The 10th anniversary of arguably the darkest day in the history of the United States is Sunday. An earlier generation will never forget where it was when Kennedy was shot. Our editorial staff, which ranges greatly in age, remembers Sept. 11, 2001, with different degrees of clarity. We're sure you have conflicted memories, too.
Here are our recollections, big and small. Weigh in with your own using the Talkback feature below.
I was heading home from an early morning errand and heard the first report of a plane hitting the World Trade Center from the old Jay Weber-Bob Dolan show on WISN-AM. I got home and switched on the TV and tuned to NBC's "Today." I immediately called a friend and we were talking as I watched the second plane hit. I remember sitting silently on the phone, unable to speak for a few minutes. After that painful silence, I caught my breath and began to set up my five VCRs to begin a long day of closely watching the amazing coverage as it happened. But I'll never forget the initial shock that rendered me speechless.
Trying to recall Sept. 11, 2001 is hard. Like many, I can remember exactly where I was when I first heard about it, but most of the day is still a haze in my memory. It was my freshman year of high school and I was in the pool for P.E. when a vague announcement was made that something had happened to a building in New York. There was no mention of planes, terrorism or the magnitude of what had actually happened. The time between then and 3 p.m. is a blur, since it was spent mostly
piecing together information from students who had gotten access to live coverage in class.
I did – and still do – feel some disconnect from the events of that day, mostly because my only connection to it was through a rumor mill, and later, looped footage on a television screen. For me, the gravity of what had happened will always be summed up in my own iconic image, which I saw on my walk home: a man dressed in a business shirt, tie and pants selling copies of the Journal Sentinel on the side of Greenfield Avenue. I didn't have any money, but I'll never forget seeing the front page as he held up an issue: a close-up of one of the towers and a single-word headline: Terror.
I can't help but thinking what Sept. 11, 2001 would have been like with Facebook, Twitter and other networks that are today, just 10 years later, truly part of our every day lives. Think about it? Wow. For me, my sister was working in New York City and watching the attacks unfold from her hotel. We were e-mailing and trying to communicate via mobile phone, but communication was tough. She got out, and my brother-in-law drove across county to pick her up since air travel wasn't an option. To have family near Ground Zero was scary, yet I can't image what it was like for those who had loved ones in the towers or planes.
I remembering writing and editing the OnMilwaukee.com Weekend Preview that week, and getting calls and e-mails on it. Readers thanked us for "the normality" and for providing ideas to get their minds off the attacks.
My wife and I walked to church that evening. Didn't know where we could find a service, but ended up at St. Peter and Paul on the East Side. It was full of people of all faiths. Everyone looking for and embracing community.
Not sure I can write anything more that hasn't been said. The day and its aftermath mean something different to everyone, but there's no denying that 9-11, if nothing else, helped us all put community above ourselves.
I remember walking into work the morning of Sept. 11 and a coworker said to me, "A plane just crashed in the World Trade Center." The rest of the day was spent, along with other coworkers, huddled around a television watching in horror what was happening. I remember for a short time listening to Dave and Carole on WKLH and I will never forget the emotion in Carole Caine's voice, expressing what I was feeling inside. Perhaps the images I most remember were the absolutely gut-wrenching visions of people jumping from the towers, hand in hand.
This year, I am going to tell my kids, ages 8 and 9, about 9/11. I am still figuring out what to say because I do not want them to be afraid on airplanes. Truth be told, every time I have been on a plane since Sept. 11, 2001, I think, briefly, about what happened on Flight 175. And then I force myself to think about something else, even though it deserves remembrance.
Getting ready for work that Tuesday morning, I had the television on and I saw the smoke coming from the tower after the first plane hit. No one on the network shows knew what was up but as we all watched the live feed together, we all saw the second plane hit. It took a second for it to really register; it seemed so unreal. I immediately thought of my friends in New York. Other than that, I can't even imagine anymore what I thought was going on. I went to work, where we all sat, stunned, in front of the television watching the updates. I spent the day trying to contact friends, all of whom turned out to be OK, though one of my oldest friends lost a cousin with whom she was very close and who was a firefighter in lower Manhattan. Now, when I think of that day, mostly I think of him.
As was typical in those days, I woke up a little late on Sept. 11, 2001, to my clock radio broadcasting a live address from President Bush. When I heard him talk about "terror," I stumbled out of bed and turned on TV. I saw the first tower smoking, but wasn't immediately sure if this was a freak accident. Still unaware of the magnitude of what was occurring, I showered and hopped in the car to get my morning bagel. NPR was talking about a plane crashing into the Pentagon, and then I knew America was under attack. I had my bagel, anyway, which was a decision I regret today (though, really, what could I have done about it?), and when I walked into the old office of OnMilwaukee.com and asked if people "had heard," they obviously said yes. We spent the next two hours in our conference room, and when the first tower fell, our landlord said, "The second is coming down in a few minutes."
A numbness came over me, and I left the conference room to go back to work. Of course, most of the Internet was down that day, and I couldn't reach friends in New York or Washington, though I used AOL Instant Messenger to confirm that my New York friend was OK. It took a few days before my D.C. friends could relay the scene at the capital, with the Army deployed on Pennsylvania Ave., automatic weapons drawn, and jets breaking the sound barrier over the city. I felt like I needed to be in the city where I had lived for four years in college, but of course, I was thankful for being in Milwaukee, "safe" from danger.
Back in Milwaukee, erroneous reports were coming in fast and furious. One local news station reported a suspicious vehicle parked outside the then Firstar Buidling. Eventually, we sent everyone home for the day. It seemed like the right thing to do. I found a tiny American flag I was given from my days as a White House intern, and put it in my window. I think I lit a candle. I turned on CNN and sat glued to the TV for the next several days, though I remember running into then Brewers TV announcer Matt Vasgersian at the Downtown YMCA. Both of us agreed that we didn't know what to do with ourselves. No baseball, just one horrible news story after another. Finally back at work, our office got together and sent out care packages for the rescue workers at Ground Zero. I have no idea if it helped in any way.
The night of Sept. 11, though, my friend Corey and I got together. We couldn't think of anything especially appropriate, so we decided to go to the Y-Not II for a drink just to brace ourselves. I remember looking at the lights of the Oriental Theater, and thinking they looked different, brighter. Like everything had changed in the world in one day. Then, making my way west on North Avenue, I saw the gas station on the corner of North and Humboldt had jacked its prices to something like $5.50 a gallon. I pledged never to return, and I haven't since.
Amazingly, just writing these words, even 10 years later, brings back raw emotion; I shudder to think of "undisclosed locations" and panic and rumors and misdirected fury, but mostly intense grief. It also causes me to reflect on the absolute heroism by the passenger on Flight 93, without whom this tragedy could've been exponentially worse.
Senior staff writer
Much like the Challenger incident, it was a long time before I could watch video footage of the planes crashing into the buildings. It's still painful, for a lot of reasons. September 11 is a day of mutual suffering and communal sorrow yet at the same time, it's a personal and private experience depending on where you were and what you were doing that horrible morning. But the one thing that stands out for me from that day, that week after, was the pictures. The printouts of missing persons, put together by loved ones that wallpapered lower Manhattan. The crowds standing behind TV reporters doing live shots, holding up the pictures hoping that, through some miracle, their husband, wife, son, daughter, parent ... whomever was still alive, just dazed and missing at a local hospital. It was ... no, it is, gut-wrenching for me to this day to think of it. One morning, you get up and go to work. That night, you're gone. Thousands of people ... "pulverized," in the words of the NYC medical examiner. Those pictures, those faces ... that's what I remember about September 11.