20 Years Later. Where Were You on 9/11?

It is the JFK assassination of my generation.  It’s like asking where were you when Elvis died?  An event so big that it defines a generation.  So significant and relevant that no matter what else you may forget in your lifetime, this event is forever etched in your brain.

September 11, 2001 was the day that shook the world! I was 27 years old, when 19 cowardly men armed with box cutters hijacked 4 fully fuelled passenger jets and attacked freedom.  By the end of that horrific day, nearly 3000 people were dead.

It was about 9:15 a.m. I had an interview with an employment agency for a job I was interested in, downtown, about 10 minutes from home. All neatly dressed, I slid into my Honda Accord ready to rock the interview and land the job.  I turned on the radio to find some pump my self up tunes, however, the radio wasn’t playing any music.  The broadcast on my local station appeared to be describing something that was too unbelievable to be true.  I wasn’t even sure that it wasn’t some sort of hoax because it seemed all too impossible … 

Being a documentary nerd, I was all too familiar with the time a B-25 bomber flew into the Empire State Building during heavy fog in 1945. I automatically assumed this too was a tragic accident.  But how?  It was a beautiful sunny, cloudless morning in Southwestern Ontario, which is only an 8-hour drive to New York City.  When I arrived for the interview, the happenings in NYC were the talk of the office.  Then something happened that made it clear that the first plane was not an accident, United 175 had crashed into the South Tower.  The interview was short, only about 15 minutes (it was a pre-screen).  In any event, I felt as if we were both more interested in the events unfolding not too far from us.  Once the meeting was completed, I rushed back home.  As I hit a red light, at what I now know to be 9:37 A.M., I gasped as my ears could not believe that I was hearing that another plane filled with passengers had crashed into The Pentagon.

Just a block away from home when I heard about the attack on the Pentagon, I was even more anxious to get home and turn on CNN.  I needed to see with my own two eyes what on earth was happening.   This was all too unbelievable to be true.  And, to this point, my only reference was what I had created in my mind, a picture based on radio reported events. 

My friend Miranda and her children were staying with me for a bit, at the time.  I ran into the house eager to get to the TV.  Miranda and I sat downstairs on the couch, in the basement and watched in awe as the events of that day unfolded on my 55” big screen. 

Smoke was billowing from two of the world’s tallest towers.  I felt helpless watching people who piled four and five deep into the windows, some 1,500 feet in the air. I screamed in horror as they emerged one or two at a time from a blanket of smoke and fire and jumped.  Some held hands, others went alone.  I remember thinking that the conditions must have been absolutely horrific if they felt jumping from ¼ mile up was the better option.  Many blessed themselves before their leap of faith. Some tried to make parachutes out of curtains or tablecloths. One man hopelessly tried to climb down the building – this one scars me to this day.  I have intrusive nightmares or the odd flashback of that specific fall from time to time, even 20 years later.   I don’t know what it is about that one specific incident, but it’s irreparably scarred into my psyche.  They were the only visible fatalities on a day that claimed thousands.  

9:50 A.M. Devastation.  Together, we watched in horror as the South Tower of the WTC collapsed, a mere 56 minutes after the impact of Flight 175. As I write this, I can still remember that absolute jaw dropping moment vividly.  What on God’s green earth was happening?  Within a span of just 30 minutes, WTC1 and WTC2 would implode in heaps of ash and dust as thousands ran for their lives.  The Pentagon would be struck and Flight 93 would be crashed by its hijackers in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, assumedly on its way to the US Capitol Building or the White House.  I was completely disturbed by what I was witnessing. This was a catalyst to something big.  Was this the start of WWIII?  Rumblings started to flow across the news media that this was an orchestrated terrorist attack. 

My then husband was sleeping, he’d finished working night shift 7 hours prior.  In 30 seconds flat, I ran up 2 flights of stairs to wake him from his slumber, yelling “OMG! OMG! WWIII is starting, you need to get up!?  We rushed back down to the basement and for hours upon hours watched the fallout of the deadliest terrorist attacks in world history.  My eldest was at school, I felt the need to go get her, but my husband talked me into letting her finish out her day. My youngest was only 3 years old and completely oblivious to how her world was about to change forever.  

Those who came through the windows of the towers provided the starkest, most harrowing evidence of the desperate conditions inside”   ~ New York Times, Sept. 10, 2004

2008 Visit to NYC

Years later, in 2008, I took my eldest daughter to NYC.  I had it that I wanted to take both my girls to NYC to experience the magnificence of all the city has to offer with all its glitz and glamour.  And, I wanted them to understand the origins of 9/11, its implications and remember the legacies of those who lost their lives of that tragic day as well as the other lives impacted.

By the time we went to NYC in October 2008, Ground Zero, as it came to be known immediately after the September 11th attacks, 7 years had passed. Ground Zero was still a hole in the ground, and construction continued on the Freedom Tower foundations at the World Trade Center site.

Ground Zero 3

2014 Visit to NYC

The next time I visited NYC it was the Canadian Thanksgiving of October 2014.  I went with my youngest, it was her birthday.  Freedom Tower was up and ready to open the following month as One World Trade Center (it opened on November 3, 2014). The super tall structure has the same name as the North Tower of the original World Trade Center.   The new skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre World Trade Center site, on the site of the original 6 World Trade Center. 

We visited 9/11 MEMORIAL PLAZA as a tribute to the past and of hope for the future. The twin pools are set within the footprints of the original Twin Towers, each pool is approximately 1-acre in size. The names of every person who perished in the terror attacks of February 26, 1993 and September 11, 2001 are honoured in bronze around the twin Memorial pools.

Kitchener Connection

Did you know that here in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada where I live, we have a 9/11 WTC memorial near Centre in the Square at the Firefighters Memorial Park forever linking our 2 cities together?

A rusted metal beam from the WTC stands at Firefighters Memorial Park.  It’s 3.43 metres long and the very specific size is no accident.

“There was 343 firefighters killed on that day so we asked for something that was 3.43 metres” 

~ Kevin Schmalz, former chair of the Kitchener Fire Memorial Committee.

KW2