By Marcia Conard
On the first anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks killing 2,977 people, Patriots Day was observed and is observed every year. This day has been set aside to call upon Americans to volunteer in service to their communities as a tribute to the individuals lost, injured, and to first responders and many others who have risen in service to defend our freedoms. The Memorial and Museum constructed at “ground zero” also pays its respects to the six people killed in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as noted in the picture above.
Let us never forget. Tuesday, September 11, 2001, dawned as a beautiful day along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Little did anyone dream of the terrorist nightmare that would ensue that day. At 8:45 a.m. that morning, American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center near the 80th floor in NYC. This plane was loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel. The crash instantly killed everyone on the plane and hundreds of people in the building while trapping everyone on the 30 floors above. First responders rushed to the scene to begin evacuation efforts while TV camera crews began reporting with live shots of the efforts and dramatic images of the flames and smoke billowing from the north tower. At that time everyone thought it was a freak accident. A mere 18 minutes later at 9:03 a.m., another Boeing 767 – United Airlines Flight 175 – made a sharp left turn and slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center near the 60th floor. It instantly became abundantly clear these were not freak accidents and would change many things forever. This crash resulted in a massive explosion causing burning debris to fall onto the surrounding buildings and into the streets below.
As evacuation attempts and medical procedures were taking place at Ground Zero in NYC, American Airlines Flight 77 circled Washington D.C. and purposely flew into the west side of the Pentagon at 9:45 a.m. The inferno caused by the jet fuel caused a part of the building to structurally collapse and killed 125 military and civilian personnel as well as all 64 people on the plane. This is the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense.
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Under 15 minutes later, the South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed spewing a massive cloud of smoke and dust. It was followed by the collapse of the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 10:30 a.m. When built, the structural steel used in these buildings was engineered to withstand 200 mph winds and fire, but the extreme heat created by the burning jet fuel proved to be too much. After the collapse of the buildings, only six survivors still in the buildings were found. Almost 10,000 additional people that had made it out of the buildings were treated for injuries, many of which were severe.
If the horror being broadcast all over the TV networks and radio stations were not enough, United Flight 93 en route to California was hijacked 40 minutes after leaving Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. We will never know what the intended target of this plane was to be as a brave group of passengers and the flight crew rushed the hijackers with boiling water, a fire extinguisher, and whatever else they could grab as a weapon. At 10:10 a.m., the plane crashed into a field near Shanksville, PA. instantly killing all 44 people on board. The plane was traveling almost 500 mph when it hit the ground.
There was a total of 19 terrorist hijackers on board the four flights. When added to the total of others who perished that day, a total of 2,996 lives were lost. An astounding 78 countries lost citizens between the deaths in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania. The death count at the World Trade Center was 2,763 which included 343 firefighters and paramedics, 23 NYC police officers, and 37 Port Authority police officers as they attempted to evacuate the two towers and attempted to save office personnel trapped on the higher floors.
That evening, President George W. Bush addressed the nation saying, “Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.” The President further declared, “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.” Operation Enduring Freedom was our military response that began on October 7, 2001. Within two months, U.S. forces had removed the Taliban from power in Afghanistan but continued to fight Taliban efforts based in Pakistan. Finally, on May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks and leader of the terrorist network in Afghanistan, was tracked down and killed by U.S. forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The first memorials to the attacks were immediate and felt around the world. Examples would be of Queen Elizabeth singing the American National Anthem during the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace; in Rio De Janeiro, billboards were erected showing the city’s Christ the Redeemer statue embracing the NYC skyline; as well as candlelight vigils and floral tributes at U.S. embassies around the world.
Today, Ground Zero consists of an eight-acre park in which there are a north and south reflecting pool with the largest manmade waterfalls where the Twin Towers once stood. There is also a memorial museum which is actually located seven stories below street level. The museum contains monumental objects recovered from the ruins including the survivors’ staircase which was the first artifact placed inside the museum. It is a place to go to honor the victims, learn the history of the attacks, listen to first-person accounts, listen to stories about the victims recorded by their loved ones and so much more. Foundation Hall can be visited which is a surviving section of the underground protective wall and a column from the original World Trade Center which still stands.
As you reflect upon this day in our history which changed so many things for us, do you remember where you were and what you were doing that day? As the news of these attacks reached you, do you remember your reaction and what you did? For me, my memories resonate clearly every year as things hit somewhat close to home and I feel very humbled by the events of that day. It was beautiful here in Michigan that day. I rose early, not only to get ready to go to work, but it was my youngest son’s 19th birthday and his first day of college and I wanted to spend a few minutes with him before we went our separate ways. As a licensed Customhouse broker, I worked at both the Blue Water Bridge and at our off-site office that day. We heard the news at work by radio and about midday I had to evacuate my staff from the bridge as there were bomb threats at the Blue Water Bridge in Port Huron, Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, and at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo, NY. The phones were busy as family members called or employees phoned to check on family members and our corporate headquarters stayed in touch. I worked until after dinnertime but was anxious to get home to be with my family and also to make a couple of key phone calls. You see, my aunt worked at the Pentagon and a dear friend was a stewardess for one of the airlines out of one of the airports from which one of the highjacked planes had left. I am happy to say that I reached my aunt first and was stunned to learn that she and a coworker were actually outside moving between additional buildings at the Pentagon and stopped to watch this plane approaching because it was flying so low. They actually saw it crash into the Pentagon and then they ran as fast as they could possibly move. My aunt told me she got to her car and got out of Washington D.C. faster than she ever had before. I was just so thankful that she was okay. It took me several attempts to reach my friend the stewardess. Every time that I was unsuccessful, I was fearful she was on the plane that crashed. Finally, I heard her voice. She had been in the airport and passed all the people boarding the fateful flight as she went to her gate to board her own flight. Her plane actually was taxing to the runway when the pilots were instructed to return to the gate. Again, I thanked God that he had spared these two women that day. To say that these two women were scared beyond belief, would be an understatement. Neither felt they would be able to return to their jobs after the horror of what might have been left an indelible mark on them. Eventually, they both returned to their jobs, however the stewardess wound up moving across the country and getting into a whole different line of work.
We should be thankful for every day we have and take a few moments to remember all of the souls whose hopes and dreams perished with the attacks on 9/11/2001.