Remembering September 11, 2001

(Editor’s note: This post was originally written for the 10th anniversary of the day that changed our country forever. Here is a reprise.)

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001

Anyone who was an adult twelve years ago vividly remembers where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. Here’s my story.

It was a beautiful, clear and sunny morning in Johnson City, Tennessee, the place I had called home since moving south 16 years prior. I was the marketing director for Hunter, Smith & Davis law firm. We were hosting our large, annual employment law seminar at Millennium Centre in Johnson City. We had a good crowd that morning and things were moving along smoothly. I was standing in the back of the room watching one of our attorneys’ presentations when a Firm partner, Mike Forrester, slipped in the door and whispered, “Did you hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center?” Immediately my mind began processing this odd bit of information. My husband enjoys flying small planes for a hobby and I tried to envision some crazy pilot in a single engine aircraft hitting such a massive structure. “Is the weather bad in New York?” I whispered back. “No,” was his answer.

Moments later Mike and I and several others were piled out in the hallway watching the televisions that hung from the Centre’s ceilings. It was, in fact, a beautiful day in New York just as it was in Tennessee. And this was no small plane crash. As we watched the story unfold on CNN, reality slowly began to sink in. These were major aircraft and this was no accident. A secondary story unfolding before my eyes was the reaction of the people at the seminar. The attorneys kept their cool. One of our senior partners said, “If we stop now we give them exactly what they want.” And so the seminar went on. One person who worked at the Centre however was not so calm. I had to repeatedly reassure him that the world was not coming to an end. We did not all carry mobile phones with us ten years ago as we do today. I had to borrow a phone from a friend in order to attempt to reach my husband who was employed at a nuclear defense plant. His work voicemail said  that the plant had been evacuated and he would be in a safe area. And so I returned to the TV set and watched with horror as people ran from the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings. I recall feeling eerily that it was like watching a bad “grade B” movie. I also recall the calm steadiness of Scott Powers, an Annapolis grad and attorney for the firm as our eyes were cast upward. Our attorneys assured people who needed to go to check on their employees or loved ones to please do so but you would be surprised how many people stayed for the luncheon that concluded the session. There was comfort and assurance in being in a large group in a safe, secure building far from New York City or the Pentagon.

I recall that a close friend was very upset that her four year old kept watching the scene re-played as he stayed with his grandmother. “He keeps thinking it’s happening over and over,” she bemoaned. It was a very upsetting day for all of us who lived through it and a turning point for our country. Never again would we experience the freedoms that we had back then. If the United States were a dog we were probably a big, lovable Labrador until that time. After September 11th we became a snarling Pit Bull much more wary and cautious.

There were some good things to come from the tragedy. One first-hand example was our son. He was born in the baby boomlet that followed 9-11. He will never know the America I knew prior to that day. To him, removing his shoes at airport security is second nature, just as it is to have liquids over three ounces confiscated.

Each year when the video re-plays of the burning twin towers begin airing, I generally cast my eyes in the other direction or change the channel. “I was there. I lived through it,” I mutter, much as a veteran chooses not to watch a war film. This year avoiding the images will be nearly impossible as most every channel is already running features on the historic tragedy. Perhaps I will watch. Perhaps I’ll go for a walk with my son instead.
photo credit: wallyg via photopin cc


  • Sue Painter says:

    I’m old enough to remember where I was when JFK was shot, even though I was very young. So now I have two “never forget” moments. You’re right, everyone remembers what they were doing at that time.

  • I was scrubbed in a surgical procedure on the morning of 9/11/01 with a veteran by my side. Our circulating nurse came in and said that a plane hit the World Trade Center. Once the procedure was over, we saw the other plane hit. I definitely will never forget that.

    Just yesterday my 2 year old caught a glimpse of the United Flight hitting the second tower. Her response sums it up. With a sad face she said, “not funny.” Even a 2 year old can feel the impact and sadness of 9/11 10 years later.

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    The walk with your son sounds like a wonderful remembrance, honor, and hopeful thing to do. With your well-written story, and all our individual stories of that day, in the background, I hope we can all take a nice walk.

  • Duke Carico says:

    It was our 20th Anniversary . . . I was working in my office that day, thinking back and looking forward. I was trying to focus on work, but my mind kept drifting to my wife, our wedding, our past and our future . . . . .

    Then, a girl walked into my office, and asked if I had heard about the plane that hit the World Trade Center? I immediately turned on the TV above my desk. I watched in shock, and in awe and soon I saw the 2nd plane fly into the building. I experienced so many emotions that day, but like that train wreck, I just couldn’t quit watching. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

    • maryellen says:

      Thanks for writing Duke. I know exactly what you mean about not being able to tear yourself away from the TV for several days. It was gripping!

      • Mary Ann Stout says:

        Mary Ellen, It’s a blessing to be able to recall that day with pen or keyboard. The lives of so many ended suddenly on 9-11, their keyboards and pens silenced, and their famlies impacted painfully. This week I watched a documentary on the children of 9-11 which was almost as painful. Their troubled days had escaped my thoughts.

        On 9-11, I was on my sofa medicated for a URI when a friend startled me with her freightened phone call. She was a professing Christian that was shaken to the core. I tried to assure her that things would be ok: the world was not ending. The second plane hit and I called her to see if I needed to do anything.

        Today will be the last day on this earth for many. Every believer in Jesus Christ can look back with gratefulness for the cross of Christ and eternal life with Jesus. My ponderings / prayers go to those who do not yet know Christ. May hope arise!

        Thanks for sharing, dear friend!

  • Linda Pucci says:

    As traumatic as that day was, it also brought people together, comforting each other. It brought acts of heroism as people reached out to help others, sometimes only doing their job, sometimes doing something extraordinary. When I dig beyond the immediate trauma of it, I am especially awed by the response of the FAA who brought down thousands of flights safely within minutes, even though they had never conceived of the need for it before and had no protocol for doing so. In fact, many of the pilots that landed mid-flight had no idea why they were suddenly grounded until they were safely on the tarmac.

  • I agree with Linda. Thinking about the love we all shared for one another, those lost and for the country after that terrible event was so amazing. I don’t think we could have moved forward without coming together as a nation. We need to remember that during our current time of need.

    • maryellen says:

      Good point about us all drawing closer together Kristina. I remember everyone announcing that we were “all New Yorkers” and at least for a few days that was true.

  • Renee Preis says:

    Wow…thank you so much for sharing your story!!

  • The day still sits sharply in my mind and rest assured despite being across the ocean in Australia our nation also stopped to watch in horror as an ally nation was ravaged by a poison one can never comprehend.
    Our country mourned then, just as we mourned the death of Princess Diana, deeply.
    In Australia we enjoy great freedom, great hope and great mateship and it shocks and scares us to see what some are capable of – at times like that we are grateful for being far away on an island.

  • Bill Painter says:

    Thankyou for shating your thoughts. I think we were all impacted by thaqt at the moment we heaqrd about it. It was one of few events that are indelibly etched in our minds.

  • Jeff Brunson says:

    Hoping this year’s walk was as sweet as ever.

  • I can’t get through that day without some tears at the memory – and it’s also our wedding anniversary.

    One of my most vivid memories is watching the news. We had just crawled out of bed when it happened. We were sitting on the couch stunned.

    Then they played the news clip and Brian (a firefighter) started to cry. It seemed like hundreds of high-pitched alarms were going off around the reporter … and he reported that “car alarms were going off everywhere”

    But they weren’t car alarms. They were the emergency alarms Firefighters wear when they go into a building – alarms that only go off if they stop moving for a certain amount of time so their brothers can find them.

    Each one of those alarms was a fallen firefighter who was no longer moving.

    He knew what those alarms were and what they meant. And the news reporter just kept referring to car alarms – not having any clue what was happening.

    Thankfully, someone who knew what was happening stepped in – and that segment was never ran on television again.

    Even as I write this today I am fighting back tears. The entire day was a tragedy … and I will never forget.

    • maryellen says:

      Jennifer, wow! What a beautiful and powerful story you are telling. I did not know that about the firefighters alarms going off. I do recall people leaving the twin towers telling how the firefighters were entering the building as they were fleeing only, of course, to be walking into their death. It was a day that changed our country forever and all of us who were adults at the time and probably many children will remember it always.

  • Sue Painter says:

    Thanks for reminding your readers about what we lost that day. Way more than the lives and the buildings, it seems, all these years later.

  • I was in NYC that day… so many vivid memories. I actually saw the second tower fall and after just kept repeating “They’re gone. They’re gone…” in shock and incomprehension.



    Katherine C. H. E.
    Author, Be True Rich

    • maryellen says:

      Thank you Katherine. Yes, that was a very tough day. I can’t imagine being in NYC at that time but I had many friends, like you, who were there.

  • Emma Brock says:

    As a younger millennial, I am probably expressing a view from a memory that is different many posted before. My memory is that of a child’s. Mel, I was Skylar’s age when 9/11 happened. I remember thinking that is so sad. So many lives lost. But it was not until the next day when my teacher compared the lives lost in 9/11 to those lost in Pearl Harbor that I realized the terrorism behind it. Today I am proud to be a citizen in a country that remembers and talks about the heroes of that day, and not the evil that caused it. We will remember and honor those that paid for our freedom with their lives.

    • maryellen says:

      Emma, thank you for your very kind comment. I actually thought about that this morning when I saw you…that you would have been a fairly young child and not realized the brevity and magnitude of the situation. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • Jessica says:

    I lost friends and worried about my dad all day.. it changed NY forever and our country and the world.

  • Thanks for sharing your story. It’s important for us to remember….

  • Mitch Tublin says:

    The stories must be told each year. There are teenagers now who will never remember where they were that day as they were not born yet.
    This raises the bar. Keep sharing and telling our stories.

    • maryellen says:

      Mitch I am really glad that you pointed out what is vivid for us will not even be a memory for others. We must not forget.

  • Bill Painter says:

    That event and where we were will be etched in our memories forever. Just like the Challenger disaster and the shooting of JFK.

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