9/11: Our nation still mourns 16 years later
By Lucy McElroy
Sixteen years ago, our nation shook as we faced attacks that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 loved ones and ignited the war on terrorism.
The first hijacked passenger plane collided with the World Trade Center’s north tower in New York City at 8:45 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. The second struck its south tower less than 20 minutes later.
A third slammed into the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., half an hour later and a fourth plane went down in a fiery crash landing in Pennsylvania, killing all of its passengers.
Surviving occupants of the twin towers were scarce – many leapt to their deaths as the buildings collapsed and burning debris fell from the 110-story skyscrapers onto the streets below.
It is important that we collectively mourn those lives lost during the 9/11 attacks. The tragedy affected the lives of everyone near and far.
They say you will always remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard about the attacks. What do you remember?
The innocence of childhood took a direct hit
After math exercises, early in the morning, additions and subtractions, I grew bored, wanting to go home for the cartoons that school would have me miss. I groaned at my desk and hunched my chest forward, just as Mrs. Holiday passed the cubbyholes where our coats and bags would hang throughout the school year like colored ghosts against the painted cinderblocks.
“Do you need to see the nurse again, Andrew?”
In the nurse’s office, I waited for my parents to arrive. What I didn’t know, though, was that my ride wasn’t the only one being arranged. A fifth-grader, who seemed to me at the time mere months away from the full stress of adulthood, entered the cold white room, with energy.
“Did you hear? The Chinese just bombed us,” he said a little too gleefully.
“It wasn’t the Chinese,” the bored and irritated nurse said after sucking her teeth.
I watched them from a soft cot, rehearsing pseudo-sickness for my harshest of critics.
In the car, a few minutes later, my mother muttered on about towers. I feigned delirium. The car’s hum seemed to grow as we sped faster down country roads, developed long since then. My mother tried desperately to define words I’d never heard before like “hijack” and “terrorism.”
At home, the TV lights flicked on, and the cartoons I had left appeared, but the remote was found, and the channel changed. And there they were: ablaze, smoking — moments from collapse. People leapt from flaming windows, and I wondered to myself how those on the ground would go about catching them. Seeing those images for the first time, my mother began to cry.
At that moment, I understood there were things I would never understand. For the first time, I saw the violence of the world, felt helpless before it, knew there was much I didn’t know. I walked into my room, knowing that TV was out of the question, and began to play with Legos.
Teachers’ reaction signaled something bad was happening
I was almost five years old and in preschool so I didn’t fully understand what was happening. I knew it wasn’t good though, because of the reaction from my teachers. I lived in New Jersey at the time so I was a couple of hours from New York City but we didn’t get sent home because they weren’t quite sure what was going to happen next so we stayed in our classrooms.
Early school dismissal marked a day never forgotten
I was in first grade about an hour from Washington, D.C., when my teacher, Mrs. Armstrong, turned on the television for news in our classroom. She stood silently in front of the class without removing her focus from the fire and billowing smoke clouds played out on the screen before us.
The next thing I remember, we were sent home early. My older brother and I rode the bus home, so we managed to beat our dad coming home early from work.
I noticed the sky – it seemed darker. Still, I took the opportunity to go outside and play.
My dad came home in a whirlwind, scrambling towards me.
“You can’t be outside,” he exclaimed.
“Why?” I asked, beginning to cross the street to find my neighborhood friends.
“You need to stay inside.”
He feared what would happen next, since we were so close to the Pentagon. I’ll never forget that day.
Four passenger planes targeting U.S. landmarks changed our world
A sports writer called, unusually early I thought, and told me to turn on the news. The first plane had already hit the World Trade Center’s north tower. News broadcasters, very early, couldn’t confirm if a passenger plane or small charter plane had hit.
Then, a second passenger plane, hit the south tower, it registered this was not a coincidence. I went into the office knowing it would be a long, pressure-filled day and started the tedious routine of locating families and friends in NYC. The sports staff had proven resourceful tracking down people and they were made available to the news side.
GSP and all U.S. airports were told no more flights, other than those landing. All airports, public and private, were now closed.
Things became more and more tense as each incident was reported. How can four jetliners be hijacked and target U.S. landmarks?