Steven Stiefel

My Memory of Sept. 11, 2001:

“I was getting ready for work at The Times-Journal that morning watching one of the morning shows when the broadcast cut to breaking news of a plane crash in New York City. There was initially no indication that it was a big airliner, but seeing the gaping, burning hole in the skyscraper, obviously dozens likely died. I was riveted to the TV, presuming it was an accidental crash like the B-25 bomber that collided with the Empire State Building in 1945; this time, however, there was no fog to blame, just clear blue skies. Then, as I was about to walk out the door, the second plane appeared out of the edge of the TV screen and slammed into the other tower, a fireball of flames spewing out the other side. Instantly, I realized this was an intentional act, deliberately timed and staged for maximum horror. A suicide bombing made sense, remembering the truck bombing in 1993 that killed six people and injured thousands — but a passenger airplane used like a missile?! A half hour later, another jet crashed into The Pentagon. Had the whole world gone mad?

“I rushed into the newspaper office, where J.D. Davidson, then the managing editor, reacted with disbelief that I was the only reporter who’d made it in. We quickly planned how to localize the story and I talked to the local airport operators since the entire U.S. airspace was shut down because there was no way of knowing how many of these attacks were set in motion. We speculated about the possibility of dozens of planes being shot down by fighter jets before the day ended, but thankfully that didn’t happen. I watched footage online since we didn’t have a TV in the newsroom then. I recall gasping loudly as one of the towers came crashing down. It seemed surreal, like I was watching some mindless Michael Bay movie. I didn’t want to think about how many thousands of people I’d just watched die. In just over an hour, the world and all of our assumptions about it had turned upside down and inside out.

“Because I was in “reporter mode” during much of the actual day, focused on collecting facts and compartmentalizing distractions, the full horror did not strike me until days later when I when I realized how dramatically the American psyche had changed and my month-old daughter might grow up never knowing how simple life felt before America became a surveillance state.

Emily Kirby

“I was only in the third grade at Rosalie Elementary, and I did not fully understand what happened at the time. We were having a ‘critter show’ in the gym when it happened and the teachers and parents who were there kept us entertained and occupied for much of the day, I think to distract us. I’m sure it must have been difficult to do that knowing what was happening to our nation in those moments.”

Cinthia Rico

“I was in coach Heath Thrash’s civics class at Sylvania High School. News of the terrorist attack started to get out and we were allowed to turn on the TV in the classroom. Panic set in as we all watched the twin towers of the World Trade Center in shock.”

Emily Wooten

“My husband and I were at work. We entered the QC lab just in time to see the explosion of the first crash. The QC Inspector was there and asked if we saw that. We couldn’t understand what was happening and the newscaster sounded terrified. We stood numb as the second plane crashed into the tower. It was real. My eyes filled with tears and the world closed in around me as my husband took my hand. We shared that horrible moment, feeling helpless and displaced. This kind of thing just doesn’t happen on U.S. soil...not since Peril Harbor.”

Nita Stevens

“I was off work that day taking care of my elderly grandmother. One of my coworkers called and told me to turn the television on, something was happening. ( there wasn’t a tv at our office at the Board of Registrars) I tried to stay calm to not upset my grandmother. Watching it was surreal, I remember thinking how could this be happening in America and what will happen next!?”

Jacob Murdock

“I was only four on Sept. 11, but many of the images from the TV on that day remain vivid. My mom picked me up from Pre-K, and had tried to explain to my teacher what was happening. For the next few hours, I watched what was either reruns of people running, or live feed, and in my confusion, I kept asking what was happening, but I never got an answer because the nearest adult was also in shock, and confused.”

Glendon Poe

“I was in fifth grade at the time and at school that day. My teacher was very vague about what had happened that morning. She just told all of us to watch the news when we got home and that something historic had happened.

“I went the full school day without knowing what had happened. When I got home, the TV was already tuned to coverage of the scene in New York City. I’d never seen anything like it. I was stunned at the repeated footage of the planes crashing and the towers falling, as I imagine we all were. It was all that I remember us talking about at school the next day.

“Our history teacher told us that one day those tragic events would be chronicled in new editions of those history books we studied, carried around and put in our lockers.”

Bonnie Walters

“I was a sixth-grader in Mr. Stewart’s class at Henagar Jr. High, on September 11th when the towers fell. I had left the classroom to get a drink of water when I remember seeing kids running down the hallway crying and saying there had been a terrorist attack on America. My brother was active-duty military in the U.S. Navy at the time on an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt. My most prominent memory of that day was my fear for his safety, and my mother’s cry as we waited by the phone that afternoon for his call.”

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