It was early morning when the first airplane hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. On the East Coast, commuters were rushing to their jobs, schools were filling with educators and students. It seemed an ordinary day until 8:46 a.m., when it wasn’t.
“On 9/11/2011 I was having a national sales meeting in our offices at the World Trade Center. We had visitors from Chicago, California and New Orleans. Everyone was looking forward to getting together to recharge,” writes Keith Webster of Malibu.
“At 8:45 a.m. while standing in our boardroom looking at theStatue of Liberty in the south harbor, all hell was about to break loose. We heard a pop then a swoosh. A stream of debris crossed the sky. It looked like a ticker tape parade but only a few thousand feet higher.
“In an instant, I knew what was happening, in my mind's eye an image of a terrorist walking onto my floor with a bomb vest flashed. I could see my lobby vaporized and in flames.”
Webster also writes about his eventual rescue by heroic responders.
Maralynn Mash of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says she was at an elementary school near the World Trade Center that day.
“The children were headed toward the basement for safety when police and fire officials came into the building thinking it was empty. “What the f--- are you doing here?” The children couldn't stop laughing at the 'f' bomb,” she recalled.
“But then we were directed to run ... run for your lives. Teachers and students, under the guidance of an incredibly able principal, ran ahead of the second 'cloud' north on Greenwich. Little did we know that the next year would test our strength for an entire year.... The school, in another building, the children in hotels and different homes, achieved the first-place reading scores for that school year in NYC. What I remember is a day of bravery, a year of dedication in response to an act of cowardice. So very proud to be a New Yorker and an American.”
On the West Coast, people were just waking up; many watched the tragedy in New York unfold on television. Instead of the usual fodder of second-day news, lifestyle features and celebrity pomp, viewers saw the horror of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
“The images of the towers crashing and exploding gave me a sense of insecurity that something like this could happen in downtown Los Angeles,” writes Maricela of La Puente.
“I remember arriving at Raymond A. Villa Intermediate School in Santa Ana, Calif. It was an ordinary day. I hung out with my friends for a little bit, headed to first period, sat at my desk, the usual. I was in sixth grade at the time. Around the middle of class ... my teacher put the TV on,” writes Lene De Leon, now of San Antonio.
“I will never forget the images or the confusion I felt upon seeing the videos replaying over and over again. I tried so hard not to cry for fear of being made fun of, but I was hurting for all those people and my country. Everything happening was so painful to watch. The second plane hitting, people desperate for help and waving white 'flags' out of the windows, people jumping out of the windows, the towers falling. All the images were engraved in my memory and are still vivid.”
They are etched onto the nation's soul nation too, and are freshly renewed every 9/11 as officials, relatives and mourners gather in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington. In all, nearly 3,000 people died.
As Kendra of Auburn, Ala., writes, "Mom said to me, 'This day will be a day to remember for the rest of your life.' "