Where Were You: Remembering September 11

9/11 Remember the day

I Will Never Forget September 11, 2001

This is my story. It was September 10, 2001. There was a strange stillness in the air as I drove home from my Aikido session at the New Brunswick, New Jersey YMCA. It was a beautiful late summer night. A moon was rising over the cornfields of central New Jersey. It was window down weather. The gentle warm breezes and sounds of the New York Giants game echoed on the radio as I drove home that evening.

I had just spoken to my sister who lived in New York at the time. She was not feeling well and was unsure if she was going to go into work at her paralegal job at a lower Manhattan law firm. She was stressed out about whether or not she was going to be able to find a babysitter for her young daughter. I told her not to worry about it and if she needed to miss a day for work to do so. I told her I would check in with her in the morning to see how she was doing.

It Started Out As a Normal Tuesday

September 11, 2001- I drove thirty minutes to my job as an instructional designer for a pharmaceutical company. I had a routine; I would stop at the Dunkin Donuts for two bagels and get into the office early enough to check sports scores on ESPN. I had a window cubicle and remembered looking out and wishing I was anywhere but inside the office. The beautiful blue skies and warm weather made me wish I was on the Jersey Shore laying on a beach.

The Musings of a 23-year-old

Then something strange happened. I looked down at my Nokia block cell phone and noticed it was ringing. I found it odd that someone one would call me this early in the morning. I generally would not even consider answering the phone but noticed it was a girl I was dating from New York.

“A plane crashed into the World Trade Center,” she said.

I asked her again in a hushed voice as by this time my coworkers were all in the office. She proclaimed there was a gaping hole in one of the towers. She told me to turn on a television. Since I was in the office and there was no television, I clicked on CNN and was aghast at what I saw.

The image was stunning! I clicked on the CNN website, and there was a breaking news red header with a picture of a gaping hole in the North Tower of the World Trade Center. There was a guy who worked across the aisle from me who was listening to a radio. I called him over to my desk and showed him the image that was displayed prominently on the CNN website. Moments later, it seemed the entire office has congregated around my cubicle. By that time, my co-worker had unplugged his earphones, and everyone was listening to the radio.

Everyone thought it was an accident and then the second plane hit the towers.

Panic Ensued!

Looking back, the unfolding events seemed to progress in slow motion. After the second plane hit the World Trade Center, my thoughts focused on the fate of my sister and her daughter. I tried calling her cell phone but was not able to get through because all the circuits were busy. I kept trying to no avail. I decided to try to use the payphone in the breakroom, and instead of trying to call her cell phone I called her landline. At this time, many people still had a landline. The phone rang several times and eventually connected. I was relieved to hear my sister's hoarse voice.

She had no idea!

I told her both twin towers were hit by planes and were engulfed in flames. She wanted to leave the city. I told her I would leave the office and pick her up. It was around this time when the third plane hit the Pentagon. By this time, people started leaving the office. My sister relayed to me that there was a travel ban in effect for the five boroughs. She told me to leave New Jersey and head to my parents in Upstate New York. I told her to go over to our aunt's house for the rest of the day.

The Drive Home

When the plane hit the Pentagon, I felt there was a chance for more attacks. Being tens of miles from ground zero, I felt the best thing to do was to get out of the New York area. I was encouraged by my supervisor to leave and to check in later for further instructions. The drive from Central New Jersey to Upstate New York would be several hours on a good day. I think on September 11 I made the drive in record time. I did not obey any speed limits. I listened to the radio during the ride to my parents.

The news of the fourth plane crash in Shanksville Pennsylvania, as well as the collapse of the towers, were heard on my car radio. The eeriness of that entire experience still resonates with me to this day. I stopped at a rest area on the New York State Thruway, and I remember looking at a man pumping gas. There were no words, just eye contact and gestures.

I am sure many other people experienced similar stories on that day. I made it to my parents and watched the news broadcast. It was hard to fathom what had happened. The videos were riveting! The collapse of the towers was heartbreaking. I thought about those who lost their lives. In the initial hours, we knew the human toll was staggering. Only in time would we find out about the individuals and families who were affected directly by the attacks.

The Aftermath

The next few weeks were tough for America. It was especially tough for New Jersey and the tri-state New York area. The human toll would start to be felt by those close to me. A co-worker had lost his sister in the South Tower. A couple of high school friends had been missing and ultimately would be not found. The funerals would continue for weeks. My neighbor who was an ironworker told me stories from Ground Zero. He told me of horrors. Police and fire personnel found in their uniforms, but their bodies had been disintegrated due to the intense heat of the building rubble.

I went into New York the next weekend and remembered seeing police with semi-automatic weapons. I also remember hearing the sound of fighter jets flying overhead. The two things that hit home was the changed New York skyline and the acrid odor in the air. The missing World Trade Center towers left a gaping hole in the familiar skyline. The acrid smell from the smoldering wreckage was still present days later.

Even though there was a palpable sadness, there was a sense of hope. There was an outpouring of love and patriotism in the months after the attacks. It was common to see American flags and yellow ribbons. Everyone was willing to donate their time and give blood. It seemed like for a short period people decided to put politics aside and unite as Americans. It was nice!

Economically things did not improve. I would ultimately lose my job. It was a tough day, and I would wind up moving home to mom and dad. The recovery from the events of 9/11 in the New York area took years. The emotional toll of 9/11 still affects New Yorkers to this day.

What We Can Learn From 9/11

I don’t think anyone should forget what happened on that day. We learned on 9/11 that evil still exists in this world. We learned that religious extremism could lead men to do horrendous things. We learned that radical Islam can be violent and can carry out atrocities in the name of their view of faith. We learned that faith and belief in God could get us through difficult times. We learned that deep down we are all Americans. Even though we may share different political beliefs, it has been seen that national tragedies bring out the best in the human spirit.

Jake Highwell / Senior Contributor
I am a political pundit and equal justice advocate with two decades of journalistic experience. Currently residing in the Democratic stronghold of Chicago and a recovering Obama voter, I strive to bring insight and commentary to the MAGA Nation.
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  1. Thank you for sharing your story!! We must never forget what happened on this day 17 years ago.

  2. It was morning and I had the day off. I was sitting on the couch talking with my girl, and Fox News was on. They were talking about a plane crash and I was somewhat interested but I was into whatever we were talking about at the time. In live time, I watched the second plane hit the second tower. I watched all morning and saw the towers crumble before my eyes. Whatever you think happened, whoever you blame, you cannot deny the ~3000 who died and the devastation to NYC and to our country and society since then. Prayers to all today, many thoughts, well-wishes, and hopes to God for our future.

  3. Thank you for giving your personal account on 9/11. I appreciate you sharing your thoughtful story.




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