No American alive and aware of the world at the time will forget September 11, 2001. It was my generation’s Pearl Harbor moment; a JFK Assassination moment, but the news spread faster than 60 or 40 years earlier. We can thank the Internet and the 24 hour news cycle for that.
Everyone remembers where they were. I’d venture to say that most Americans watched it live on TV. Those not near a TV turned on the radio when someone told them. I remember where I was.
I was in 11th grade, and it was during my homeroom period. I was in another teacher’s room counting money from our class fundraiser. On my way to class, a little late for first period English, shortly after the first plane hit the first tower, I stopped by my gifted teacher’s office. She received a call and had a look of terror on her face.
“A plane just crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers! My son’s OK,” she said in her thick Brooklyn accent. We turned on the TV and watched the confusion. A few minutes later — I can’t remember if I was in the gifted office or my English classroom — we watched the second plane hit.
I believe it was between periods or shortly after the start of second period when a plane hit the Pentagon. Ironically, my second period history teacher wouldn’t let us turn on the TV. He basically didn’t believe us. I think he actually apologized to us a few days later. He was a great teacher and model historian, and recognized his error in not letting us observe history in the making.
The second tower hit was the first to fall, at around 10 a.m. I was still in that history class. The plane which crashed in Shanksville, PA — approximately 140 miles from my high school — did so a few minutes later, but we didn’t hear about it for approximately another 45 minutes.
I do distinctly remember watching the second tower — the first to be hit — fall around 10:30, while I was in third period Latin class. The eerie buckling that preceded it is unforgettable. It was like watching a tower of toothpicks fall when someone blows ever so slightly at its side. Obviously, this blow was a ~350,000 pound missle going 466 mph to a tower of steel sticks.
The rest of the day is a blur. There was some resistance by teachers to turn on the TVs, but our principal was a wise one and recognized the importance of the event. He directed all teachers to turn on the TVs.
I don’t remember the falling of WTC building 7 around 5:20 pm, the one which seems to be at the center of the 9/11 conspiracies. I’m sure a simple web search can turn up video of building 7 clearly still standing when a CNN reporter claims it’s fallen. I’m not going to theorize here, and I’m not going to beat a horse not yet dead.
I do remember President Bush’s address to the nation at 8:30 p.m.
Among his statements: “Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts,” “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve,” and “The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts…we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”
I got home around 4 p.m. Soccer practice was canceled, so I headed for the Internet. I played Ultima Online, an MMORPG, on a player-run server called “Dragon Shadow”. Several of the well-known players and administrators lived in NYC. One of them, an accountant by day who in game went by the name Shadowfax, worked in a high floor in one of the towers. Nuit, the wife of the owner of the server and one of the main administrators, posted something to the effect of “SHAD ARE YOU OK?!” He responded a few days later. He’d called in sick that day and couldn’t get back to the ‘net, and didn’t have anyone’s phone numbers.
That’s my memory of it. I might have a more detailed account written somewhere, but I unfortunate don’t recall where.