Friday, September 10, 2010

My 9/11 Experience - What Was Yours?

I always had my students try to tell me what they remember from that day, because in a few years, we will all have students who can only only rely on videos, articles, and stories of the event since they were to young or not born.  For me, it comes full circle to think that students will learn about 9/11 like I had to learn about Vietnam...from other people.

I wanted to use this forum to share my story so that it would be available to future generations.  I was not in New York, so there really is no comparison to those that were; but there are tidbits of my story that help bring the reality of the event from the perspective of an everyday American.

I was a senior in college (my first senior year actually) and I was living in a house with some Fraternity brothers.  I remember waking up and getting on my computer to check my email.  I had an AOL account so I signed on using....DIAL UP!!! AHHH!!!  I remember seeing a small picture of the World Trade Center on fire on the home screen and thinking to myself that it must be a movie promotion.  To be certain I remember turning on my TV.  It was so slow to come on I was getting ticked off; but there it was, on every station, even MTV and ESPN, the World Trade Center was on fire.

No one knew that it was terrorist yet, so classes were still on, and I still needed to get ready for them.  So I got ready and drove to campus.  I parked at the Fraternity house and walked through the living room to see the TV on in there.  At this point, the 2nd building was now hit and suspensions were high that it was more than an accident.  No word on classes being canceled so on I went.

First class, U.S. History since 1865.  The professor went on, teaching as if history was not happening at that moment.  So many of us were appalled that a HISTORY teacher had no concern for a historic moment.  Apparently it was more important to learn about history then to be witnessing and experiencing it.  I will never forget how angry I was.

I had two more classes for the day.  Geography and Economics.  Both those classes were canceled.  But in every building and every classroom (accept for my history professor) people were watching the news, and asking the same questions: Who did this?  Why did this happen?  Are there more planes?  Turns out there were.  We would start to hear about the planes at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

I walked back down to the Fraternity house.  One of my Fraternity brother's girlfriend was crying.  She soon explained that her dad worked at the Trade Center.  Immediately, the event became real, it became personal.  We tried to comfort her, but how do you do that?  It ended up that her dad was fine, and he was not there, but the fear she felt exuded from her, it was like we all felt it.

I called my girlfriend (who is now my wife) to see how she was doing.  I forgot that she had a field trip to a pumpkin patch.  They had to cancel the trip...because it was near an airport and the school feared for their safety.  The event was now hitting closer to home.  It was affecting our personal lives.  This tragic event, hundreds of miles away from impacting all our lives.

I had to work that night.  I worked at Staples.  I couldn't believe we were open.  Seriously, who needed some pens or ink cartridges when we all thought that "America was under attack."  In the 5 hours I worked, we had less then 10 customers.  Across the street was a gas station.  It was packed; people were concerned about gas prices increasing.  Seriously?  I was ashamed that day, that even in this time of national tragedy, we still worried about out pocket books.

That night after work, you couldn't watch anything else, I mean you could, but who wanted too.  We stayed up late thinking we would here some heroic story, something to inspire and bring hope, but those stories never came.  I remember in the passing days the use of cadaver dogs to search for people, well bodies.  The stories of depressed dogs because finding someone is what brings reward to them, but they weren't finding anyone, and it was even causing dogs to know there was little hope.  Later in another class, two dogs would come to one of my classes and we would get to discuss the experience with their trainer and owner.

That is my story.  That was my 9/11 without going into more detail.  What is yours?  If you are a fan of the TV show Flash Forward they create a website for people to share their experience during the "Black Out."  It is important that we all share our experiences as well.  It is still hard for me to believe that it will be 10 years ago next year.

If you want to add some technology aspect to your story, think about the impact technology played.  Imagine if Social Media had existed during 9/11/01.  How would the stories be different...or would they have stayed the same?


  1. I wrote a poem for children. It's posted on my website:

    I think that it has held up well.

    Vicki Cobb

  2. US Marshalls, FBI, National Guard, SWAT, PD were set up everywhere,
    especially at the Empire State Building, USS Intrepid, and other major

    It was a life changing experience. I have breathing problems because of all of the dust we breathed in (even while wearing masks). I will never forget what I saw or did and how the people of New York and America came together that day.

  3. It would have been really interesting if Twitter had been around during 9/11. I was a sophomore in college. I remember going out into the living room and seeing the TV on, this was the first tower. I, too, thought it had to be an ad of some sort of the next big movie. I sat there and watched as they tried to sort out what had happened and watched the second plane hit. It was surreal. I have never felt so vulnerable and helpless. I felt like that isn't something you are supposed to see happen live. They immediately canceled all of our classes for the day. Then the news started pouring in of Father Michael who died when the second tower collapsed. My roommate and I knew him, visited just a summer earlier.
    It is strange to have students who don't remember this experience. I always thought it was strange that my students couldn't understand why bullying upset me so much and gave me blank stares when I mentioned Columbine. They weren't there, they didn't lose friends that day or know family members who were in the school.
    Time does funny things, for those of us who witnessed history it never seems to distance us enough from the event, it always feels like it just happened. For those who weren't alive to experience it, it feels more like fiction, a story.

  4. Here in Australia we woke the next day to vision of the two towers burning and then the terrible events that occured. I remembered thinking the fear that the world would never be the same again.