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Missourian staff share their personal remembrances of 9/11

Friday, September 9, 2011 | 6:49 p.m. CDT; updated 8:40 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 12, 2011
Missourian staff member Amanda Harrison captured this photo of the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, from back of a moving car while her father was driving.

Part of the experience of event anniversaries involves thinking back to where we were and how we felt at the time. Missourian staff members would like to share some of our memories of Sept. 11, 2001, and we invite you to do the same.

Please add your story in the comments below. If you prefer, you can email them to us at news@ColumbiaMissourian.com. Please use the subject line "9/11 remembrance" and include your name, and we'll post them for you.

 

A family heads out to see the Pentagon in person
From Amanda Harrison, Missourian community outreach team

I was in fifth grade when hijacked planes struck the twin towers, when United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field in Pennsylvania and a plane nose-dived into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. It was a day to never forget.

I was in Mrs. Prohaska's class at Beach Elementary in Chesapeake Beach, Md. All morning the teachers seemed “off.” They were running back and forth between the fifth grade trailers; some of them were crying. But they wouldn’t tell us what was happening.

Kids were leaving one by one, right after the other, and the class numbers were dwindling. We weren’t allowed to leave the trailer, not to use the bathroom in the main building or to go to recess.

My dad picked me and my younger brother, who was in first grade at the time, up around 11 a.m. He didn’t really say much when we got in the car. But I remember listening to the radio with my brother and being upset that there was no music playing. We wanted to change the channel, but my dad wouldn’t let us ... It was all talk about the events, which neither of us understood.

We got home and the first thing my dad did was turn on the TV. Then he called my mom; she was rushing home from work in Bethesda, Md.

We sat there for hours watching and flipping between news channels. When my mom got home hours later we sat there watching the same coverage over and over and over again.

Around 3 p.m., my dad decided we should go see the Pentagon. We only live about 25 miles from downtown Washington, D.C., which usually takes about 45 minutes, but this time it was different. We sat in traffic for hours. As we crossed the bridge, the only thing I can remember as I was taking pictures from the back seat was that I knew this was a huge deal and that things would never be the same.

I remember vividly, as though I was there now, the airplane sticking straight up from the ground. I remember the gaping hole in the building. I remember the charred building on the freshly destroyed sides and the airplane. I remember the smoke that was still blowing. I can still see the remnants of what used to fill the hole. 

I didn’t quite grasp the concept at the time that there were people standing there talking, working at their desks, eating their lunch, when that plane crashed into the Pentagon and that those people, in that building, were gone. 

It’s hard to forget the repeated coverage on every station and channel. But it’s even harder to forget the lives that were lost in the Pentagon that day. 

 

Momentarily empty skies
From John Schneller, Missourian city editor

Aside from the obvious, what stands out for me 10 years later was the empty sky at night. Nothing but the stars. Not an airplane to be seen. It was a powerful atmosphere for reflection. Serene and peaceful; spooky and unsettling. A reminder of a time when humans hadn’t learned to so defy the limits of gravity, time and space.

 

Was Dad on that plane?
From Nick Gass, Missourian community outreach team

My dad worked (and still works) for a company based in Clayton, a suburb of St. Louis. His job required (and still requires) frequent trips across the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada; on Sept. 11, 2001, he was scheduled for a meeting in Philadelphia.

I could be cliché here and say how it was just like any other day, but it wasn't. My middle school started at 7:30 a.m., so I was up by 5:45 every day, as I always liked to set aside 10 or 15 minutes to watch SportsCenter. As I scrubbed my face, I realized the date was 9/11. 9-1-1. I didn't really think much of it, and I am positive it's not a falsely reconstructed memory. Off I went to a half day of school, thanks to the monthly staff development day.

When the first plane struck the World Trade Center at 7:46 a.m., central time, I was probably sitting in my first-hour science class, watching my teacher Mrs. Barr hang posters of her favorite hockey players above her desk. At 8:19 a.m., the first class ended, and I walked across the hallway to math. It was quiet. The teacher wasn't there. Mrs. Gardner appeared after a few minutes and told us about the planes that had struck the World Trade Center. Our classroom had no television, so the class filed into the social studies room and watched NBC's coverage. 

As I watched the replay of the second tower being hit on live TV, I realized that my dad was flying east. My heart just sank and my throat grew dry. I just knew something was wrong. I had never heard a teacher shriek like Mrs. Schjolberg, the world history teacher, after the Pentagon was hit.

Since it was a half day, school let out around 11:30 or so. We didn't watch the news in my French class or in choir, but I knew that a fourth plane had crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. That was it. I knew my dad was on the plane. I just knew it.

The choir director asked us calmly if we had any questions about what was happening. Then a girl asked, "What is a terrorist?" For some reason, my memory chose to hold on to that innocent question. I don't remember the answer, but that wasn't as important as this: No American child will ever have to ask that question ever again. For now, it is a part of who we are, fighting shadow wars against an opponent that, in my opinion, can never be fully vanquished.

When the final bell rang, I ran to my mom's navy blue 2001 Ford Mustang, tears streaming down my face. "Is dad dead?" was the first thing I asked. No, she said. He had gotten off the plane in Chicago and was driving home as quickly as possible. I was relieved, but I still cannot begin to describe what I felt that day.

 

Mourning from across the globe
From Nan Wang, community outreach team

I was a college freshman in Shanghai on 9/11. It was almost midnight when I was listening to a radio program. At that time, I was poor in English listening, but I knew something bad had happened. Then my father called me and shouted, "Turn on the TV. America is bombed!" I knew I would never forget the scene that looked like something from a Hollywood movie. I felt really sad for the victims, and for the desperate people jumping from the skyscrapers. The next day, I heard that one of my classmates actually knew someone who was working in the World Trade Center. The man's family was devastated to have lost contact with him, and they later found out that he had died. It was a huge tragedy not just for Americans, but for humankind.

 

Not needing to absorb and understand it all
From Kelly Moffitt, community outreach team

When Sept. 11 happened, I was allowed one day to drown in the media maelstrom of smoke and burning ash. I remember sitting in my sixth-grade gym class, my classmates and I more concerned with inane chatter about the legitimacy of our training bras than the announcement my teacher was making. But once she told us what happened to the two shining towers of a city I had only heard of as the place where MTV was located, I’ll never forget the silence and the stillness as we spent the rest of the day glued to a 20 by 20 grainy television in the cafeteria.

I didn’t know where those towers were, why they were important, who hit them or why they were following down. And, for once in my young life, no one else did either. We sat and watched, silenced by the smack-in-the-face knowledge that we, as humans, know nothing. It is a lesson I learned as a sixth-grader that most people before my generation never learned until they were 30.

By the end of that first day, the media were already trying to act like they had the answers. And that is when we stopped watching. I went home and asked my mom, naively, “Have you heard about what happened?” and she answered in the most matter-of-fact way, “Of course.” And from then on we didn’t watch the news about it and we didn’t really talk about it again.  It was as though she knew that I had already learned enough.

Up until these past two weeks I really hadn’t paid attention to the death counts, the importance of  “Falling Man,” or what exactly was included in the Patriot Act. Was a middle-schooler really expected to? I’m old enough now that I’m able to read the retrospectives like the 9/11 encyclopedia New York Magazine put together and wonder how I missed out on all the parts of the Sept. 11 story there are.

Some people would say that means I’m less a part of the American community that experienced finding out “the facts” from these past 10 years of watching 24-hour newsreels about that day, being asked to make enemies with people we didn’t know anything about.

I don’t agree. I think I learned a lesson that day the hard way, the way many of my generation have: the futility of humans is universal, we don’t always have the answers, and innocence dies young. We went back to school the next day and life continued on ... and I was and am more prepared for it because I know that I won’t ever know it all.

 

Lockdown in Portland
From Maggie Walter, news editor

Strolled into work at the Portland Press Herald in Maine a bit later than usual on Sept. 11, 2001, intending to make a short day of it and looking forward to lunch with my sister Bernardine and her husband, Neil. They had stopped by Portland on their way farther north into Maine to await her daughter’s arrival from California at the Portland airport a couple days later. 

Within an hour, the features department’s administrative assistant raised the alarm that CNN was reporting something truly horrible. She was known for high drama, often elevating hangnails to the level of heart attacks, so we didn’t pay much attention.

But soon we did — and we didn’t stop.

We alerted the newsroom — often in a standby mode in the early morning hours, only gearing up in mid- to late afternoon. The newsroom burst into action.

Journalists starting showing up for work — drifting in to the office one by one. Feature designers and reporters move to the second-floor newsroom to start work on a four-page special edition.

While we worked, we watched the towers fall. The newsroom went quiet. An unspoken need for the quiet — for the moment of grief was honored. Bit by bit, conversation resumed — but it was only the words of works — nothing personal — it was too painful.

And, then we had a new normal in the newsroom — high-intensity work 24/7.

Highly charged — emotions high — journalism more so — debates — those photos — which ones? Why? Why not?

John Wilhoite — a features sections designer — took over as lead designer for the special edition. He worked steady and sure — despite the fact his son was flying to Maine from California that morning — perhaps on a flight that early reports indicated might also have been hijacked. What tremendous courage and discipline. 

Special edition  — completed in two hours – 100,000 copies printed, I think — sold on the street — circulation and advertising employees — swamped — gone in 20 minutes.

More emotions and stories — more remarkable and more remarkable — emerged. 

Soon learned that the pilots on the Portland flight spent the night of Sept. 10 in a Portland hotel — enterprising reporter, blocked by investigators, rented a room under his own name, snuck down the hall, gained access and started filing reports. Talked to hotel staff — clerk, maids, waitresses, other guests and eventually the investigators, too, as they swapped contacts and information.  

Portland, an active working seaport — lockdown.

More stories. More remarkable.

Chef Harry — a food columnist for the newspaper — an exuberant and bubbly personality — always think of champagne — drove through the streets of New York — roadblock after roadblock — until he could find an exit and head north.

Barbara — a smart and sassy friend from the city — uninjured — walked home across the bridge — a trip she physically had trouble making — but said she would be willing to repeat it on her knees every day to reverse the horror of the day.

Youngest brother Eddie traveling from Cincinnati to Washington, D.C.,  — flight was the last one allowed into Reagan National — slight confusion in the air as an unexpected plane crossed their path — turns out it was the plane that crashed into the Pentagon —

Only later realized, of course.

Traveling light — carry on luggage — allowed on subway — trains soon stopped— one stop away from Pentagon — told to get out of the subway — utter chaos on the street — found a bar that was open — with a television tuned to CNN — watched the news and proceeded to get stinky drunk — stayed all day and well into the night — no place else to go — injured back of heel — not able to walk long distance —

Quiet, so quiet — a car backfired on the Interstate 295 that cuts through Portland — roadway closed — hardly anybody noticed — quieter and quieter. 

Much later at my home — sister watching television with me — tears pooling in her collarbone — finally, I cried, too.

Quiet and solemn.

Eight days later — flew to Salt Lake City — route took plane directly over the twin towers site — huge plumes of smoke and dust still drifting down the Hudson — apocalyptic view — not like the movies — not at all like the movies — the most real scene ever.

Quiet, quiet, dead quiet.

 

Now we'd love to hear from you.

Please add your story in the comments below. If you prefer, you can email them to us at news@ColumbiaMissourian.com. Please use the subject line "9/11 remembrance" and include your name, and we'll post them for you.


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