Open Thread

Open Thread Update: Twenty Years Ago Today.

The last Open Thread reflected on 9/11, twenty years later.

Although only a few readers shared their experiences and thoughts, every one was heartfelt and gripping.

Rather than add little snippets from each comment, I urge readers to visit the comments section, read, and reflect…and feel free to add your own thoughts and emotions as well. Jean M.’s first person experience as an x-ray technician treating survivors is particularly harrowing.

For those who missed it first time around, my original post is below:

It was a painfully clear morning the morning the world changed.  We didn’t have a TV at the time. The first news we heard was by phone from a client I was consulting for, telling me a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.  I told them to cancel the event we had planned. I thought it was a small prop plane.  It was inconceivable that it could be anything else.

We turned on the radio and the reports came in, increasing in pitch and intensity and horror.  When the second plane hit, we knew it was no accident.  As the other reports came in, for Washington and for Pennsylvania, my husband and I looked at each other and realized there was no telling how many other planes had been weaponized, or where they might strike.

I went out for cigarettes (I had quit but forget about that) and saw people riveted to TV’s in stores and delis.  After the first few minutes I couldn’t watch anymore and went home to resume our vigil by the radio.  The worst part to hear, the part that sent me sobbing into his arms, was that the first Tower had fallen.

I had represented the World Trade Center a few years earlier, as part of its PR agency of record.  I felt so proud to be working with an iconic landmark.  I still had the business cards of people who worked there. Did they make it out in time? Did they burn to death, or did they jump?

After the second Tower fell, Michael and I realized we needed to be with people.  We walked outside and every bar on Second Avenue was packed, everyone silent, everyone watching the collapse, the videos playing over and over.  Mayor Giuliani stepping up to the cameras, his voice cracking when he said he saw people jumping from the towers. Every time the wind shifted, bitter acrid smoke filled the streets.  Everyone had coughing fits, and our eyes burned and stung.  A few hours later we saw the slow parade of people returning home… people covered in dust, their eyes glazed over.

The aftermath

The following days and weeks and months in New York we saw hundreds of flyers with pictures scotch-taped at every bus stop, outside every hospital.  Have you seen my brother/father/spouse/sister/son/daughter.  S/he was hearing a blue suit. A red dress. A fireman’s uniform. A police uniform,  A chef’s whites. The hope was as heartbreaking as the funerals for 343 firemen and 72 policemen, day after day after day, at churches and synagogues all over the city and the region. The  heartbreak also spread to other cities and states and countries.  Everybody lost somebody.

Back home in NYC, I grew to hate the sound of bagpipes. Everyone outside wore a stunned expression, sadness, shock that lingered for weeks….as did the smoke from The Pile. We saw the smoke anytime we looked at the sky. At the sound of an airplane overhead, pedestrians exchanged worried and frightened glances. It’s hard to believe it happened 20 years ago.  It still feels like yesterday. I still feel a stab of anxiety when I hear a plane overhead.

That’s the story of where I was on 9/11 and how I found out about it.  What’s yours?  Share your thoughts in the comments….and no politics, please.



7 responses to “Open Thread Update: Twenty Years Ago Today.

  1. I was driving across the International Divide on my way to work (as a school counselor) at the Crownpoint Boarding School for Navajo children. I had the radio on and heard about the first airplane. I remember thinking, “Oh my God, the people!” I while later, still on the road, I heard about the second plane, and knew immediately, “That first plane was not an accident! We’re under attack!!” The shock sent shivers down my spine. By the time I got to the school, I realized I would have a big job to do, trying to allay the fears of children and adults. How was I going to manage this when I myself was quivering in fear? I thought, “This is war! We are now at war!” And all my memories of past wars came rushing through my mind. “Oh, dear God, NO!” When I got to the school, the principal had not yet heard, and thought I was over-reacting! I said, “No, I’m not! Turn on the T.V.!” We gradually let the children know, and had parents come pick up the smallest ones. We allowed the older children to watch T.V. in the dorms. I was by that time on full alert, looking for tears, fearful faces, and in some cases laughter which was close to panic. I think the teachers were even more frightened that the children, as they knew what the consequences of this day would bring. The legacy of the Navajo Code Talkers from WWII was strong in their memories. We all watched in horror as the buildings came down. Three days before this, I had taken a class in elementary education, and we were playing with colored paper and glue and spangles, and I had drawn what turned into Manhattan, with criss-cross streets, two towers (in 3-D), with green feathers on top, but a large ball of bright red at the bottom. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I had a strong premonition of something very wrong in New York City.

  2. More people have died as a result of 9/11-related illnesses than were instantly killed on the day of the attack. According to the World Trade Center Health Program, “hundreds of thousands” of Lower Manhattan residents, workers, and students were sent back into a toxic stew through lies told by the Federal EPA (Christine Todd Whitman: “I would like to assure the people of Lower Manhattan that their air is safe to breathe and their water is safe to drink”. She later admitted, under oath, that she knew the area was toxic and was following “orders from much higher up” to state the opposite. As a result of these lies, the World Trade Health Program, unless Congress acts to extend the Zadroga Act, will run out of funds very soon. Is this how America “remembers” the victims of 9/11?

  3. We were winding up our European river cruise in Prague, the time zone was plus six hours ahead of NYC. On 9/11, We decided to eat dinner in a small intimate establishment. As we entered, the eatery, a young man came toward us and asked if we were from the states. An affirmative answer brought an anxious response in broken English, “sorry for your loss.” What loss?

    English speaking restaurant patrons all contributed information about the first plane flying into the tower. Remembering the previous bombing of the towers and the plane that hit the Empire State Building in the ‘40s, we did not realize the severity of what was happening.

    We forgot about eating and returned to the hotel to watch CNN. We saw the second plane fly straight into the second tower. This was no accident. My retired husband had been involved in building skyscrapers in Chicago. His comment was those towers were considered at risk for collapse because of their construction.

    Comprehending the enormity of what was happening, was beyond measure. The biggest personal challenge happened post attack. Within hours the US embassy in Prague closed. We were on our own. The cruise company was firm, they would offer no assistance. The banks would not accept our US money or travel checks. The hotel agreed to extend $50.00 with internet each day on our credit card. The hotel provided a print out that said we should keep a low profile and avoid going out in groups. All air transportation was cancelled. We remained in Prague for two more weeks, constantly trying to find our way home.

    The bottom line was, as Americans we were naive. The Prague citizens we met said we were lucky to have no major terrorism on our US soil. I lived in countries where terrorism was a constant event. In the US I did not give any attention to terrorism. Or the threat of such acts.

    Each year, my husband and acknowledges 9/11by contributing in ways to make a difference and promote peace.

  4. I still can feel the sensations of fear and disbelief as I awoke to the horror we simply call 9-11. I am a transplanted New Yorker, and watched this grim story unfold from Oregon.

    Anger and an overwhelming sense of tragedy came later, building and then settling in my heart. I know I see people differently–all people. What are their life plans . . . their philosophies of life . . . their reactions to others . . . their needs . . . . how does America measure up to them . . . and affect them. We are so ignorant of others’ lives in our own country; can we be good allies deserving the same from world partners? In these fraught times?

    I had to watch the 20-year commemoration in small doses, but still all resonated, all moved me. My takeaway, if that is an appropriate term in this case, is that perhaps we may use the “album” we are creating and saving for others will indeed serve as one way to see each other, across all borders, for who and what we are.

    Thank you for this opportunity to share.

  5. On 9/11 I was working at Gouverneur Hospital (in Ground Zero) as an x-ray tech. My shift started at 10 am so I was getting ready for work when the first plane hit. I previously worked for Pan American Airlines so I took a quick look out the window and saw it was a clear day. I knew immediately it was not an accident and I tried to call work – all lines were down. On my way to work, I saw an airplane burning, stuck half in/half out of one of the World Trade Center buildings. Our hospital had been closed for patients – only open for World Trade Center victims. We watched the towers burn, people jumping out, the implosion, the mass confusion from our hospital. I took X-rays of people who ran to our hospital with broken bones, skull fractures, etc., everyone covered in grey ash, including their eyelashes, and in shock.

    1. It was of course a devastating day for all of us watching from a distance, but hearing your more detailed first hand experience gives an even clearer picture of the senseless horrors endured by so many. Thank you for sharing.

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