In 1963, I was in kindergarten. I distinctly remember the November day that my mother picked me up from school, visibly upset, telling me that President Kennedy had been shot. Following December 7, 1941, that date became a national benchmark against which citizens of this nation marked time. If our generation grew up recalling where we were when we learned of the death of a President, I believe we may now grow old marking time relative to "where we were the day four domestic jets were commandeered to attack our citizens, our military, and our government."
A month following the horrific events of September 11, I sent an e-mail to all classmates with viable addresses, asking where they were that morning. I asked them to tell me what they had experienced and how this had impacted their professional and personal lives. I was overwhelmed by the responses I received. Recognizing that the space available for this column would not be adequate to share the responses I received, the Bulletin editors have published this in its entirety on the University Alumni Web Site. Following this introduction, please sign on to read the excerpts provided by so many.
At 8 a.m. that morning, I was in my office participating in a conference phone call with five others from their respective locations. At the completion of the call one hour later, I hung up my phone. Within 15 seconds, it rang again. I was sure it was one of the participants in the prior call. Instead, it was my wife, Ellen Marshall, using her cell phone on Broadway, two blocks west of the Trade Center. Having known her now for 25 years, it was immediately apparent to me that she was terrified, and something was unfolding around her. She told me that she had arrived on the PATH Train in the basement of the WTC about 9 a.m. When the PATH car doors opened, there was a lot of smoke on the platform. She continued on the long escalator where she found a mild degree of panic among the throngs of people at the mall level. With Port Authority police accelerating the evacuation of the building, she became part of a crushing stampede out of the WTC. The moment she stepped out onto the sidewalk south of the South Tower, she knew that something was terribly wrong. Through swirling debris and dense smoke, everyone was looking up at the top of the North Tower.
Ellen subsequently documented, "I traveled up to Broadway, then turned around, and what I saw took my breath away. The entire top section of the North Tower was engulfed in flames." In our phone conversation, Ellen asked me to get to a radio or TV and tell her what was going on. I turned on a set and watched the North Tower burn for 15 seconds. As I spoke to Ellen on her cell from the street, a second jet slammed into the South Tower. Ellen’s cell service ceased, and I was left watching a TV, knowing at least that my wife was two blocks east, heading away from the Towers.
Ellen continued, "When this huge explosion occurred, it felt like an earthquake. I saw this huge plume of smoke billowing down Wall Street and people running everywhere in terror. Scores of people were abandoning their heavy briefcases and running. Women shed their high heels and ran in bare feet." When she arrived at her office on Water Street, she found co-workers absolutely devastated. As they had watched the raging fire in the North Tower from their 30th floor conference room window, which perfectly framed the WTC, they had witnessed the second plane smash into the South Tower.
"After the second tower collapsed," Ellen said, "I tried to leave our building with some friends, but when the elevator got to the main floor the entire lobby was filled with smoke and debris, and we retreated back up to the 30th floor. Since we couldn’t access each other via the phone that morning, e-mail became our vehicle of communication." At this point Ellen states in retrospect, "I just had this amazing, visceral need to get home to my family. Some New Jersey co-workers and I went in search of the boats to leave Manhattan. In the streets there was an understandable degree of fear and terror. The air was filled with smoke and burning particles. I was amazed and proud at the helpful and civil behavior of most people that I witnessed. The lines for the ferry were long, but people were polite and calm. There were some injured people who were helped by others and allowed to leave before those of us who were fine physically.
"We finally caught a ferry to Atlantic Highlands, down by Sandy Hook, N.J. Next to me on that boat ride, a rabbinical student, whose brother worked in the WTC, prayed on his knees the entire trip across the harbor. When we arrived in New Jersey, I think we all felt extreme relief that we had survived, but also excruciating sorrow knowing that we had witnessed such an immense human tragedy where many were not spared."
Mike Connor responded by telling me the headquarters of his company, Market News International, is two city blocks away from the WTC. "I heard the first plane hit but didn't see it, so I thought it must have been some construction work. As it turns out, we had a reporter inside the WTC covering an event there and a reporter just outside the towers running an errand. Both immediately called the bureau on their cell phones. As a result, we were the first news agency to report that an American Airlines flight had hit the North Tower.
"I had decided to close the office and send everyone home. Then the second plane hit. We instructed everyone in the office to go north and east away from the WTC complex. The reporter who had been in the WTC when the first plane hit had made it back to our office. He and I decided to remain behind to answer the phones, since everyone's family and friends were calling to see if they were all right. While we were answering these calls, we saw that there were hundreds of people out on the street around our office looking up at the towers. A short while later, all of these people turned and started running east in a panic toward our building. They were followed by a tidal wave of smoke and debris as the South Tower collapsed. We watched as this cloud shot down the street and completely enveloped our building. We could no longer see anything out of our windows – only smoke. We agreed that there was no point in trying to get out, since we would not be able to see where we were going. So we waited for about five minutes until the smoke started coming through the building vents. We decided then it wasn't a good idea to stay in the building any longer.
"We took the fire stairs down to the street. When we opened the door, it was like walking out into the worst blizzard you can imagine. The smoke, dust and debris were incredible. We covered our noses and mouths as best we could, then made our way north and east. When we had just passed under the Brooklyn Bridge, we heard an incredible noise, turned around, and watched the North Tower come crashing down. It was like the end of the world.
"We lost a lot of friends and colleagues that day."
Across the street from the South Tower, Alex Matturri was in his office on the 35th floor. "Soon after the second plane hit, it was apparent that this was a terrorist act. We were told to evacuate our building and leave the area, and since I live in New Jersey, I made my way toward the Hoboken ferry terminal at the World Financial Center. I watched in awe as first the South Tower and then the North Tower collapsed. I was lucky enough to have ducked into two different buildings as the debris came flying by from the two collapsing buildings. The sound and sight of these buildings that I walked through every weekday for the past 15 years, are something I will never forget. Underlying it all are the thoughts of people I knew that never made it out that day. I was lucky to have gotten just a bit dirty, but every time I turn around, something else reminds me of those less fortunate."
Doug Pitney owns a business callcuated, as the FBI and Daytona Beach police took over their building for a command post to search Embry-Riddle for other suspected hijackers and to try to get a line on those who had "graduated."
On the day of the World Trade Center attack, Donna (Silverstein) Aubuchon was at her second day of work at a new job. She had just finished 14 months of on-and-off contracting mixed in with being a full-time mom for the first time. Like so many others in our nation that week, her boss, who had flown to meet her in Florida, spent his week trying to figure out how to get home before concluding that his only option was to drive back to Houston.
From the Midwest, Sharon (Beltz) Grove communicated that she manages a group that is in the AT&T building in Chicago, across from the Sears Tower. She works for a large electric utility, which is still on high alert.
I also received childhood recollections from native New Yorkers, who no longer live in the area. Doug Elia wrote: "Two of my high school classmates died in the attack. I watched those towers being built as I grew up. My family took the Staten Island Ferry to New York (it was just a nickel) and walked up to the site to see firsthand the huge construction site."
Likewise, Stella (Chakeres) Brockner wrote to say, "I was born in New York City and lived there the first 20 years of my life. Throughout my childhood in Staten Island, I watched the World Trade Center go up. In a moment of my adult life, watching TV in my office in Raleigh, N.C., I unbelievably watched them come down."
Rich Earl wrote to provide us with his story, as well as some consoling counsel. Rich is a pastor in Central Pennsylvania. "I was driving to church when I heard the news. Reports were sketchy at first, and no one really knew what was happening those first few minutes. The reporters kept looking for innocent explanations for the crashes, but each minute made the diabolical nature of it clearer. I sat in my car when I got to church, just listened in shock, and prayed for my fellow New Yorkers. I had escaped their rat race years ago, but I was in a New York state of mind at that moment.
"In early August, a few pastors here in Shamokin and I decided to move forward on an idea to bring folks together to pray during the lunch hour on a weekday, in the heart of town. We found a site and got the word out that we would hold our first meeting at noon on Tuesday, September 11. The Lord has a way of setting things up ahead of time, and we had 20 people show up! The prayer was intense to say the least. We were able to use that meeting to coordinate a prayer vigil at a church in town for that night. There were 200 in attendance, just praying for New York, Washington, Western Pennsylvania, and for the preservation of our nation. We have been praying ever since, and I will never forget how the Lord had us in the right place at the right time. I believe prayer makes a difference."
Posted on Wednesday, May 01, 2002