We asked the ASU community and friends to share their 9/11 story, and the response was overwhelming.
Here are their stories.
Three U.S. sites. Four commercial airplanes. 19 hijackers. 102 minutes. 2,977 souls lost.
Twenty years have passed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, but for many not a single day moves forward without a reminder of that fateful day in 2001. In less than two hours, lives were forever changed.
It was a bright and beautiful day — a park-walking day for many New Yorkers, according to some accounts. It was a day for work and classes for others. It was a day for active duty; for travel; for polishing the firetruck; for calling in sick; and for staying home from work to meet the repairman who failed to show up the day before.
It was a Tuesday like any other — until it wasn't, and when we asked the ASU community and friends to share their 9/11 story, the response was overwhelming.
Here are their stories.
Editor's note: Some people who shared their story chose to remain anonymous.
I think 9/11 matters now, especially, because it has become history. Most of the undergrads now were either born after 9/11 or were too young to remember when it happened. For them it's just history — the way things have always been. I think those of us who lived through it have a responsibility to pass on to them our personal experiences of it, so they can understand how we viewed it in the moment. My grandparents would talk about how Pearl Harbor affected them and what they were doing when they found out, and I think it's our responsibility to do the same and pass along
knowledge from our experiences on 9/11.
Classified staff, mission planner Mars Space Flight Facility
Associate professor Department of English
On Sept. 11, I had lived in Arizona for three weeks. I was a — I'd just been hired as an assistant professor. And in fact I was actually not even finished with my PhD. I was just finishing it up when I came to Arizona. And so I've been here for 20 years. I am a New Yorker. I was born and raised on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. And I, although I had been at, in graduate school in Wisconsin and had not been living in New York, I am — once you're born in New York and raised there, you're a New Yorker forever.
And so on Sept. 11, I was sleeping and a friend of mine, one of my oldest friends, called me and said — and I picked up the phone and I said, "Listen, it's very early. I'm in Arizona." It was about 7. And he said, he said, "No, get up and turn on your television." And so I did, and he stayed on the line with me while we watched the second plane hit the towers. And of course, all of the communications went down in New York City. And I knew that my family was probably safe — although I did have friends from high school who were in the building that day and some, a few of them died. But I, you know, I had this overwhelming urge to just start driving back across the country to go back to the city.
But instead, I waited and I was scheduled to teach a Shakespeare class in the afternoon on Hamlet. I had about 15 or 16 students and I — it wasn't clear exactly what we were supposed to do, whether we were going to be holding classes. And since I hadn't heard anything, I went to the room to teach my class, assuming that nobody would be there and everybody showed up except for one person. And I stood in front of the class and I just said, you know, "I'm a New Yorker. So this is kind of a hard day for me. But if you want to talk about it, we could do that." And then they all just sort of stared at me — good class. (Laughs.)
And then they said, "Would it be OK if we talked about Hamlet because we need some kind of stability and regular life?" And I said, "Sure! OK." So we talked about Hamlet. We talked about Hamlet for about an hour. It turned out that the one person, the one student who was missing had lost her brother that day, who was, she was also from the New York area. And we kept in touch for a while after that. So on that morning, we all just, we talked about Hamlet for an hour and then we hugged and we went our ways.
What was so interesting about it as someone who is a New Yorker, who's a recent arrival in the ASU community, is it was, it was quite bizarre because right afterward, everyone was wearing, "I love New York" T-shirts and (laughs) they were showing all kinds of support. And, and I will admit that it felt a little alienating for somebody whose, you know, family and friends were there. But it also, it helped me reach out to people in the community. And in fact, I made my best friends, who many of them were also new faculty, and some staff as well. And we all sort of bonded in that moment. And those have been relationships that I have really cherished over the last 20 years of working at ASU.
I was a graduate student at Columbia University living on Manhattan's Upper West Side when 9/11 happened. I flew back to the city on Sept. 9 after spending a couple of weeks in Arizona with my parents. On Monday, I taught my first class of the new semester and attended my own. On Wednesday, Sept. 12, I had an interview scheduled at the courthouse downtown to get my U.S. citizenship. My Tuesdays were free so I was sleeping in when my friend Sarah called me to tell me there was a big accident downtown. Several of us then gathered in our living room to watch the news and saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center — and everything else that unfolded. It felt as if we were part of some kind of horror movie happening nearby but still at a safe distance. I could not reach my parents in Arizona for several hours; I only had a landline then. When the Pentagon got hit we knew we were at war and that something momentous had just happened but it was too close to our everyday reality to comprehend what. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine. In the afternoon, people were walking their dogs in Riverside Park as if it was a normal day. At some point a friend reached out to let us know that he had walked out of the south tower where he was working. Another friend described how he saw everything from his high-rise apartment a few miles north of the twin towers but still went to his place of work on Wall Street only to be evacuated shortly after. When we visited his apartment a few weeks later it still had a peculiar smell of dust and burnt matter. People that I had not heard from for years reached out to me to see whether I was safe. Many of my friends and acquaintances had close encounters with Ground Zero on that day but no one was hurt.
Columbia canceled classes on Tuesday, the day of the attack, but not on Wednesday. And the next day I had to teach my own class and then attend Latin. Some of my students did not come to class because people they knew were missing. Some eventually dropped the course. My Latin professor did not comment on what had happened except to say that it was precisely because of times like these that we needed to study Latin grammar. I thought at the time that this was incredibly callous because I could not concentrate on anything else than what was happening around me. The past and the classics that I loved did not matter at all.
In the weeks and months that followed I remember trying to follow the routines that were established for me by my institution and trying to keep at bay a depression that had seeped into the city lifestyle, despite the famous New York chutzpah. Something was interrupted that day, there was suspicion in the air and some part of my own natural optimism was gone forever. My citizenship interview was postponed but I had it two months later. Although I hate ceremonies of all kinds, I related completely to the solemn nature of this ceremony and perhaps for the first time was able to appreciate everything that living in New York City had given me.
School of International Letters and Cultures
Emeritus Regents Professor Former director of the Center for Meteorite Studies
On 9/11, I was at the meeting of the Meteoritical Society, which was at the Gregorian University in Rome. When we came down the elevator in the hotel, someone told us the United States had been attacked. We walked down Via Veneto to the college from the motel, or hotel, and passed the United States embassy. When we — by the time we got there, the Roman people had covered the entire fence with flowers and memorials. Of course the gates were closed and the Marine guards were out.
It's very impressive, how quickly the Italian people responded to the attack. After the meeting, the airplane tours, trips to the United States were closed. So we went to Frankfurt, Germany, where my daughter was stationed. The frightening thing about the Frankfurt airport was it was crowded and it was full of young people with some machine guns pointing at everybody, which was very frightening. Finally, we got our seats, got on a plane, direct flight to Phoenix and got home safely.
I will always remember that day. On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a U.S. Air Force senior airman in the 95th Fighter Squadron stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. One month prior, I had begun my out-processing appointments — preparing for discharge after fulfilling my four-year active-duty enlistment. My job as an F-15 Avionics Tech was to troubleshoot avionic systems on F-15 fighter planes on the flight line. That day I had some appointments, like a final dental check and scheduling my move home with logistics, then I returned to my squadron to finish out the day.
Around 7:45 a.m. (CDT) following my routine, I turned on my bedroom TV and watched the morning news. The first plane had already struck one of the World Trade Center towers in New York City. I knocked on my bedroom wall to tell my roommate, also an avionics tech, that a plane struck one of the towers. Not knowing it was an airliner and thinking it was a small private plane, we made a few avionics comments and thought nothing of it. A few minutes later our home phone rang; then our cellphones rang; and our alert pager went off. We were instructed to get to base, ASAP.
Around 8:15 a.m. (CDT) my roommates and I arrived at the base, which was under complete lockdown. A "Threatcon Delta" was declared as a localized warning of a terrorist attack. Security police had placed barricades outside the gate at the base. They searched my vehicle, double-checked my ID and inspected my vehicle's undercarriage with mirrors before I was allowed on the flight line.
When I arrived at my squadron, the entrance was packed with airmen standing shoulder-to-shoulder watching the big screen in the break room. By this time, the second plane had hit the other tower. I stood and watched as the footage was replayed, then suddenly the tower collapsed. Everyone stood in awe, some shouted, "Oh my God!" or "Ohhh … " As we watched, an airman shouted, "Room atten-tion!" We stood in attention as our squadron commander walked into the break room. He shouted, "Everyone get to your sections." We dispersed and reported to our individual sections.
During our briefing, we were told our squadron was to ready jets for defense. The other two fighter squadrons on our base were to clear the flight line. Ours was the only squadron on the base to respond. A few moments later my roommate and I walked out with our parts and started to ready the F-15s for real-world defense — previously, our jets were in training mode with mock weapons systems loaded. They were loaded, cocked and ready to rock. I'll never forget staring down the center of the F-15 from the nose of the plane, seeing how awesome it looked, fully loaded with missiles and rockets — still gives me chills.
As we walked to the flight line, a coworker walked up and told us the Pentagon was attacked and another jet went down in Pennsylvania. I remember my roommate shouting an expletive and I said something like, "We have a job to do." We launched our F-15s throughout the day. We, the 95th, were part of the U.S. global defense system to secure our borders. I was thankful to have been in the Air Force and able to assist. I was proud of our armed forces and all the first responders that came forth and united us.
ASU staff and PhD student
Dean of social sciences The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
I was in New York City on 9/11. Uh, I was actually at Columbia University, where I was pursuing graduate studies, and I was in a little office where we were running our magazine out of, and I was with a good friend of mine who was Egyptian American — and I'm Iranian American. And I remember the TV was on, and we watched a tower fall and I was shocked. I thought it was a movie at first. And then we realized, Kareem and I, that it was actually happening. Soon as the first tower fell, we started picking up the phone, trying to make calls. And Kareem said to me, this is going to be really bad for people who look like you and me, and for people who are Muslims throughout the world, regardless of who did this.
The next thing I remember was being evacuated from our building at Columbia and walking home. The second tower fell as we were being evacuated. And I just remember all the way uptown being able to see the smoke, smell the smoke and feel the fear. I felt fear for the terrorism, for sure, but I also felt fear about what would happen to me and members of my Iranian and Iranian American community and other Middle Eastern Americans, now that this attack had happened. We didn't even know yet who was behind it, but at the time I was almost certain that somehow either it would be pinned on or that it would have something to do with folks from the region. It was very painful. And we spent the next two weeks under curfew, under orders to stay in our apartments. And so we did.
On 9/11, my life changed forever. I never felt a sense of belonging in the United States as an Iranian American, but I never felt unsafe until after 9/11. It changed everything for people who look like me or my family. One thing that was really interesting to me was how New York City, though, came out in feelings of love and support for people who look like me. That's something I'll never forget. Twenty years later, I always think of that day every year on Sept. 11.
I think we still carry the reverberations of the Islamophobia that that event set off. As we sit here today, Afghanistan is being taken over by the Taliban, and the region of the Middle East is in chaos. That began in 2001, and actually dates back before that, but it's important for us to think about what 9/11 meant for Muslim Americans and for Iranian Americans, because that was also a turning point for us. And I think we should think about how Islamophobia continues to pervade our society and our world today. Thanks for giving me the chance to tell you my story.
This day matters for people who lost people or witnessed traumatizing events. Some, though not all, need this day to mourn and grieve, and that is valid. However, I don't believe in using this day as a day to justify racism, fear or invasive security measures. If we could let it, I believe this day could be a beautiful reminder as a day we came together as a country and cared for one another without inhibition, and to let this be a model for how we could care for others across the globe. If we look less at the governments and leaders and more at the people living day-to-day life, we could see that they are just like us, sometimes getting caught in the cross-fires of global politics, but ultimately more alike to us than not.
Director, sports law and business program Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law
I remember 9/11, very vividly. It was, you know, the watershed moment of my life. I was in middle school and I remember there was these TVs all over the school and I lived in the Mountain time zone and obviously this stuff happened pretty early on in the Eastern time zone. And those TVs would never be turned on in the middle school. All of a sudden they were on, so he knew something big was happening and there's just a lot of confusion throughout the day. I didn't even know what the World Trade Center was, to be honest with you.
And there was a lot of scared adults. I remember looking at my teachers as, you know, kind of rocks for, for what, what type of emotional support I needed at the time. And they clearly looked visibly shaken and they were horrified by the pictures on the TV. And it was just hard to wrap your mind around. I remember there were tanks that showed up at the school that was on military soil there, and I'm from El Paso, Texas. It was there in El Paso and there's just a lot of confusion. And probably the most memorable part of the day for me, was when I got home and every single channel had this, this story going on. It was that they were showing the people who had decided to jump from the towers cause they were trapped. They couldn't go down and fires were coming up and rather than be burned alive, they decided to jump. And I had never seen anybody take their own life before. And it was at that moment that I remember crying, and just being devastated and going to bed pretty scared and unsure about the world.
Football practice was canceled. Games were canceled. There was a lot of stuff canceled for the next couple of weeks. It was just an exercise in knowing that I shouldn't take anything for granted and life is fragile. And it was, it was kind of a growing-up coming-of-age moment for me. Cause I remember thinking, gosh, there's some really bad people in the world. I can't believe that they would do this.
In terms of how it's changed things: You know, air travel never was the same after that. I always think about, you know, some worst-case scenarios when I'm around large groups of people or I'm in buildings in a high-rise, you know, I'm pretty high up on, within like, a skyscraper. That always kind of creeps up in the back of my mind. And you know, I, but also it changed us for the better for, for a time being, that was the most united I'd ever felt with my fellow countrymen. I remember the couple of months after 9/11, were probably the proudest months of my time so far as an American citizen. I wish we could recapture that moment without having to go through such tragedy because our country could sure use a dose of that comradery and, common thread of just patriotism and what it means to be an American.
Sept. 11, 2001 is part of our history. To dismiss it as merely an event that happened 20 years ago, would be to dismiss the sacrifice, bravery, courage and selfless acts of all those that lost their life and loved ones on that day. It matters because as long as we remember, we win against all those that would attempt to break the American spirit of unity, patriotism and freedom.