9/11: Your expectations, your fears and your dreams
In remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, we asked readers how their expectations, aspirations, fears or dreams have changed as a result of that horrific day. We received nearly 200 entries. Readers shared a wide range of stories and emotions, from grieving for a loved one killed in the attacks to visiting an Army recruiting office the following month to enlist in the military. Several were edited for length.
"My brother was a New York Police Officer in Manhattan and I was working as a flight attendant for TWA, based at JFK. At that time, my brother Mike was working and rushed to scene to help out. Mike went into Tower I with the paramedics and firefighters, and never came out."
- Robert M., 56, Kennewick
My brother was a New York Police Officer in Manhattan and I was working as a flight attendant for TWA, based at JFK. Sept. 11, 2001 started out as a normal morning going into OPS to check in for my flight to LAX. Ten minutes later we heard this boom that sounded like thunder only to find out on the news on TV that a plane had crashed into Trade Tower I. Moments later, another plane collided into Tower II. At that time, my brother Mike was working and rushed to scene to help out. Mike went into Tower I with the paramedics and firefighters, and never came out. Mike died in the collapse and was found four days later. Since that time, our family still hurts from the loss. There's not a day that goes by and we think of Mike, our family hero.
"Because I was a 7-year-old with a father who was a firefighter, I had terrible recurring nightmares that my father didn't come back from work. My fear was not only limited to the thought of losing my family. News of other terrorists and acts of terror polluted my childhood."
- Rita M., 17, Seattle
When I first learned of the 9/11 attacks I was on my way to school and mindlessly listening to the radio. The host of the station was very upset and talking fast, concerned I inquired my mother why. "It sounds like they found a bomb in New York," she said, uncertain of what was unfolding. As I sat down in my second grade classroom I listened to the chatter of my classmates. No one was certain what had happened. Our teacher came in the room crying and red in the face, her son lived a block away from the towers. I remember sitting heartbroken listening to my distraught teacher telling us of the attacks. "How could people be so evil?" I wondered.
Later, the whole school gathered on the blacktop and we held hands and sang patriotic, chilling songs. I will never forget that. The air was thick with emotion, the teachers looked lost, and the students were so unaware of the enormity of the tragedy. That's the day my fear of monsters under the bed turned to my fear of truly evil people. Because I was a 7-year-old with a father who was a firefighter, I had terrible recurring nightmares that my father didn't come back from work. My fear was not only limited to the thought of losing my family, news of other terrorists and acts of terror polluted my childhood. The America I have grown up in has conditioned me to be fearful of others. I rarely find myself completely carefree in a crowd or public place; there are always the what-ifs and warnings keeping me aware of others. Maybe one day in the future I will lose all the apprehension and anxiety that has been an incessant part of my lifestyle these past ten years. I hate that I had to grow up in a time when fear, hate, and evil presided. I hope that my generation and future generations can unite to change the attitudes present in our country and make every citizen feel safe and proud to be an American.
"When I learned the attacks were performed by Muslims, I experienced my first struggles with prejudice. And it wasn't before long before I would have to confront it."
- Don, 47, Bothell
I have spent most of my life resisting racism. It's very simple, paint us all the same color, cut us and bleed us and we'll all bleed the same color. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the many beliefs and religions that are out there, because they are born out of the heart and mind.
When I learned that the attacks were performed by Muslims, I experienced my first struggles with prejudice. And it wasn't long before I would have to confront it. i was working as an assistant manager for a Taco Time in Bellevue. Everyday a Muslim taxi driver would come for his usual taco and water. I served him many times before the attacks without ever feeling any angst toward him. But when he drove up to the window, a fear came over me. A pale-faced fear. I suddenly believed that this man would follow suit, that he, just like "his comrades" was ready to do his part for his faith. I knew in my heart that there was a very remote possibility of that, But that didn't seem to take the fear away.
Nonetheless, I was his server and he paid his money. I served him as was expected of me, and just as I handed him his taco and water, He glanced up at me and said solemnly, I grieve at the loss that has occurred in New York, i FEAR for my heritage, this with a tear in his eye. I am grateful that I was able to overcome my fear and I see that the attacks affected all of us in very significant ways -- life-changing ways.
"In February of 2002 I reenlisted in the Army for 4 years because I thought it was my duty to continue my service while America was at war. So here I am, still in the Army after 3 reenlistments and still supporting my country doing the little I can."
- Justin H., 32, Germany
My name is Justin Hayward, I have been in the Army for 12 years. When September 11 happened I was SPC in the Army Stationed in Mannheim, Germany. I remember I was just released for the day and a few friends and I went to our dining facility to get some diner. We all just sat down and started to eat, when the phone at the front desk started ringing. One of the Soldier's that was working at the desk answered the phone and immediately hung up and went to the dining facility Manager. The manager came out and yelled "If there is anyone from AMFL in here, you need to report back to your Unit now". The five of us that were there stood up and started running back to our Unit.
As we were running up to our building we saw most of our fellow soldiers in formation. As we fell into formation with the others our 1SG and Company Commander came out. We were told that there was a plane crash at the twin towers and that we were to get our equipment ready.
We went into or Company day room where we had a TV set up. And that's when we watched the second plane crash into the twin towers. We were then told to go and draw weapons from our arms room because we were now responsible for the QRF of the base we lived on. The main gate to the Base was shut down and we then took over control of our second gate.
On September 21 we were deployed to Turkey so we could support the booming runs that were taking place in Afghanistan. We returned after 30 days and continued to do our job of QRF. In February 2002 I reenlisted in the Army for 4 years because I thought it was my duty to continue my service while America was at war. So here I am still in the Army after 3 reenlistments and still supporting my country doing the little I can.
"I decided I would never raise my yet-to-be-born children in New York City, and we chose to move to Seattle. September 11th is why I'm here."
- Jessica G., 47, Issaquah
After six hours of anchoring live coverage of the September 11th terror attacks for Bloomberg News, I stepped out of the studios and onto Park Avenue in Manhattan to witness a horrifying sight. Thousands of parents were walking home - to Westchester, New Jersey, Queens, the Bronx, wherever. Parents who were nowhere near their children; unable to help them, unable to explain or comfort. No cell service; unable to let them know they were alive. Men with ties undone and women barefoot, holding pumps in their hands. Streets and bridges closed, trains and buses shut down. I decided I would never raise my yet-to-be-born children in New York City, and we chose to move to Seattle. September 11th is why I'm here.
"My 18-year-old son was in the middle of Army Basic Training on Sept. 11, 2001. Now my daughter is in the Army, too. I was across the continent but it feels closer now than ever."
- Blanche S., 65, Seattle
My sis and I just found our deceased uncle's WWll metals (the Distinguished Flying Cross, Silver Star and Gold Star.) Amazingly he received his flight certification on Sept. 11, 1941 (70 years ago). He fought terrorists also. A Navy Air Force pilot, he was shot at, rescued people and lost friends.
He never talked about any of this. I wish he had known how proud we are. My 18-year-old son was in the middle of Army Basic Training on Sept. 11, 2001. Now my daughter is in the Army, too. I was across the continent but it feels closer now than ever.
"My father was in the Pentagon that day. I was in my 6th grade art class that morning in my middle school in Virginia."
- Catherine L., 22, Seattle
My father was in the Pentagon that day.
I was in my 6th grade art class that morning in my middle school in Virginia. I recall that a lavender sheet of paper was sent out to all teachers, and the principal's voice came over the intercom saying, "Something has happened to the World Trade Center in New York. There's no reason to be scared. You're safe here." I thought to myself, "Great. They're not telling us something we should be concerned about." Various students were taken home that day, but still there was no information circulating the school. Walking home that afternoon, my mother met me along the way. As we walked, she told me about what had happened in New York and at the Pentagon. I was slightly confused that she was not more distraught, and so I asked the question, "Is dad OK?"
He had called saying that he was alright--this was before my family had individual cell phones, so he had to borrow one to let my mother know that he was safe. When he came home that evening, he recalled to us that they were watching the news about the World Trade Center, when they felt this THUMP. Thankfully, he was on the opposite side of the building that was hit. Even more chilling is the thought that they were aiming for his offices.
I returned to New York this past March. A girlfriend and I wanted to see the site with older eyes, and remember it, relearning the specifics of what happened that morning. It was over these few days in New York that renewed a sense of patriotism within me. We as Americans do not always 'get it right,' but a great quality of the American people is that we treasure life. That is partially why the rejoicing after Osama bin Laden's death disturbed me. If it is true, he fueled the tragedy and injustice that took so many lives. However, to celebrate the death of this man makes us no different than those who value death.
I used to believe that I wanted to travel abroad and "save the world." However, now I find myself more focused and centered on "home." I want to serve my country in this way, and look forward to continuing the tradition of valuing life through social work, and serving those in need here.
"I refused to let the fear of what happened consume my life, yet I wanted justice for those lost Americans."
- Dee G., 70, Enumclaw
September 11, 2001: Happy 59th Birthday. I was awakened by a call from my friend who shares my Sept. 11, 2001 birthday. Our mothers were in the same hospital room when we were born in Pittsburgh, Pa., and we've remained lifelong friends. She was crying and I could hardly understand her. She was saying "Our birthday will never be the same again. Turn on your television." I could not believe the horror of what I was seeing; the devastation, the pure evil of it all. We would never be able to be happy on our birthday again. How could we? One couldn't help but think of the loss of loved ones and their feelings instead of being joyous.
To make matters worse, my husband was retired from the Kent Fire Dept. after 32 years of service. Fire Department people are family. It doesn't matter if they're local or hundreds of miles away. I immediately donated to the fund to help survivors. I was glued to the television, crying for the loss.
I refused to let the fear of what happened consume my life, yet I wanted justice for those lost Americans. One cannot live in fear. I prayed for peace for America and the world and especially for those who lost family and friends. I still pray for peace in a world with too much anger, fear and destruction.
In 2002, when my friend and I turned 60, my friend traveled from her home in San Francisco and came to Seattle. We had decided to go to Vancouver B.C. for our Big 60, so we wouldn't have to relive the horror of the previous year's nightmare quite as much as if we had stayed in the U.S. We tried to have a nice birthday but the past was still in our minds.
My dream is that some day, once again, we can celebrate a birthday as a happy occasion instead of the solemn birthdays of the past decade. There will never be a year that goes by that I don't think of that horrific occurrence of Sept. 11, 2001 and pray that the survivors of The Trade Centers' families can in some way find peace in their hearts. Terrorists will not control Americans, not now, not ever!
"I was one of the soldiers who knew what pre-911 was in the military. Still training in the woods, doing combat drill like one would see in the Argonne Forrest in old World War II films. Overnight, the military changed."
- Chris D., 31, Gold Bar, WA
I was stationed in Baumholder, Germany. My unit was in formation outside company building about to be released by the 1sg (1st Sergeant). The C/Q (Charge of Quarters) shouted out of the top floor window of the company building that Captain need to get upstairs right now. The company quickly followed the Captain upstairs to the dayroom where stood the big screen TV. On the TV, we watched the first tower burning and shortly after, witnessed the second tower explode by another plane flying into it. A company of 20 year old infantrymen watched in horror as people started jumping out of the buildings and hitting the ground. Then the Pentagon was hit. At this time, the Captain told us to pack our bags. We just went to war. That weekend was a special weekend for another reason, I was about to go on leave with my wife and mother that just flew in to the country so that we could go to Rome and Paris. I instead tried to look at their faces as I packed my gear for battle. Sharpening my K-Bar knife and loading up magazines all of a sudden became real. I spent the next few weeks telling them that everything would be OK. Ten years later, I remember every detail of that day, much like the survivors and witnesses of Pearl Harbor would, I think.
I was one of the soldiers that knew what pre-911 was in the military. Still training in the woods, doing combat drill like one would see in the Argonne Forrest in old World War II films. Overnight, the military changed. Every soldier (especially in the combat arms jobs) knew that they might deploy one day in combat, but nobody expected this. I signed my name on the dotted line of a piece of paper the day of the attacks, a paper of names volunteering to be the first wave of soldiers into whatever country attacked us that September day, submitted by a private to the Battalion Commander. A hatred of "Muslim" groups around the world grew in the military. It was only later that i learned that "Muslims" were not the ones that committed those atrocities. It was extremists, much like any other hate group or radicals. I have spent much of my time talking to other people that still do not know of the difference and shedding light on the fact that "Muslims" are not terrorists, terrorists are terrorists. But to this day, every time I see a low flying plane I still think of that day in New York that shattered a blue sky with a pillar of smoke and cries of pain. I will be going to Washington D.C. next year to help place an officer's name on the Law Enforcement Memorial. I will be making my first appearance to Ground Zero during that trip. That will close the book on two painful chapters of my life.
"I enlisted in the Oregon National Guard in October 2001 and received orders for Iraq in December 2003. I spent a total of 14 months away from my wife and sons. My youngest son was 15 years old when I left and 17 when I returned. Because I served in the Army, He enlisted in the infantry when he turned 18 and now he is dead."
- Kevin D., 44, Walla Walla
I had just come home from a morning of archery hunting for elk. Totally oblivious to what happened. My plan was to pack an overnight bag and head back into the woods. Someone had left the TV on and I stood there, in awe. They were replaying an earlier tape and I didn't realize that the towers were already collapsed. I went into a total spiral. I knew right then that life as we know it would never be the same and that we were going to war.
I enlisted in the Oregon National Guard in October of 2001 and received orders for Iraq in December of 2003. I spent a total of 14 months away from my wife and sons. My youngest son was 15 years old when I left and 17 when I returned. Because I served in the Army, He enlisted in the infantry when he turned 18 and now he is dead. I will never get that year back that I lost with him and all of this was because of the 9/11 attacks.
"I gave up my tenured position at Loyola and went back to school for a degree in TESOL, a career that I hoped would help bring people together through a common language and sooth my anguish and guilt."
- Laurette S., 61, Maryland
How did 9/11 change me? Significantly. Sept. 11, 2001, was a gorgeous day as my husband and I walked into Loyola College of Maryland where we both taught in the School of Business. About 5 minutes into my class a student ran in and said that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center. I remained calm while I dismissed my class and ran up to the departmental office. Many of my colleagues were there watching the unbelievable events on the department's TV. No one knew how much this event would change my life.
My brother had been an opera singer. He was an amazing singer with a beautiful voice. He had sung in many countries with the New York Vocal Arts Ensemble and played the lead roles in performances with Brooklyn's Regina Opera Company. He sang with great intensity and practiced too much, overworking his vocal chords in his desire to perfect every note. He could not have a long career in opera.
He had few marketable skills but I noticed that he had a natural talent with technology. I took a computer to his NY apartment and over several months taught him everything I could. He was a remarkably eager and competent student. I helped him get a job and within 5 years, he was a vice-president of Information Systems at Aon with a beautiful 103rd floor office in the World Trade Center.
When he died, I lost all interest in teaching students about computers and in helping anyone find a job. When I turned in my letter of resignation, my wonderful dean asked me to go to Chile to teach in our executive program, hoping that a different environment would help me change my mind. It didn't. I gave up my tenured position at Loyola and went back to school for a degree in TESOL, a career that I hoped would help bring people together through a common language and sooth my anguish and guilt. When my son and daughter-in-law moved their family to Seattle, we followed.
I often miss my job as a professor, I miss my students and especially I miss the best student I ever had. And every day I wake up wishing that I had not taught my brother the skills that put him in harm's way.
"September 11th did make me realize that we all could make a small difference and it is very gratifying to make some sort of order out of such a chaotic experience."
- Katherine B., 30, Seattle
Being part of the September 11th disaster response changed my life. I remember feeling a sense of shock on my way to work and I expected to be inundated with phone calls and requests once I arrived at work. I had only been with the Red Cross for about a year and this was the first major disaster. Strangely, it was an unusually quiet morning at our chapter as I assume everyone must have been in shock. Then around 10:30 a.m. the calls from local reporters started. And then the calls from the community began with questions, suggestions and some people just needing to talk. And it went on this way for weeks. Our local Red Cross chapter ran a shelter for stranded travelers, located missing family members, sent over 300 disaster workers to help in New York and DC (including myself at a later date). It was a stressful and emotional time and we worked long and tough hours, but I saw people giving so much of themselves to people they did not know. I remember so many people saying they felt helpless during this time and surprisingly that is one thing I did not feel and for that I will be forever grateful.
The experience of deploying to New York did change my path for my life as well because I was not sure how I felt about working in a nonprofit or doing disaster relief. It is because of the experience both in Seattle and in New York, I stayed with the Red Cross in Public Affairs working on various disasters including the Washington State floods, Hurricane Katrina and countless residential fires. September 11th did make me realize that we all could make a small difference and it is very gratifying to make some sort of order out of such a chaotic experience. And it is very fitting that I end my time with the Red Cross as the ten-year anniversary approaches and will be ready for a new life adventure.
"Since that day I have marched in my first war protest. I attended my first caucas. I bought a passport. I have more respect for the Muslim religion. I worry about our civil liberties."
- Jo H., 58, Freeland, WA
On Whidbey Island, I wake up to NPR's Morning Edition, "a plane has hit a building in New York City." I watch Aron Brown with the Trade Center as a backdrop. I can't tear myself away from the television so I'm late for work. I drive alone up island, 17 miles to the county seat. National Emergency, "all flights grounded until further notice." I see geese migrating. I think, what a great day for the birds. My part of the world is very quiet this morning, unusually still, like a breath held. What a great day to be an animal not tied to the human struggle. For one day we are grounded, and the wind blows, the birds fly and the leaves fall. There was peace somewhere that day and it was in nature.
When I got to the parking lot, I met John. We walked in together. "Did you see the news?" John said. "I hope we kill them all." I said "they hate us so much."
Since that day I have marched in my first war protest. I attended my first caucus. I bought a passport. I have more respect for the Muslim religion. I worry about our civil liberties. I wave to familiar surveillance cameras. I know the deep divide in our country is deeper than ever. I remember the peace and quiet of the day we were grounded.
"The 911 attack forever changed my view of the administration. Whether it was ineptitude, collusion or just plain stupidity I fault them for all of it."
- Herb P., 84, Port Townsend
The 911 attack forever changed my view of the administration. Whether it was ineptitude, collusion or just plain stupidity I fault them for all of it. Collusion is no more unthinkable than collusion at Pearl Harbor. Ineptitude, given the presidency of George W. Bush, is highly possible. The attack served administration purposes the same way Pearl Harbor served FDR's -- it mobilized the US for war. That the war was unjustified is a fact. The thought that so much and so many could be sacrificed to satisfy the whim of an incompetent and egotistical president has colored my opinion of the US and its government. In other words, he couldn't have done it without help. I still believe in the United States, but I feel that power has shifted and the results have been disastrous.
"Until September 11, 2001, I was unaware I had a conservative worldview. I was apolitical and didn't even know what a worldview was."
- Jeannie, 48, Seattle
Until Sept. 11, 2001, I was unaware I had a conservative worldview. I was apolitical and didn't even know what a worldview was. But as I watched from Seattle what was happening in Lower Manhattan on 9/11 and spoke with others about it throughout the day, it became clear to me that my reaction to the attacks ("That's wrong!!") was very different from virtually everyone's around me ("What did we do to deserve this?")
What I was seeing with my own eyes was awful enough, but to also be surrounded by media, co-workers and clients who were giving voice to some sort of bizarre guilt shook me to the core.
Having lived through the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (1 WTC, 86th Floor), I knew that I hadn't done anything to deserve death, and the 3,000 who died on 9/11 hadn't done anything to deserve death, either.
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