September 11, 2001 began as a normal Tuesday for many Americans. East Coast residents went through their morning routine, many arriving at work around 8:00 a.m. The day quickly took a horrifying turn for the worse. The iconic image above, shot by professional photographer Thomas E. Franklin has been on the covers of magazines, signs and posters across the country.
Like many Americans, I’ve read the facts and statistics from the day we know as 9/11. The History Channel offers detailed reports about 9/11. As most West Coast residents were still asleep, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 boarded passengers and departed from Boston’s Logan International Airport. Both Flight 11, which departed at 8:00 a.m., and Flight 175, which departed at 8:14 a.m., were scheduled to fly to Los Angeles. Minutes later, American Airlines Flight 77 departed from Washington’s Dulles International Airport at 8:21 a.m., also destined for Los Angeles. Finally, United Airlines Flight 93 took off from Newark International Airport at 8:41 a.m., heading for San Francisco.
Where were you when you heard the news? Most of us remember exactly when and where we learned that our country was under attack. Like many other Americans, I was at work – not at a desk, but behind the wheel of a company car driving down a country road behind a truck. The radio was on and an announcer broke into the broadcast to report that a plane had just struck the World Trade Center. I was stunned, but thought it was a horrible accident…until the second plane hit just 17 minutes later. Unknown to the pilots, crews and passengers on the four fated flights, 19 militant terrorists associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda were among those who boarded the planes on Sept. 11.
Less than an hour from the first plane’s departure, all four planes had been hijacked to be used in the deadliest attacks on American soil since Japanese military planes attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The Pearl Harbor attacks killed a total of 2,403 people, including 2,335 military personnel and 68 civilians. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks, with thousands of others injured. Fifteen years later, the toll continues to climb as thousands of emergency workers, area residents and visitors contract cancer from the inhaled toxins.
What did you do when you heard? Did you cry? Call a loved one? Turn on the news? Say a prayer for the people who would never return home, for their families, for America? Or like me, do all of these? With tears rolling down my face, I called my Mom. She wasn’t up yet, didn’t know about the attacks. “Turn on the news, Mom,” I choked out through my tears. I asked Mom if she knew whether any of my siblings, especially a younger brother and sister who were frequent flyers, were traveling on that day. She didn’t think so, but wasn’t positive. Mom reminded me that my younger sister was safe, in the hospital preparing for the birth of her first child.
Before the day was through, Sept. 11, 2001 would be the deadliest day in history for New York City firefighters -- 343 sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers who wouldn’t return home at the end of their shifts, wouldn’t share one last hug, one last kiss, one last laugh with family and friends.
In addition to the firefighters, there were 23 New York City police officers and 37 Port Authority police officers among the 2,606 killed in New York, 125 people at the Pentagon, and all 265 passengers, crew and hijackers on the four airplanes.
Just after Mom and I said good-bye, the radio programming was interrupted again to break the news that the Pentagon had been struck by a third plane – 34 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center. I sobbed, knowing that our nation was under siege – heartbroken for those who would never see their loved ones again, knowing that we were at war, that the command center of our military had been struck. As the daughter of a three-war veteran, it seemed impossible, unreal, beyond comprehension.
But the horror of the day wasn’t over yet. Some of the passengers and crew aboard United Airlines Flight 93 were informed by family or friends about the hijackings of the other three airplanes before terrorists hijacked their plane. Determined to fight to the end, passengers banded together and stormed the cockpit. History.com reports that one of the passengers, Thomas Burnett Jr., told his wife over the phone that “I know we’re all going to die. There’s three of us who are going to do something about it. I love you, honey.” Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer’s now-famous words, “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll” became part of the history of the Sept. 11 attacks. Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw called her husband, telling him that she had slipped into a galley and was filling pitchers with boiling water. Her last words to him were “Everyone’s running to first class. I’ve got to go. Bye.”
United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania just minutes after the South tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. The North tower collapsed 25 minutes after Flight 93 crashed. The bravery of those on board Flight 93 probably saved the White House, the flight’s intended target according to a high ranking al-Qaeda detainee.
Like most Americans, I spent the rest of the day in a daze. Since my work day had begun before 5:00 a.m., I went home early and spent the afternoon watching the footage over and over again, the haunting images of death and destruction forever imprinted in my mind. I held my children tight, trying to explain that evil may appear to win, but that good always triumphs in the end.
CNN News show this timeline from Sept. 11, 2001:
- 8:46 a.m. ET - American Airlines Flight 11 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
- 9:03 a.m. ET - United Airlines Flight 175 (traveling from Boston to Los Angeles) strikes the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.
- 9:37 a.m. ET - American Airlines Flight 77 (traveling from Dulles, Virginia, to Los Angeles) strikes the Pentagon Building in Washington.
- 9:59 a.m. ET - South tower of WTC collapses in approximately 10 seconds.
- 10:03 a.m. ET - United Airlines Flight 93 (traveling from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco) crashes in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
- 10:28 a.m. ET - North tower of WTC collapses. The time between the first attack and the collapse of both World Trade Center towers is 102 minutes.
According to the Washington Post, there were 13,238 babies born in the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. One of these babies was my niece Jordan. As the horror of 9/11 unfolded on the East Coast, my sister’s doctor asked if she wanted to postpone her scheduled C-section until after midnight. My sister, determined to bring good to the day, turned down the doctor’s offer and gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl who celebrates her 15th birthday today. The ‘9-11 babies’ have never known an America not at war. Jordan is an athlete, student, singer and patriot who has sung the National Anthem proudly before various sporting events.
The war on terror, known as Operation Enduring Freedom, began on Oct. 7, 2001. The American-led international effort to end the Taliban’s regime in Afghanistan and destroy Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network based there, continues to this day. More than 3,500 coalition forces have lost their lives since Operation Enduring Freedom began, including nearly 2,400 members of the U.S. military.
As Americans, our challenge on the 15th anniversary of the deadliest attacks on our country’s soil is the same as on the first anniversary: to honor the dead, remember the bad, celebrate the good and never forget. Americans from every walk of life came together in the aftermath of that fateful day. We gathered in churches and school gyms, at sports fields and in parks – united as one and determined to never forget.
Maybe you'll run in a 9/11 Heroes Run, participate in a 9/11 Memorial Stair Climb or other memorial event today. You might choose to watch the livestream event from New York honoring the victims of 9/11. Or perhaps you'll just spend the day at home. Whether you fly the American flag, pray for the dead, comfort grieving family members, or hold tight to those you love during a quiet Sunday together, take a few minutes to remember.