Today on the 10 year anniversary of September 11th I thought I would reminisce about my memories from that day, far from New York City. I am working to compile my families’ stories and may expand beyond them to collect the stories of others who were far away from ground zero on that day. I pray that these stories and days will remind us that we are “One Nation Under God, Indivisible with liberty and justice for all”.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001 I was 17 and getting ready for a day full of work and school. I lived in southern Austin, TX with my parents and siblings and was attending Austin Community College, studying Computer Information Systems. I had two jobs, one working in the computer lab there, and the other at Randall’s, a grocery store owned by Safeway.
It started off like any other day, eating breakfast, getting ready for work. I had a class later in the day so I got my backpack loaded and ready to go.
I don’t know how we all wound up in the living room gathered around the TV, but we did. I stood off to the left of the TV watching in shock as the news stations stopped everything to cover the unfolding tragedy. I remember watching the first tower burning. I remember the confusion that seemed to grip the broadcasters as everyone tried to understand what was going on. I wasn’t an expert but that gash in the building looked too big for a small private plane...
And then we all found out it wasn’t. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a small private plane. I caught sight of the second plane. I remember watching as the second plane slammed into the second tower and knowing this was an attack. My younger brother and I loved planes and knew immediately that a large passenger plane had been piloted into the towers. We recognized the tail paint.
For me the scope of the disaster was so broad that it didn’t seem quite real. I couldn’t quantify that kind of loss. I still wonder sometimes if I understand the true scope of what happened that day, the number of lives lost, the individual tragedies that played out. I am not sure if I ever really will, or if that is even humanly possible.
As the camera zoomed in on the burning, gaping hole in the first tower, I noticed something bright dripping from the corners and bottom. I knew it was molten metal, and prayed that they would be able to get everyone out before it came down. It could only be a matter of time before the structure failed. We as a family watched in a mix of silence, and speculative analysis.
The first tower came down just before I had to walk out the door to get to work. I was late for work that day, because I stayed. I had to watch. And then it happened. I watched in quiet horror as floor after floor was crushed by those above it as the second tower came down. I hoped beyond hope that everyone was out.
When I got to work the news was on at the grocery store. In the lulls between checking out customers' groceries we all wandered over to the TV they had setup to show the coverage. As the day progressed, those lulls got shorter and shorter and we got busier and busier. People were stocking up. There were rumors that Austin could be next and people wanted to hole up in their homes. Huge carts of groceries were flying up to our checkout lines and then out the doors. It was like the day before thanksgiving, except everyone had fear in their eyes.
I remember going out to a customer’s car and noticing the fighters, I remember them being pairs of F-15s, patrolling the skies. Not a normal sight in Austin since the closing of Bergstrom Air Force Base. I am not sure if it was more comforting or nerve wracking to see them there, but there they were flying patterns over the Capitol of Texas.
I was a little nervous about going to school later in the day. The campus of Austin Community College I was attending was one of the highest towers in the area back then. But tactically it wasn’t much of a target. I thought they would close it, hoped they would close it, but they didn’t so I left work and drove to school.
I watched the sky my entire drive there.
Almost no one showed up for class. Our professor had been in the air force and so we talked about what was going on for most of class. I think there were two other students in the classroom. After that is back home, and I don’t remember much of the rest of that day.
In the days that followed came numerous discussions with my mother about what this meant. What war would mean, because it was clearly coming. Most of our talk was about the draft, seemed like everyone thought that it was going to be re-instituted in those early days after 9/11. I remember that Mom mentioned being a conscientious objector to me. I told her I couldn’t. If my country was under attack, and needed me to serve, I would do it willingly. Because it’s what my church had always taught me, and what I believed in. That freedom is worth dying for. I still believe that and am proud to be part of country filled with others who believe the same way, and put there lives on the line for it day after day.Photo courtesy of dfbphotos