Today marks the 20th anniversary of the horrific day that ironically resembles the number Americans call for emergencies. Little did we know when that first plane hit how the rest of the day would transpire and what a national emergency it would become. This day changed how we travel, our economy, our military, government policies, and of course, thousands of lives were altered by the loss of their loved ones. It’s hard to believe how much time has passed since we were all glued to our TVs that day. We all have our own personal memories of where we were when those four airplanes hit the towers, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania, so I thought I’d reach out to my fellow Knoxville Moms writers and get their stories to share with you. Our ages span about 20 years, so some of us were just starting kindergarten while others were starting their adult lives.
Here are some of our stories:
Jordan M.: On 9/11, I was in Kindergarten. I don’t remember much, but what I do remember is panic and silence. I can recall someone coming over the intercom and there being a moment of silence, but I didn’t understand why. Kids in my class started getting checked out left and right and I don’t remember if we were given an explanation as to what was going on (although I assume we were). Being so young kind of sheltered me from the terror of that day and for that I’m grateful.
Meredith M.: I was a sophomore in college. My alarm clock radio woke me up and it was different that day. Instead of music blaring, it was a news broadcast talking about a fire at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I hit snooze, of course, but when it went off again, there was still no music, still a news broadcast – something about explosions in NYC. I finally got up and turned on the TV and that’s when I saw it. My class was at 9:30 and I struggled with whether I should attend but I went anyway. When class was over the TV stayed on the rest of the day and of course the phone calls started from my friends and family.
Angie T.: I was in middle school and I was in gym class running the mile outdoors when our school made the announcement so my class didn’t hear it. When we came inside my principal came into the gym and made us all sit on the floor and told us what had happened. My mom picked me up from school early. I went home and watched the news with my mom. I was so young and didn’t understand what was happening. I was so afraid to leave the house.
Jenny G.: I was in college. I had just returned home from early morning soccer practice and was in the shower when my roommate banged on the bathroom door. All she said was, “Turn on the TV. There are planes flying into buildings!” We didn’t have cable or anything, so all of the channels were snowy, but I could just make out the images on repeat through every news channel: the unthinkable had actually happened. My dad was still in the Air National Guard at the time, but he was in Guam that day. All I could do was call him and leave a voicemail, praying he was safe. Everything truly stopped that day.
Kara M.: I was in my second period class of my junior year of high school in St. Louis and it happened to be my 17th birthday. I sat there, adorned with balloons and a birthday button, excited for the day ahead. Not only would it be a day full of celebrating me, I had recently taken up an interest in flying lessons and was headed to the small airport outside the city for lessons that afternoon. (My intention was to graduate and go on to flight school with the hopes of making a career out of flying). It was during that second period class I’d first heard the rumors of a plane hitting the twin towers. But by third period, the televisions were tuned to the local news and we watched live, as a second plane hit the adjacent tower in NYC. Soon after, announcements were made and we then knew it was indeed a terrorist attack. My small airport closed indefinitely, and my dreams of becoming a pilot started to dwindle. The following year brought massive layoffs in the airline industry, seasoned Air Force pilots weren’t finding jobs and it was soon clear that it was time for me to consider another career path. It was at the Missouri School of Journalism where I met my now husband which led to our beautiful daughter. Our paths would not likely have crossed if 9/11 never occurred and I had continued in my plans to become a pilot. I could let the tragedy forever be a dark shadow over my birthday, but I choose to see it as a reaffirmation that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ And now more than ever, I truly hope we #NeverForget – because the lives lost that day deserve the America we were that afternoon, united as one.
Jamie M.: I was a sophomore in college at Indiana University. When the first plane hit, I was still asleep, but my boyfriend at the time called me and told me to turn on the TV. When I first started watching I didn’t completely understand what was happening, thinking it was an unfortunate accident. Once the second plane hit and all planes in the sky were forced to make emergency landings I knew this was much more serious and history in the making. While walking campus and attending classes that day I can still feel and hear the silence that is so unlike a college atmosphere. I soon learned that a girl on my dorm floor lost her dad that day. He did not live in NYC, but he was there for a business trip and was in one of the towers. A few days later our RA held a meeting in the study room of our floor to let her speak and I remember she was the strongest one in the room. The rest of us were crying for her loss and she just sat there smiling, talking about her dad, announcing that she’d be taking the rest of the semester off to be with her family and having way more positivity than I expected. I have no idea where her path led because I never saw her again, but I hope she’s been able to hold onto that optimism she had that day.
Haley L.: I was in 4th grade in Mrs. Woods’ class. I remember the school went on lockdown and we talked about getting in our lockers to hide. At some point the lights were turned off but the TV was on with footage of the attacks. I have scrapes of memories of being in the classroom that day. My best friend was scared because her mom was home alone.
Rachel L.: I was a freshman in high school and attending my second block class of World History. My teacher went outside to talk with some other teachers about what was happening, and then she came back and told us about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. The rest of the day was surreal. In my third period class, we had a large TV going with news footage, and everyone in my chorus class was pretty somber. Our teachers asked us how many of us had parents working in Oak Ridge because there was some concern that if this was a large scale terrorist attack they could target Oak Ridge. My mom worked out there, and I remember being afraid because they told us Oak Ridge had been closed off for security and Y-12 was put on lockdown. When she went to work she found out about the lockdown and was told to park further away from the hospital she worked at than usual. It was such a strange and sad day.
Tricia H.: On 9/11, I was driving from one house to another house in Pennsylvania doing speech therapy home care visits. I remember hearing a nearby car blaring a news station, which was unusual. When I tuned in, I heard what happened. I arrived at my client’s house and we all stared at the TV with no words for at least ten minutes.
Katherine B.: I was a sophomore in college and I had a 9am British Literature class. I remember the professor was late, and he was never late so when he walked in I knew something was wrong. He announced that a plane had just hit one of the towers and he was canceling class for that day. I walked to the student center across the street with some other students from the class, all of us unsure what was going on and not fully comprehending more than the fact we got off easy with class that day. But when I arrived to the student center and walked over to the TV I had arrived just in time to watch the other plane hit the second tower. I was actually photographed for the school newspaper that day as I watched it.
Caitland O.: On 9/11, my sister-in-law went into labor with my niece. The only thing I remember is being in the hospital waiting room that evening, watching the terrible images/videos and news from that day, just hoping and praying that she wouldn’t be born on that day. My SIL ended up delivering her after midnight so her birthday is 9/12/01.
Mary Beth U.: Physics class. The TVs were on in the hallways during class change, but no one could hear what they were saying, so we didn’t pay it any attention. Some doofus ran screaming down the hall “we’re under attack!” but everyone just rolled their eyes. When I got to Spanish, Sra. Roper stood in the front of the room, glued to the TV. The second tower had just been struck. Katie Couric was still trying to compose herself. Our teacher unlocked the language lab for anyone who wanted to pray. We just sat there in stunned silence for 90 minutes. My mom picked me up early. My grandmother was visiting, her first time away from my (ailing) grandfather since World War II. She was a mess. We were just shocked.
Kailey R.: I was in 5th grade. I remember there was a vague announcement and the teachers were asked to not turn on the TV. My dad worked at Y-12 in Oak Ridge and to my knowledge they went on strict lock-down. My mom came to pick me up early. I had a pit in my stomach not fully understanding what was happening, but aware enough to know it was bad. I also have a very vivid memory of watching someone jump out of the building and then my mom getting upset and asked dad to turn off the TV. My 10-year old brain was upset because they lost their shoes on the way down.
Stephanie R.: I was in my third year of college at UCF and had been just waking up to get ready to go to a class when my then boyfriend (now husband) called me and told me to turn on the TV. I heard my roommates shouting something about a plane, a building, etc but I had no idea what was happening or going on yet. I sat watching the TV in utter shock and horror. Still not comprehending the magnitude of what was happening, I got dressed and headed to my class only to find when I arrived that classes had been canceled for the day. My best friend and I camped out at another friend’s house for the rest of that day with our eyes glued to the TV, still not fully understanding the extent of how this horrific incident would affect the country afterwards. It wasn’t until the following day that it hit me what had happened and what we as a country had lost and I just remember crying and not believing that something like this could happen in the United States. I remember thinking that the world was literally coming to an end. I also remember being terrified to fly on a plane for a very long time after that.
Natalie R.: I was a college sophomore at my apartment getting ready to head to class. I caught the news and the recap of the first plane, and then watched as the second one did. I called my boyfriend (now husband) and told him to turn on the news. I’m not sure we had class at all that day. My roommate and I watched the news in shock and not really knowing want to do. The campus was eerie and no one knew what this meant for the future of the country.
Audrey M.: I was on my way back from meeting with my advisor at Wright State University in Dayton, OH. Classes were about to start. My mom called me and was adamant that I leave the area immediately. The university is only a few minutes from Wright Patterson Airforce Base and at that point no one really knew how many government buildings etc would be targeted. I went to my sister’s house and we watched the news. It was so surreal.
Stephanie L.: I lived 45 minutes north of Wright Patterson Airforce Base and my mom legit came and got me from school. And then she threw a big fit that the school wasn’t dismissing. She was also worried they would apparently blow up the air force base and it would obviously blow up my small rural high school, again, 45 minutes away. I got to go home so I popped VHS tapes in the VCR and recorded all the coverage while I sat on the couch watching it. We went and sat in line for gas that night and it was unreal. It felt like what I guess the end of the world would.
Julia C.: I was in 6th grade and my family lived in California at the time so there was a 3-hour time difference. We were still at home getting ready for school. I was just brushing my teeth when my grandpa called my mom and told her to turn on the TV, and I remember standing in the living room watching the second tower fall with a toothbrush in my mouth. Oddly enough, my most indignant memory of that morning was that my mom still took us to school, just because in those days I would do anything for a day off from school… but I think it seemed really far away and we still weren’t totally sure what was happening at that point.
Beth W.: I was in my first job out of college as a traveling consultant for my sorority. I was visiting a chapter at a small college in Pennsylvania a few hours from New York City, Washington, DC and the crash site in Pennsylvania. Some of the sisters called me in to the living room to watch the news coverage after the first plane hit. We watched together live as the second plane struck and I remember feeling shock, horror and confusion. Several of the students at that college lost a loved one that day in the Twin Towers. The grief and confusion on the small campus was palpable. Whenever I think of “where I was” on 9/11 I think of those students because they live with that “day” every day of their lives.
Francesca L.: I spent the summer of 2001 backpacking through Europe. On September 11, I was in Rouen, the capital of Normandy, France. I spent the morning sightseeing and exploring the town. I remember walking out of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen and seeing crowds gathering outside a nearby cafe; everyone was agape as they watched the devastation of the World Trade Center attacks unfold live on TV. In total disbelief at what I was seeing, I ran to the next café I could find, only to see the same news on their television screens. While processing what I was seeing, I knew I had to call my dad, a life-long New Yorker who was often in the Wall Street area. Unsurprisingly, getting through to the United States was impossible — busy signal for hours. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to cobble together an understanding of what had happened in my beloved NYC and trying to get through to my dad. I finally breathed a sigh of relief in the late hours of the night when he answered his phone. He was okay and safe at home, but the reality was that we would never be the same.
Amanda M.: I was in college at the time and I had a super early class that I decided to skip that morning. I remember walking out to the living room of my tiny apartment that I shared with my best friend and she was sitting on the couch and her face spoke all the words I was about to hear. I sat down next to her just in time to see the second plane hit and I remember us both audibly gasping. I remember the look on President G.W. Bush’s face. He was (and still is) a hero to me and I was so sad for him and our country. The rest of the day we sat and sat and sat only leaving the couch to grab something to eat. We couldn’t look away. I don’t remember being scared. I just remember thinking things were never going to be the same.