On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from the 911 dispatcher that a plane had hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center and they were calling for an all-hands. We came in from Queens, New York on our ambulance FH2 at 8:46 a.m.
While on our way through the Manhattan traffic at 9:03 a.m. a second plane hit the South Tower and we knew it was a terrorist attack. The rest of our crews commandeered a New York City bus and came in with extra equipment.
Upon arrival there were people screaming and running and bloody. We went to the North Tower and began helping and caring for people as the other ambulances arrived and a staging area was being set up. People were jumping from the top of the buildings so as not to be burned up.
At 9:59 a.m. the South Tower collapsed and it looked like an atomic bomb hit it with smoke, cement, metal, bodies coming down as we ran for cover. The North Tower fell at 10:28 a.m. It took what seemed like a month for all the soot and asbestos to settle on the ground before we could run back in there to help survivors. People who were white, black, yellow were all one color – "gray."
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My wife Linda didn't know where I was for the next three days. I found out she was with people holding vigils in the parks. I lived the nightmare for the next three months looking for survivors so families could get closure.
Commander American Legion Post 10
Former Forest Hills Volunteer Ambulance Corps paramedic and instructor
My husband and I lived near Washington Square in New York City. I was on my way to vote when I saw people standing looking downtown where the first tower had just been hit by a plane. Thinking it must be a horrible accident, I continued on. By the time I was finished, I watched as another plane crashed into the second tower. “We are at war!” I thought. “But with who?”
By then ash-covered groups of workers were walking uptown—a kind shop owner had given out free running shoes. We were either glued to the news or going outside and watching the towers slowly burn. It was terrifying and unreal. No one really knew what happened or if they would strike again.
So many were killed that day. Posters sprang up with pictures of loved ones in the hope that they were wandering around dazed. Everyone wanted to help.
We were very kind to each other. Life was fragile. Anyone could have lost someone.
In August 2001 I found myself in New York for a night after a flight from Helsinki. A poorly planned itinerary had me land at JFK and clear customs 14 hours before my flight home would board at LaGuardia. With time to spare I took a bus to Grand Central Terminal, paid to stash my backpack in a locker, and started walking. My travel budget was already spent so my New York City tour was all walking.
I walked by the Empire State Building, through Madison Square Park, by the Flatiron building, down Broadway and through Union Square Park, and onward through Washington Square Park. I used transit maps and the looming towers of the World Trade Center to navigate south through Soho to Tribeca.
The towers were much taller than the buildings around them and on that August night the red lights at the top appeared to wobble in the humidity. I enjoyed listening to New Yorkers talk. The different accents and languages, groups of people walking and talking on the sidewalk or spilling out of bars. I may have heard as many languages spoken on that walk as I had heard traveling in Europe.
I hadn’t properly visited New York before, but after being abroad it felt good to be back in the United States, surrounded by Americans from all walks of life. I found my way back to Grand Central, retrieved my backpack, caught the bus to LaGuardia, and made my flight home to Oregon.
Sept. 11, 2001 was surreal, and of course I’ll never forget it. I’ll also never forget the New York I glimpsed just before.
As we approached the Lido deck to have breakfast, stone silence greeted us. Everyone was crammed into the adjacent sports bar to watch the TVs mounted on the ceiling.
Just as we entered, the second plane hit the towers. Everyone gasped in unison and in disbelief. The towers were going down.
The Norwegian Sun was at sea in the Inside Passage of Alaska. Everything aboard came to a standstill. Passengers were scrambling to use the Internet, which was offered free to everyone. All activities were canceled and everyone just kind of wandered on the ship, barely speaking to one another. Many, including crew, were crying.
When we got to Juneau, not seeing or hearing airplanes in the air was very strange. That’s how residents get around and how tourists choose to see Alaska. There was an eerie silence in the air.
The rest of the cruise was very somber. When we got back to Seattle, many passengers and crew could not go home because airplanes were grounded. We were offered discounted fares to stay onboard because those taking the next cruise could not get there. One of the things that we thought about was not being home to experience what it was like in Corvallis when the towers fell. Yes, we have clear memories of where we were on that fateful day.
Sharron de Montigny
Twenty years ago on Sept. 11, I boarded an early morning flight, originating out of Kansas City and heading to Washington D.C. to present a research seminar and outline research collaborations. I had just arrived to Kansas City on an earlier flight from Oregon to hand off my then 4-year-old child to family in Kansas City, as I was a single parent working in Corvallis with no family to watch my child during business travels.
Sometime after my flight to D.C. departed, the pilot asked us to prepare for an immediate landing. The other passengers and I were unaware of the events unfolding because we departed as the World Trade Center Twin Towers were hit. We did not know an order had been issued for airplanes to immediately land or they might be shot down due to possibility that remaining in-flight airplanes were weaponized.
We were ordered to immediately evacuate the airplane and move toward an open clearing away from the airport terminal. My brother located me, hours later, after convincing police to let him pass through their many barricades and checkpoints along highways that had been shut down. Twenty years later, I’m still saddened by the loss of many innocent people, and I listen to their names read each year to honor them. I’m thankful for the professionalism, bravery, and kindness of those who work in the aviation industry and the fire and rescue services.
In April of 2001, after many years working at Albany General Hospital, I made a huge leap and took a management position at the University of Virginia Medical Center in Charlottesville. Only five months later, logging onto my computer with the other managers to start our day, we were horrified to get a link to the first of the plane crashes into the World Trade Center. As we all sat glued to the screens, we became more and more shocked and fearful as we watched the subsequent attacks live. We knew after the Pentagon was hit that our city could be next — after all, we had the biggest JAG unit in the country, our hospital was the largest outside of D.C., and we were home to huge refugee centers — all of which we feared could be targets.
I jumped on the phone and called my brother back home in Bend for support. His little daughter’s birthday, after all, was Sept. 11, and, in tears, I lamented that her day would be forever clouded after this horror.
For the next five years working at UVA, I continued to feel the tug of priorities and my “home” in Oregon. I finally gave in and moved back. Sept. 11 did that for so many of us — re-centering our priorities. Even driving through Kansas on the way back and seeing exit signs to Dorothy’s “no place like home,” I knew I was doing the right thing. As I look back on the last 20 years, I recognize our world will never be the same.
Sept. 11, 2001 is a day many will never forget. I was at the Portland airport with 11 individuals at 6:15 am, ready to fly to Uzhhorod, Ukraine. We were the first delegation with a new sister city program called The TOUCH Project (Take One Ukrainian Child’s Hand). We had planned the journey for months and 120 orphans at the Chaslivtsi Orphanage were awaiting our visit.
While checking in, we heard of a plane accident in New York, perhaps due to fog. Then the airline agents became agitated and left their desks for a meeting. They returned and said there had been an accident in New York City. We could reschedule our flight if desired. Not yet understanding what had happened, we checked our baggage, disregarding that an accident in New York could impact our trip to Ukraine. But as we walked to our gate, we stopped at a terminal TV and, in horror, watched a plane fly into a tall building which eventually collapsed. We realized we weren't going anywhere.
Our emotions spiraled from numbness to disbelief to frustration to anger to horrible sadness for those deprived of their lives and future. We remained at the airport watching planes zoom in to land, while none departed. After returning home, we resolved that the terrorists would not triumph over our minor, but genuine disappointment. In December 2001, a TOUCH delegation flew to Ukraine. Over 250 individuals have now traveled with The TOUCH Project since 9/11. We hope this will continue this fall despite a new terror known as COVID.
I am a native New Yorker and was in New York with family on Sept. 11, just north of the city on the Hudson River, so we were all awake and well into our day when the first plane hit. The first hour was confusion – most people imagined a Cessna gone astray. By the second hour we understood the magnitude, as everything shut down and people began calling each other for safety checks. Everyone knew someone who worked at the World Trade Center or lived/worked nearby. Phone lines jammed and outside the silence was eerie, as trains stopped running, planes flying and traffic came to a halt. For us, the silence was shattered by a couple of fighter jets screaming south low over the river. Now, I know they were part of the scrambling of defenses. At that moment we thought they were more planes coming down, or perhaps a foreign attack.
The next days were about relying on the radio to understand how to access basic services; how to go from point A to point B. Unlike Oregon, the New York metro area is extremely diverse and the first response was not to wave a flag or suspect anyone with brown skin. The response was to pull together, as melting pot New Yorkers, to help each other through the days.
Returning to Oregon (itself a feat of trains, planes, and automobiles) was like landing in another country. I was struck by how everyone suddenly loved New York – quite a change from Sept. 10!