The attacks of September 11, 2001 left an indelible impression on everyone who witnessed the events of that day. However it occurs to me that none of my current students were alive in 2001, and thus have no memory of what transpired that day.
In my students' Social Studies classes over the years they’ve learned the story of 9/11, probably from sitting through the same few videos year after year. The story of the four hijacked planes and those on board who perished; The story of the thousands who were lost in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, Pennsylvania; and the story of the survivors and the victims’ families, still haunted nearly twenty years later by the events of that fateful day.
I’m from New York. Many of you know this, as I like to proclaim it proudly to whomever will listen. And while I’ve now lived in Ohio for many years longer than I lived in New York, most of my formative years were spent there, and well...once a New Yorker, always a New Yorker. And this is my story.
I grew up in a little bedroom community about 20 miles north of New York City called Pearl River. Pearl River was, and is well known for having a fairly high concentration of police officers and firefighters residing there and commuting into the city.
On 9/11, 2001, I was beginning the second day of my very first student-teaching experience at Linden-McKinley H.S. Already a little bored, listening to my cooperating teacher lecture, I jumped on the internet to catch up with CNN.com when I saw the picture of smoke pouring out of tower #2, with a headline about a plane crash. My first reaction was, while terrible, it didn’t seem implausible as I remember a helicopter crashing into what was then the Pan Am building (Now the MetLife Building), and also hearing stories of the B-25 bomber that crashed into the Empire State Building in 1945.
However, after a few seconds, I realized what most other New Yorkers would know. The Twin Towers are no where near the flight path for JFK or LaGuardia airports. This was intentional.
A few minutes later, Mr. Yancey - my current principal, who was an Assistant Principal at Linden, walked into our classroom to catch the coverage, and we watched together as the second plane hit, and then as the first tower fell.
Meanwhile, Sept. 11th, 2001 was the first day of school for many New Yorkers. My aunt, who was a school principal, was so busy with everything that there was no time for TV or radio. She did take a phone call from my mother, though, who happened to be the one who told her about the attack. Immediately after hanging up the phone she could see the panic in the faces of the parents dropping off their children.
Remember, Pearl River is made up largely of New York City police and firefighters.
She could see the commercial planes being replaced by military planes, and then no planes at all. Only silence.
She could see the smoke in the distance and smell it in the air.
Two mothers rushed out of the school to try to contact their firefighter husbands who were first responders that day. When they returned to pick up their children they still hadn’t made contact. The next few days bore heartache for these families as they learned their husbands and dads were killed in the tower collapse.
A family friend was on jury duty that day in Manhattan. She had just gotten off the subway under the towers when Tower 1 was hit. She was able to run through the ash and dust and ended up walking for hours before being able to get on a ferry to bring her across the Hudson River and home.
Another friend was working in Tower 2 that day. She was lucky and able to get out before it collapsed. She saw some horrendous things and still doesn’t like to talk about it.
All told, my Aunt’s school lost about two dozen parents. For two straight weeks, each day came with a different funeral procession down our main street for someone lost at ground zero. Although 9/11 happened 10 years ago, my hometown still feels the effects . Some families who lost loved ones have moved away. It was just too close for them. Many police, firefighters, EMT’s and ordinary citizens who helped that day or for many days after with the clean up have lost their lives due to the exposure to all the contaminants. Many more still struggle with illness due to this disaster.
The reminders of 9/11 are always with me. My family and I knew people who died that day. Through all the confusion and anger and sadness, though, the best way that I can honor them is to tell their stories and the stories of those they left behind, so that we as a nation will never forget.