our experience on 9/11 and we were on Manhattan island at the time of the attacks.
I remember it fondly since I was ten and I loved Manhattan. It was around September 8th we went there and our plans were to go for a week, we had the opportunity to go to the top of the World Trade Center on 9/9/01 and it felt like I was flying like a bird in the air from the wind. We were in our hotel early in the morning until we heard a loud bang sound we thought it was a crane since construction was going on in the area so we went back to sleep until we heard another one then being concerned we went to the receptionist to figure out what was on until we seen the lobby’s television and then we realized something was not quite right. We got to the top of our building and watched The World Trade Center towers smolder until they collapsed we didn’t know it was a plane until we seen the replays on tv, we planned to go to windows on the world that night too. The day after the whole city was covered in dust and we could nearly breathe, it was a terrible experience for us but we checked out the pile of rubble at the site and went to Central Park and other cites which George enjoyed.
Anjana Mebane-Cruz, 68
Amityville, New York
My husband and I, NYers living in Charlottesville, received an early morning call from a friend telling us to turn on the TV, and that “The World Trade Center looks like a smoking cigarette.” Quickly grasping the situation, my first thought was for my son who worked in Midtown, but often had to work at the WTC. I was fortunate enough to find out that he wasn’t down there and later, that my brother who also worked nearby had fortuitously taken the day off.
The phones were soon cut and I spent the day trying tp reach or wait for information on other relatives and friends, during the most harrowing day most of us had lived through. Fortunately, my Marine, Viet Nam vet husband was able to keep things calm. As other townsfolk put up US flags, we hung up our NYS flag, noting how suddenly everyone now loved NY and a mayor that New Yorkers widely hated and who, like everybody else, had run away from the initial danger. Much as we loved Virginia, we suddenly felt like alien NYers.
But our Charlottesville family was wonderful: supportive and organized. UVa archaeologists and other anthropologists trained to identify human bones volunteered to go to the city, and everybody did whatever they could. We prepared for anyone who might need to get away from the city, and my husband lit candles and prayed between it all.
It was truly “A day to live in infamy” and one I won’t forget.
David Wilkerson, 45
I was teaching freshmen English at FUMA when a student returned from the office and asked if I had heard about the plane hitting a building in New York. Thinking it was a Cessna or other small plane, I tried to call up CNN.com, but it was frozen. Class ended and we all walked to the chapel where it was announced that the first tower had fallen and another plane had hit the Pentagon. Cadets whose parents worked in DC were inconsolable and virtually everyone had a glassy eyed look of utter uncertainty. Several teachers put their arms around crying boys as a school wide prayer was shared.
I had a beloved friend from college in the World Trade Center. No one had heard from him since shortly after the collision.
My wife and I drove to his parents’ home in New Jersey, hoping against hope that he would be found, somehow, in hospital bed or confused and wandering. We were met there by so many people who loved him and, out of a fitful need to feel productive, we volunteered en masse at the Red Cross crisis center where Americans of all ages, sizes, and races were working together to process the clothing, food, and supplies which were pouring in from all over the world. In the midst of such horror, uncertainty, and pain, I will never forget how powerful it was to see so many beautiful people cooperating through their tears and finding common cause as Americans.
Marjorie Chambers, 60
I recall briefly seeing the news about an airplane crashing into a building before leaving for my ODU classes at PVCC. At the time, my whole attention was getting out of the house and getting to class on time. It was not until I got on campus when I realized the severity of what had happened. Televisions were out in the student lobby as faculty and students were standing around watching in disbelief. Needless to say, no one was in the mood for classes. Everyone was shocked, dazed and some were crying. It’s a day I will never forget.
Peter M. Thompson, 60
Executive director, The Center
On Sept. 11, 2001 The (Senior) Center was to celebrate our 10th Anniversary at our then Pepsi Place location on that gorgeous fall day. After hearing the news of the first plane hitting the towers, I gathered our staff to consider if we should continue with the big celebration we had planned for 250+ guests at 11 am, about two hours away. So much was still unknown in those early minutes. One of our scheduled guest speakers was Betz Gleason who had served in different times as executive director and president of The Center, as well as on City Council and many other community leadership roles—she was then and remains today a wise woman and trusted advisor.
Sarad Davenport, 42
It was 8:45am. My routine was to watch the Today Show before heading to class. I was in my last semester, a fall semester at ODU. I remember clearly Katie Couric’s voice as we all tried to understand why one of the Twin Towers appeared to be on fire. Then, boom! I dropped my spoon and my entire bowl of Frosted Flakes as the second plane made collided with the other tower.
Everything stopped. I mean time really stood still and I didn’t know what was real anymore. I remember a ringing sound—that steady ring when you have totally zoned out. Panic seemed to spread across campus quickly and fears of a more widespread attack were being speculated around campus. It didn’t help that we were not far from the naval base. I thought to myself, ‘I am strategically at the wrong place, at the wrong time.’
Alerts via email began circulating throughout campus indicating that attending class was optional for that day. Many professors canceled classes altogether. As I suspected, my journalism professor, Dr. Dickenson did not cancel class. In her email to us, she emphasized that the Virginian-Pilot was going to publish a mid-day edition and we were going to examine it as a class. She emphasized that these were the times that journalists were supposed to be front and center and it was important for us to be present. That was my only class that day, a day I’ll never forget.
She simply said ‘This is your generation’s Pearl Harbor.’ We immediately postponed our celebration. As the day unfolded this became even clearer to be the proper decision as we all mourned the loss of life and absorbed the meaning of the day.
Alexander Brisker, 44
I was a civilian, working in the basement of the Pentagon for the Joint Staff while my older brother was an attorney in Battery Park City New York, directly next to twin towers. I did not hear any impact to the Pentagon whatsoever. However, I was watching CNN with my co-workers that showed live images of the attack in New York I started to get frantic phone calls from my co-workers asking if I was okay because they could see smoke and fire bellowing from the Pentagon from their location at Bolling Air Force Base. I am extremely grateful and thankful to be able to share this story. To think my parents could have lost their only two children on 9/11 is still hard for me to believe, 20 years later. When I relocated from Rockville Maryland to Crozet Virginia in 2010, I was elated to be able to purchase the “Fight Terrorism” license plate for my vehicle. Every time I get into my car, it is a reminder of that fateful day. One that I will never forget.
Deborah Earhart, 60
I was working in DC at my job at the Library of Congress HR Dept. I remember seeing on the TV that a plane had hit the twin tower and hoe devastating it was, and then a few moments later, the other tower was hit and I said to my co-worker, that was no accident. Everyone was panicking and trying to get home. I met my van mates at the van to carpool back to Fredericksburg and pick up my car for the additional 45 minutes home. I remember going past the Pentagon and watching it burn…not one person in the carpool uttered a word. We all tried to call home and let our families know that we were all ok, but there was no cell phone service. After 10 hours, we finally made it home. I have never been so thankful to be home in my life. The events of that day still, after 20 years, leave me in disbelief, anger, sadness and so many other emotions. I also remember the next day, and how this nation rallied together, black, white, rich, poor, didn’t matter, we stood as one nation, under God!
Elaine Stratos, 72
I was living on east 62nd St. at Second Ave. and distinctly remember people walking with a blank stare on the street heading uptown. I believe buses and all transportation came to halt needing to coordinate all activities throughout Manhattan after first building went down after 9 o’clock…. I would say a panicky, lost look as to what had just happened … perhaps a mistake with a plane loosing an engine but not sabotage … then as the news trickled in, the shock and information as the saga moved on to Washington D.C., then Pennsylvania.
Tony Carbonelli, 70
I’m a resident of Charlottesville since 2010 but worked in NYC during that time. It was a beautiful day, one of the 10 best days weather-wise of the year, when just after 8 a.m. all hell broke loose. I was stationed at William and Fulton Streets, two blocks east of the Trade Center Complex, when I heard that jet screeching across the sky. I thought that doesn’t sound right as planes are not allowed to fly directly over Manhattan. Then BOOM it struck the north tower and burst into an inferno followed by debris falling from the building. Then the emergency vehicles responded and the sounds of sirens filled the air and it was constant din that day. Then the jumpers started and I imagined the horror if your only option was to jump from a 110 story building. God bless their souls. After the second building was hit I realized it wasn’t an accident but a terrorist attack and feared what else was going to happen that day. The buildings collapsing was so surreal and the two dust clouds left paths of debris throughout lower Manhattan covering everything and everyone that came in contact with it. People began escaping lower Manhattan, some by boat most walked out of the area like they were civilian refugees fleeing a war zone. People were, in the words of Led Zeppelin, dazed and confused. The weeks after were filled with sorrow and the smell of burning debris. GOD BLESS AMERICA,THE FDNY AND NYPD.