I grew up as part of a generation of kids in America whose childhoods are punctuated, at least in part, by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York, the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Penn.
Like most people, I can remember Sept. 11, 2001, distinctly.
I was in fourth grade and 9 years old. We knew something was off when our teachers let us outside for recess early on the crystal clear, blue-sky morning.
They gathered us in a circle inside my tiny elementary school in Wilmington, Del., and — tears running down their faces — tried to explain something unexplainable to small children. We were directly between Manhattan and Washington, D.C., seemingly wedged in the chaos, jet fighters buzzing overhead.
I vividly remember the word terrorist. I vividly remember conflating it with the word tourist. I vividly remember my father picking me up from school — he was one of the last parents to arrive — and then the never-ending stream of questions I had for him about “why?”
I was afraid to visit public places in the weeks that followed. Sports stadiums, I recall, were especially scary.
“You had this sense of total anxiety about it,” my father told me Tuesday. “You were anxious for a long time after. You and I went in January to a Steelers-Patriots game at Heinz Field and the night before we went to a University of Pittsburgh basketball game and you were really anxious about those crowds.”
He added: “You grasped what was happening. You grasped the enormity of it all.”
It’s still a frequent subject of conversation for me and my friends: Where were you and what do you remember?
Some of my best pals in college grew up in Seattle and Denver. They weren’t at school, or even awake, when American Airlines Flight 11 smashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. Eastern time. But they remember sitting in their kitchens learning about the attacks from their parents.
Their experience was so different from mine, yet similar in the shock and confusion.
My sister, three years younger than me, kept asking my parents why they were watching the same clip of a plane crash and towers falling over and over again. She was a frustrated 6-year-old who wanted to watch cartoons.
There’s still a lot I don’t understand about that day and how it came to be. And it took me a long time to realize how close my family was to losing loved ones.
My cousin Danny, then a young volunteer EMT, rushed into the chaos to help save dozens of people in lower Manhattan.
An aunt worked for The Wall Street Journal very close the World Trade Center, but wasn’t there when the attack happened. (There were children in her New Jersey community whose parents never came home.)
Danny was working as a producer for the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News. He went on the show the day of the attacks and said the one image that stayed with him “would have to be the whole tower coming down. When the first tower came down, we were directly underneath it, and I heard what I thought was another jet coming. It turned out it was actually the building.”
“One of the fireman that I took out, I asked ‘How many firemen are in there?’ ” Danny said on the show. “He said, ‘Thousands.’ I said, ‘No, I mean how many firemen are in the building?’ He said, ‘Thousands,’ and he started crying.”
He added: “People just kept saying, ‘Why? Why? Oh my God.’”
It’s a gut-wrenching interview.
There are so many stories from Sept. 11 — everyone has one — and they are so important to share, especially with younger people who either don’t remember or hadn’t been born yet when the attacks happened.
The stories unite us. It’s in the most terrible of ways, but also in the most resilient of ways. On that Tuesday morning in 2001, the entire nation was connected in its grief, shock and, yes, steadfastness.
So sometime today, share where you were on Sept. 11, 2001, with a coworker, a friend, a family member. And remember the people who lost their lives that day.
And remember how lucky we are to all still be here.
What other Colorado Sun staffers remember from Sept. 11, 2001:
Kevin Simpson, Reporter
“I remember standing in the kitchen, eating breakfast at the counter, while the newscasters on the TV in the family room tried to piece together what had happened. The entire work day at The Denver Post was surreal. We went about the task of writing stories while we were still trying to process exactly what had happened. For me, the reality started to sink in that evening, when the skies around our home near Centennial Airport — and everywhere else — were eerily silent. The next days and weeks were, for me, characterized by a new hypervigilance that I buried beneath an exterior of relative normalcy.”
Larry Ryckman, Editor
“I was getting my kids ready for school. They had little idea what was happening, but I was glued to the TV, along with the rest of the world. My then-12-year-old daughter asked me whether she would be safe as I dropped her off for school. Remember, the Columbine massacre was still a recent memory for many Colorado school kids like her who asked the same question. In the days afterward, as assistant manager editor for The Associated Press, I helped edit 9/11 stories overnight for the national desk. I remember how strangely silent the skies were after the attack. It occurred to me that we hadn’t had such silence since the invention of the airplane — and the sound of any military jets overhead brought alarm.”
John Ingold, Reporter
“I was the first reporter in the office that morning at The Denver Post, and, as soon as I got there, the city editor called and told me to head to DIA. Police were turning away anyone who wasn’t at the airport to pick up a passenger, so I lied and told them I was there to get my sister. Once inside the terminal, I tried to talk to passengers. But it was mass confusion. No one — including me — had any idea what was going on or what would happen next. Everyone was so scared and sad and stunned that this was happening.”
Read John Ingold’s Twitter thread on remembering the attacks:
Dana Coffield, Editor
“I worked for a NYC-based telecom magazine and was at a big trade show in Atlanta that day. I was in the back of a cab from my hotel to the convention center, being driven by a man who had immigrated from Africa. We were blabbing, but mostly he was talking about how awesome America was and how happy and proud he was to be here, when my flip phone rang. It was my colleague, Max, a Russian immigrant whose journalist father had experienced terrible things, calling to tell me terrorists had flown planes into the World Trade Center towers. I literally could not understand what Max was saying — not because of his huge accent, but because I couldn’t process this happening in America. I spent most of the day watching the coverage on the huge street-facing TVs at CNN center. Then I rode back to my hotel on MARTA, alone in a car. I had never experienced a big city so silent.”
John Frank, Reporter
“I was in college at the time and working that morning when someone ran into the store to tell us the news. We flipped on a radio, I think. My father worked in Washington, and as a Department of Defense employee, occasionally he would have meetings at the Pentagon. So after hearing the Pentagon was hit, it was a terrifying hour or two until I could reach my parents in the Northern Virginia suburbs because the phone lines were jammed. Both were fine and my dad wasn’t at the Pentagon, so that was a relief. But just recounting this story makes me relive that feeling in my stomach all these years later.”
Tamara Chuang, Reporter
“I remember working late the night before on a story about designer Paul Frank for the Orange County Register. So I intentionally slept in on 9/11. But my husband woke me up to tell me what was happening. Since we were in California, the attack had already happened by the time I was up. We were glued to the TV and then I left for work early to help with coverage. I must have been calling businesses and have a vague recollection of interviewing an Orange County business person who had left New York on a flight that morning.”
Jennifer Brown, Reporter
“I was on the highway in Oklahoma City on my way to work at the AP bureau, listening to a silly morning radio show. The radio guys were fumbling through because they didn’t know yet whether it was an accident. When I walked into the bureau, everyone crowded around the TV. Within an hour or so, we were helping East Coast bureaus, and over the next several weeks, we wrote stories about what Oklahoma City had learned from the bombing of the federal building there and the bond that developed between survivors of the OKC bombing and Sept. 11. We wrote about resiliency, losing children to terrorism, the fatigue of cadaver dogs.”
Eric Lubbers, Chief technology officer
“I had just started my senior year at Yuma High School and I heard some very vague reports of a fire in New York on KUNC as I drove to school. I walked in the door and saw a classmate sitting against a locker looking shocked. He told me a plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers, and I told him I didn’t believe him and went into my government class, where my AP history teacher, Mr. Braaten, took us into the library to watch coverage. We saw the second tower fall live on CNN, and I’ll never forget Mr. Braaten, having full command of the narrative of history, saying ‘This is going to change things. A lot’ But Yuma was about as far removed from the events as you could get, both physically and culturally, so the aftermath faded into the constant background noise of a group of rural Colorado kids making tough decisions that would affect the path of their lives, including a few of my classmates deciding to enlist instead of going to college that summer, joining the other recent graduates who had entered the armed forces during what was then peacetime.”
Jason Blevins, Reporter
“My experience was similar to Kevin’s … an emptiness in the day as we put out a newspaper knowing that the world had changed and soon that change would impact our lives in Colorado. The next day’s paper was gruesome. Mark Obmascik wrote the lead story. Everyone fed him quotes and anecdotes. I remember being truly shaken by the picture of the falling man. That one still haunts me. We blanketed the state, writing about how the first ripples of what would become a tidal wave impacting our state. Closed airports and stranded travelers. Silent skies. Disconsolate kids. We’d been through Columbine only two years earlier and we rallied, diving into our work and letting the routine of reporting blanket our personal angst. But we all knew this was different. The following days are a blur. Long hours and nights spent watching the endless replay of our darkest day.”