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Remembering 9/11

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Today marks the opening game for the Cincinnati Bengals, kicking off a season that's exciting because of the sheer unknown of it. But today also marks the tenth anniversory of the September 11 attacks in 2001. We take a look back at that day and what we were doing at the time. Several of my staff and I recollected that terrible morning. Tell us your story:

Josh Kirkendall:

I was working at a major software firm in Cincinnati, helping our internal users with common software and hardware issues as a computer technician. Howard Stern was on my radio, which nestled against the wall an angle to the right of my 17-inch CRT monitor, when one of the show’s personalities (can’t remember whom), broke news that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. It didn’t dawn on any of us what had happened and the information was infant enough that even the size of the plane was unknown. Logic at the time suggested that it had to have been a small commuter plane, a simple accident in a city built like a forest full of skyscrapers. I continued working on the computers that were faulty, with users complaining about the slowness of their systems, largely the result of old hardware processing intensive programs.

Fifteen minutes later another report broke that a second plane had crashed into another tower in downtown New York. “What the hell is going on here,” I remember wondering to myself, telling those around me what the radio was reporting. Initially disregarded as a stupid stunt from the Howard Stern Show, we shifted towards a massive control room that housed the area’s only cable-ready television. What started as only five of us, quickly ballooned to over 20 computer technicians, curious about the commotion, intent on some answers and glued to the surreal images none of had ever expected to witness.

Maybe a half-hour later, the news began reporting on another crash at the Pentagon, solidifying that our belief that the United States of America was under attack after watching replays of the second plane crashing into the South Tower. That’s not an accident; I remember remembering during the replay; that’s targeted. Friends I contacted that worked near federal buildings described their own evacuation, convinced that their own areas were under imminent threat.

When the first tower collapsed, it was like an out of body experience. A massive feat of American ingenuity began shrinking away from the television screen with a rolling cloud of dust limiting visibility. The room fell completely silent with the faint sounds of breathing barely audible over taxing processors on the mainframe and the humming of 15 monitors in the control room. Maybe a half hour later the second collapsed and our employers told us to go home.

Like so many the rest of my day was the necessity of my own need to be informed. Glued to the television with my family, discussing possible antagonists, our night lacked sleep with a craved obsession to learn more information. Reading reports online, background stories on possible terrorists that was, at the time, believed to be radical Islam.

Back at work the next morning didn’t change anything. The television was on the news, all of us were scanning internet sites for reports and during improved moments, we discussed our findings. 9/11 is something that’s so vivid in my mind, ten years later, that the memories are as fresh and clear as they were the day after America suffered her worst terrorist attack on our soil in our history. It will be something that I’ll never forget.

Jason Garrison:

There are few days that I can remember with absolute clarity like September 11, 2001. I was in my senior year of high school and I specifically remember being in Mr. SoAndSo's statistics class when the school secretary announced over the PA system that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center and that all teachers were to turn on the class televisions. At that point, I had never been to New York City and didn't really know what the World Trade Center was.

When the TV was on I could see the fire and smoke billowing from the upper floors of one of the towers. My original thought was that this was a tragic accident but that it was an accident. That was until I saw the shadow of the second plane and the explosion of the second building. I knew then that it wasn't an accident at all.

For the rest of the day, I walked from class to class and watched the continuing footage of the World Trade Center along with the plane crash at the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania. Once I got home, I watched in silence with my father and sister. We barely spoke a word to each other.

It's hard to describe how I felt. I was 18 and even though I felt that I was an adult, I don't think I even knew how I felt or what I should feel. I was scared and furious and confused all at the same time. It almost didn't seem to be real; for 18 years everything had been fine and I had been safe and all of a sudden, the security blanket was pulled away and the harsh reality that the United States was not impervious to attack set in.

After the initial shock of the attacks, I was privileged to see a country that is often divided by politics, class and race come together as one voice to declare that America would not lose and could not be destroyed by evil and hate. Those feelings would later inspire me to enlist in our nation's military, where I spent four years after high school. If September 11 had not come to pass, I don't know if I ever would have been able to proudly call myself a veteran.

There is no question that the events that took place 10 years ago shaped my life for the next few years and I know that I will never forget every detail about that day.

Dave Wellman:

I was there. The company I was working for then was located on 14th and St. Mark's Place in Manhattan, just a couple subway stops from the Twin Towers. Our offices were actually closed for several days after the attack as they fell just within the mandatory evacuation zone.

Though we were so close, we probably knew less about what was really happening than people outside the city. All the phone lines were jammed with people trying to call loved ones and let them know they were OK, or trying to get more information themselves. Same with the Internet. All we had in the office were radios, and the local stations were full of rumors about more planes being hijacked and possibly heading toward New York, or the Sears Tower in Chicago or any one of a dozen other targets. Several of my colleague had gone to the top floor of the building, from which they had an unobstructed view of the burning towers. One of them called down to me at one point, saying I had to get up there; you could see people trying to escape the fires by jumping -- to their deaths, of course -- from hundreds of feet in the air. I declined. It wasn't long after that that the Towers fell.

Obviously, we weren't getting much work done, and I told my staff to do whatever they needed to do and leave whenever they wanted. The evacuation order would soon send us all looking for a way home anyhow. I remember standing in St. Mark's Place with a slice of pizza, watching a stream of people in dust-covered business clothes file up Broadway.

As I made my own way uptown, the scene was surreal. It was, against all reason, a beautiful fall day. The sky was a clear, deep blue -- that color you see a lot out west but rarely in the Midwest or on the East Coast. The streets were empty of cars (something that never happens in Manhattan) and the subways were shut down, so everyone was out walking in the streets. You could almost have mistaken it for a massive street fair, except that everything was closed. Here and there, knots of people were gathered around cars and vans with their radios turned up loud so everyone could follow the news. And every few minutes, a shudder would go through the crowd at the sound of jet engines overhead. Not hijacked airliners now, but fighters patrolling the skies.

There was no way out of Manhattan. I was one of heaven knows how many trapped commuters. Word finally came out that ferry service across the river to Fort Lee had been set up at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. But when I finally got there, via my aching feet, the line was miles long. It would have been hours before I got on a boat, and getting to Fort Lee didn't help much, since I commuted via train through Hoboken. So I padded back to Penn Station, figuring that they would eventually restart the trains. Plus there was a bar in the station and I sure could have used a drink. It was, of course, closed.

My timing was pretty good. I got to Penn just before they restarted service, so I ended up aboard the first train out of Penn that afternoon. There was no question of tickets, they just packed the train until it was SRO and set off. Obviously it was a local, meaning it would take a good hour before I would reach my stop in Summit. I almost made it without losing it. Almost. Just two stops before mine, in Millburn, I watched out the window as people got off the train. The Millburn station didn't have a platform and the parking lot came pretty much right up to the tracks. The parking spot opposite me looking out the window was occupied by a white SUV. A young, attractive blonde woman stood in front of it, and I watched as she stepped quickly forward to embrace a tall, brown-haired man in a suit as he walked away from the train.

I can still see them today, standing there in the sunlight, holding each other in one of those long, tight embraces you only seems to see in the movies while people filed around them. After a moment, they parted. She went to driver's side of the car, he to the passenger side, but he didn't climb in. Instead, he opened the rear passenger door. I could see an infant's safety seat buckled in there. And I watched him lean in and kiss his child on the forehead.

The train picked that moment to lurch back into motion, and it was a good thing as it made me realize I had teams pouring down my face.

It could have been him. Or me. Or any of us on that train. I'd been to events at the WTC many, many times. I'd ridden the PATH trains to and from its lower-level station. All it would have taken was an ill-timed press conference or media breakfast for some company and I would have been up in Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the north tower. Which is to say, I'd probably be dead. It all hit me right then. Suffice it to say I managed to pull myself together, at least until I reached home and my own wife and daughter.

It was a hell of a day. I hope no one ever has one like it again.

Anthony Cosenza:

I had a morning class at my college on 9/11, so I had to get to campus at 8 a.m. (PST). I remember getting to campus and having a very easy time finding parking which was odd in itself. The campus was far less crowded and just had a quietness to it. I don't watch the news or morning TV, so I hadn't heard anything about the attacks to that point.

I got to my class which had maybe 20% of the total students in attendance which I thought was weird. My teacher began explaining what had happened. Oddly enough, it was a typing/computer science course, so we spent some time reading articles on the Internet of the attacks. She told everybody that they were free to go home if they wanted to. I stayed home for the majority of the the day watching footage of the events.

I prefer to remember people's reactions to 9/11. What I mean is that I remember people pulling together, helping out and seeing people do good things in New York in the face of something horrible. I also remember the NFL canceling games for a week and then doing a nice tribute almost all season. I remember the both the fear and courage that simultaneously gripped the U.S. after this event. It's crazy to think that this happened 10 years ago now.

Mike Townsend:

I was at work when I heard the news.  I was online doing research and reading a cigar bulletin board.  Back then we didn't have any access to a T.V. at work (we did soon thereafter though in the main breakroom), but the bulletin board I was on started getting flooded with posts about the first plane slamming into the building, so I told a co-worker to turn on the radio and soon everyone in the office began listening to the horrific news that one of the towers had been hit by a plane and was smoking.  I frantically searched for any news I could on the internet, and people were not certain what really was going on.

It wasn't immediately clear the plane didn't just crash, but obviously when the second plane hit, and another hit the pentagon while yet a fourth crashed out in the middle of Pennsylvania it was certain this was no accident.  Everyone was numb with disbelief and shock as the news seemed to get worse by the minute.  "Bin Laden" I thought.  I'm not sure how I knew, but he was whom I thought of as soon as we realized this was a terrorist plot.   My brother was in the first Persian Gulf War, so I was more in tune to world events and about that part of the world than I otherwise would have been.  The feeling of concern was worse because there was no warning.  I knew when my brother got deployed and as things built up, until the eventual and speedy conclusion.  This time it was too bizarre to even believe was true.

At the time of the attacks, my sister in law worked downtown Manhattan.  She worked for Audubon and there building was only a couple of blocks away from the Towers, and so I began to think of if she was all right.  Being from New York State there were plenty of people I knew from the city, and my mind raced to think if there were others that I was forgetting.  After a while our company president called an emergency all-staff meeting and we all gathered in the meeting room.  After he was sure we all understood what had happened, we had a moment of silence, and were allowed to go home.  It was clear that no one was going back to work.  We were too close to it all.

My wife and I watched the news and after hours of trying, we finally got ahold of her sister.  She was crying.  As I said she was pretty close to the World Trade Center, and as I listened to her recall the morning, she told me about after the second plane had struck, and it was only a matter of time before they collapsed.  She saw it all.  Her company was on the roof of their building looking over at the first tower as it smoldered.  They watched in horror as the second plane streamed in and took aim.  She watched in horror as people panicked and jumped to their death rather than burn in the building.  As the buildings collapsed she and everyone else left and headed away from the site and walked about 5 miles to get to her apartment in Astoria.

I'll never forget that day.

Joe Goodberry:

I was in 10th grade. I remember the sudden change in the teacher's mood. Then we knew something was wrong when we weren't allowed to go on to our next class. Eventually our teacher turned the TV on and this was just before the 2nd plane hit the towers. I remember having no clue as to what this meant and how big of an impact it would have. Living in New York state, somebody knew somebody who knew somebody that was involved in the Trade Centers. Looking back now, it was such a crazy and tragic event, but I also remember how close it brought everybody. I never felt so much national pride before. Every house on my block had an American flag. Every kid in school proudly recited the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember NFL players crying during the pre-game ceremonies and every single fan singing the National Anthem. It shouldn't take something so destructive to bring us together as a country.

Naji Bsisu:

September 11th started off just like every other day during my sophomore year at the University of Dayton. I was in my room getting ready for class when one of my roommates yells out that I had to get in the living room to watch the news. I remember being completely stunned by the images on our TV screen. Wordlessly, I sat on the couch next to my roommate as we continued to watch the news. Our initial reaction was that this was some sort of freak accident; however that was quickly proven wrong as we watched a second plane careen into the second tower. The pit of my stomach started to turn and my disbelief slowly turned into a sense of unease. Knowing that this was no accident and that the carnage I was witnessing was a malicious and intentional act was overwhelming. Slowly my mind began to process the enormity of what was happening; there was no doubt that this was a life changing event.

As my thoughts began to clear, I began wondering about who was behind these attacks. A sense of dread flooded through me as I realized that the people behind these terrible attacks could be Arabs. If they were, being that I come from an Arab-American family, would I or any of my family members be victims to any sort of reprisal? I am proud to say however, that for every miniscule derogatory action or comment thrown my way, there were at least twenty expressions of solidarity and support. Even in the face of a terrible calamity and wanton violence, the community wholeheartedly embraced me. It is in times of great tragedy such as these where you can gauge the true nature of people, and there is no denying that Americans as a whole have proven to be some of the most compassionate, selfless people that I have ever had the privilege to be around. Here’s hoping for a wonderful Sunday filled with remembrance, good football and a Bengals win. Who Dey!

Aaron Seddon:

I’ve never been very good at remembering birth dates, particularly those of friends and family. I don’t have a mind for it, and I’ve always been a bit shamed by this, though not enough to devise much of a remedy. At best, I’ve assuaged the problem by setting up simple mnemonic devices: my step-mother’s birthday is the day before mine (easy enough); a friend’s is the day before Independence Day (that one took me a while to figure out); my father’s is on the 13th (he’s always been unlucky). The events of 11 September 2001 have become another of these reminders for me.

On that day, I was at college in northern New York, a small school nestled near the Adirondack Mountains. It was my junior year, and I had spent it reading Salinger and Shakespeare, going to weekend parties, and happily fumbling at being a single young man. I was living instinctually, in animal movements, through the last remaining temperate days before the cold winds would begin to blow down from Canada and across Lake Ontario. When I further narrow experience down to my impressions of that day, there are three which circle vividly in my mind like images in a magic lantern:

Having just awoken, I stand in the middle of my arid room, slender shafts of light piercing through the slats of the window blinds, as I struggle with the televised sublimity of one inferno, then (my God!) another—an explosion of glass, steel, and smoke that seems impossibly real.

I sit on the lawn of the campus commons, head in hands, crying because I feel as though I’ve lost something important, and because I couldn’t say for sure what that is. Across a now forgotten girl that sits between us, my friend reaches over and clutches me to him, an act grossly out of character, I think, but welcome and appropriate now. It’s a day to hold tight to whoever is near.

I’m on the phone with my sister, talking about what we’ve heard about what we’ve seen. Suddenly, I go sheepish as I realize I’ve forgotten her daughter’s birthday, September 10. I want to be a good uncle, and I care, but it’s not the first time I’ve done this. I stammer another excuse about having been very busy, though it matters little in the wake of today’s events.

Since then, 9/11 and my experiences of it are bound up in my mind with the anniversary of my niece’s birth, which I haven’t forgotten since. And, to me, that’s fitting—for as many images of death and destruction thrust upon us in the panic of those days, we were consoled by so many more representations of the simple beauty of life. It was a tragedy that engendered reminders of altruism, human nobility, and the spirit of charity and brotherhood, the basic compassion between people, across divides, in or out of character.