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The day that changed everything: Columbian readers share memories of the Sept. 11 attacks

The Columbian
Published:
3 Photos
Michelle Baker of Vancouver was visiting New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. She took this photo from about 10 blocks away from the World Trade Center.
Michelle Baker of Vancouver was visiting New York City on Sept. 11, 2001. She took this photo from about 10 blocks away from the World Trade Center. (Michelle Baker) Photo Gallery

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was in a windowless conference room of the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. It was the first day of a Forest Service training class on how government works.

About 10 a.m., we were taking a break when a diminutive House clerk entered and said in a soft, almost inaudible voice, “You all have to leave now.” She was ignored.

She came back several minutes later and insisted. We slowly filed out, thinking it was a routine fire drill.

When we got outside and saw the other House office buildings emptying, I thought they must do campuswide fire drills here. It was an era before ubiquitous cellphones. Someone said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I pictured a Piper Cub. There were rumors swirling through the throngs of staffers flowing out of the office buildings. With a new-found friend, we went back to my nearby hotel room to find a TV. We got there in time to see the second tower fall.

The rest of the day — a beautiful, warm, blue-sky gem — was spent trying to find more news, watching people stream across the bridges to Virginia in confused attempts to get home and trying to get through to my wife in Vancouver.

Oddly, I never felt scared. The danger had passed before we knew it. Thanks to sluggish D.C. bureaucracy, we were unaware until it was over. I spent a week trying to get a flight home. Saw all the sights and them some.

A few vignettes stick out: American flags spontaneously draped out windows the next day; a jogger on the Mall in flag shorts; a man with an automatic weapon wearing a U.S. Fish & Wildlife jacket standing guard at an intersection near the smoldering Pentagon; all the armed soldiers in the lobby of Dulles International Airport.

Being a former newsman, I picked up every paper I could that week, including a Washington Post special edition that came out the afternoon of 9/11.

—Tom Knappenberger, Vancouver

Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, who I’d worked for and spent the day with, told me, “This changes everything.” We’re still finding out how right he was.

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I was sitting on a plane at PDX waiting to fly to Alaska for work. The flight attendants came through and asked us to gather our things because the flight had been canceled; they didn’t say why. As we came out into the concourse, we noticed people crowded around the TV screens and joined them to watch the second plane crash into the World Trade Center.

My fiancée was in Spokane and due to fly back that same day. As it turned out, not only could he not fly, he couldn’t even find a car to rent so he could drive. When he finally made it home, we decided to move up our intended wedding date. We drove to Lake Tahoe the following weekend and were married. Charlie and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary on Sept. 18.

—Patricia Roe, Vancouver

I lived in the Chelsea area of New York City between Eighth and Ninth avenues on 23rd Street.

I had been traveling back and forth between NYC and San Francisco for the summer and had planned my September trip for the 11th, from Newark to San Francisco International Airport. I had been taking the same United Air flights and was getting to know the flight crew.

I ended up having to change plans and shift my trip a week earlier. I was to land in Newark at 11 p.m. on Sept. 10. But I ended up in Los Angles, where there was an earthquake that Sunday. Flights got backed up so I didn’t land in Newark until 5 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001.

After transferring back into Chelsea I crawled into bed at 7:30 a.m.

At 9 a.m. the world changed.

For two weeks I couldn’t leave Manhattan Island. I gained and lost friendships. There were constant threats to us on the island. Life forever changed for me on that day.

— Ed Hamilton Rosales, Vancouver

It was a beautiful fall day, one of the loveliest fall days in the entire six years I had lived in the Washington, D.C., area. I planned to go to the office first, complete a few brief meetings, and then head to Dulles International Airport to catch a flight to Cincinnati. I was in a meeting when a co-worker rushed into my office, breathless, and exclaimed that a plane had just crashed into one of the World Trade towers in New York. I was surprised and concerned, of course, but continued my meeting. It seemed only moments later that my co-worker rushed into my office again, tears in her eyes, crying, that another plane had crashed into a second tower at the World Trade Center. We knew that it was no accident, that a terrorist attack was underway. I don’t remember the exact moment we learned that a plane had crashed into the Pentagon, but when we did hear the news, the person I had been meeting with burst into sobs. She said her husband, a CIA employee, had meetings at the Pentagon that morning. She immediately tried reaching him via her cellphone. Her call didn’t go through. She left my office still sobbing.

A few weeks later, my husband and I drove past the Pentagon and saw the horrible, blackened, gaping hole left in that massive building. The destruction was so much larger and extensive than photographs depict.

— Catherine Fields, Vancouver

When the twin towers were attacked, I was living in Georgia at the time. I was in fourth grade, standing in the middle of my classroom and practicing a class play. One of the neighboring teachers came into our classroom with streaks of mascara down her face, and trying her best to hold herself together while in front of the kids. She cupped her hand over her cheek and whispered something into my teacher’s ear. I saw the horror hit my teacher’s face. My classmates and I all looked at each other. We knew something was wrong but nobody would tell us.

We were released from school early and hurriedly. When I walked through my front door, there was my mom sitting on the couch, sobbing.

“Oh, it’s so sad,” she said, never looking away from the television.

When I looked at the television, I saw the two towers through a zoomed in camera lens. I saw people jumping out of the towers, not understanding why they were doing that, but knowing it was terrible.

In some ways, I think that day made me a little more mature as a child. I didn’t know the hatred that humans were capable of unleashing on one another. It broke my innocent heart, as I’m sure it broke many others’.

— Ronni Stryker, Vancouver

I woke up in Houston on Sept. 11, 2001. It was the last day of a three-day rotation flying for Delta — only one leg to Salt Lake City and deadhead home, easy. We pushed back around 7:30 a.m. and were soon airborne. We were about 40 minutes into the flight when air traffic control transmitted, “Attention all aircraft, the FAA has directed all aircraft to land immediately, say your intentions.” Surprised, I keyed the mic: “Center, Delta 1492, what’s going on?” The response: “We’ve been informed there’s been terrorist activity involving the World Trade Center and the White House.”

I then called our company dispatch: “We’ve been told everyone’s directed to land immediately, something about terrorist activity. We’ve got Dallas out our right side and San Antonio behind us, where do you want us to go?” We were told to head to Dallas, and were on the ground within 20 minutes, obviously beating the rush since we were assigned a gate right away.

After landing I turned my beeper on and saw a message to call my wife, Leona, ASAP. I was on a pay phone right away and she gave me the first details about the events unfolding and asked if I was OK. I said I was fine, but I had to find out what was going on and I’d get back to her soon. I headed to the chief pilot’s office to find everyone watching the carnage unfold on TV, then about 10 minutes later I saw the second tower collapse. In addition to the Pentagon, there were soon reports of a fourth plane crashing.

It was obvious this was a large-scale event that might not be over yet, and we were going to be stuck in Dallas for awhile. Four days later we were finally assigned a plane to fly out.

As I entered the airport, a security agent took my fingernail clippers and broke off the file since it was now considered a weapon. Of course, that was just the beginning of the endless changes in store for our industry. Without going into details, rest assured that it would be virtually impossible for a repeat of 9/11 today given enhanced security and other measures in place since that fateful day.

— Brad Lasher, Vancouver

Twenty years ago, before I had my current job as a journalism professor at Clark College, I took a 6:30 a.m. train from Connecticut to Manhattan to continue my search for an apartment in the city. When the train emerged from a tunnel in the Bronx, I saw plumes of smoke and thought, “Who would put a smokestack next to two towers?” When I arrived at Penn Station a little after 9 a.m., it was clear something terrible had happened. But it wasn’t immediately clear the scope of the disaster or how thoroughly people’s lives would change.

Television stations were tuned to CNN. But people were still going about their business — it was a glorious fall morning and an election day in NYC — and so I checked my suitcase with the Penn Station valet and hopped on a subway with my friend to lower Manhattan.

By the time we got to 14th Street, people were starting to clue into the impending disaster. Even though both towers had been struck at that point, the subway was still running. My friend and I left the station and went above ground. We ducked into a coffee shop and even though we were within walking distance of the twin towers, we watched one of the towers collapse on TV, just like millions of other Americans.

At this point we reversed course, walking north and then taking a cab to make better speed. Crowds of people were doing the same, with increasing urgency. I can’t remember how this happened, but I have a clear memory of a thirtysomething man also riding in our cab. He was frantic but I, somehow, was not. My friend and I actually split up at this point, even though I had no suitcase, no cellphone and no clear plan. I was 22.

Somehow I made my way to the Upper East Side where I found a pay phone and a line of people who wanted to use it. Phone lines were jammed, but I finally reached my mom collect in South Carolina and told her I was OK.

My next call was to Portland, where my only connection was a college friend who was farming on Sauvie Island. He had grown up in Manhattan, and I thought I could ask his parents to let me into their place. I had planned to stay with a friend from high school that night, but I hadn’t been able to reach her. Whoever answered the phone in Oregon went to the fields to fetch my friend. I think she said he was picking tomatoes, and I was safely inside within a few minutes of that call.

In my purse I had a finished copy of Haruki Murakami’s book “Underground,” about the 1995 sarin gas attack on Tokyo’s subway. It struck me then that it was the residue on commuters’ clothing, not the initial attack, that spread the effects of the sarin so widely, so I changed out of my clothes and into something that belonged to my friend’s younger sister. I collected my suitcase three or four days later. For as long as I lived in New York, you were no longer allowed to leave a suitcase with the Penn Station valet.

Weeks later, after leaving New York and then coming back, I found an apartment in Brooklyn. Weirdly, New York City felt like the right place to be then, despite widespread fears of a repeat attack. When I called to set up my electricity with Con Edison, the operator subverted the stereotype of a gruff New Yorker. “Thank you for moving to New York,” she said.

— Beth Slovic, Portland

My parents took me on a trip to New York City as high school graduation present. I was 18. We had been in New York for a few days, and on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, we had planned to go to the top of the twin towers. By the grace of God, we slept in. We headed to the Statue of Liberty instead with the plan to go to the World Trade Center in the early evening to catch the sunset. While we were underground on the subway, the first plane had hit the tower. While we stood 10 blocks away watching the first building burn, the second plane flew over our heads and struck the second tower. I was a photography student at the time, and I had my camera loaded with black-and-white film. I was snapping photos of the burning tower when the second plane struck. The next few hours were chaos as the building collapsed and we struggled to find a place to go because our hotel, close to the site, closed. I wasn’t able to develop my film until I got home, and had no idea what I caught.

In recent years, I’ve been sharing my experience with Hockinson High School students at the anniversary of 9/11. Each time helps me heal; I remember a new detail that brings a flood of memories. I always encourage them to ask their parents, “Where were you on 9/11?” They are always amazed that every adult remembers exactly what they were doing, the feelings they had and how their life changed afterward. The power and magnitude of that event stuck deep inside every American.

—Michelle Baker, Vancouver

I was 18 on 9/11 and for my high school graduation present my parents graciously offered to take me on a trip of my choice. I picked New York City, none of us had been before everything was new and exciting! On the morning of 9/11 our original plan was to go to the viewing deck in the World Trade Center but by the grace of God we were still on west coast time and slept in. We re-arranged our day and headed to the Statue of Liberty first with the plan to go to the world trade center in the early evening to catch the sunset. While we were underground on the subway the first plane had hit the North tower. Standing around with other people in Battery Park we struck up conversations and learned the rumor that a commuter plane had accidently hit the building. While we stood 10 blocks away watching the first building burn the second plane flew over our head and struck the south tower. Oddly enough I had my camera to my face when the plane flew over us. It was blue, that was all I remember. All my Dad remembers was how loud it was. Our brain is an amazing thing during traumatic events. The next few hours were chaos as the building collapsed and we struggled to find a place to go since our hotel was too close to the site and was closed. I was a photography student at the time and in my camera on 9/11 was a roll of black and white film that I wouldn’t be able to develop until I returned home. Who knew that film would capture something so significant and life changing? Recently I’ve been sharing my story with Hockinson High School students and I’m amazed by their questions and curiosity. Sharing my experience helps me heal and I remember a new detail every anniversary that brings a flood of memories. I always encourage the students to ask the adults in their life where they were on 9/11 and how their life was changed. I encourage you to do the same with the people in your life on this anniversary.

—Michelle Baker, Vancouver

Sept. 11 has always been a momentous day for me: It’s my birthday! On Sept. 11, 2001, I was a little peeved because both my husband and older daughter were in Europe and not able to celebrate with me. Our daughter was doing a semester in Seville, Spain, so that was understandable. However, my husband was just away for a few days on a business trip to Switzerland.

I walked into the house and heard the phone ringing. I answered the phone ready to hear birthday greetings from my husband when instead he told me, “Something terrible is happening in New York. A plane has hit one of the twin towers. You should turn on the TV.” My first reaction, I am ashamed to say, was anger that he wasn’t calling at all about my birthday but some plane accident 3,000 miles away. And then the second plane hit, and I knew this was no accident.

As I went to work where my co-workers and I continued to be stunned, it gradually dawned on me that I didn’t know when I would see my husband or perhaps even our daughter again because all flights were grounded.

— Teresa Torres, Vancouver

I was in Geneva, Switzerland, for a week of meetings. They were canceled when airports began to shut down and my peers were not able to arrive in Geneva. I spent part of the remaining week trying to find a flight home or checking when U.S. airports would open.

When I finally secured a flight home, our pilot announced that we would be flying over New York and that we would be able to see the smoldering towers. I thought the plane would roll to one side from all the passengers who moved to witness the destruction. The pilot also alerted us not to be worried about the two F-17s that would be seen out our windows since they would be our escort into Washington, D.C.

—Genaro Torres, Vancouver

In May 2001 everyone at work had been told that our company, Alcatel Submarine Networks in Portland, was going to shut down and we’d all be out of job. I had been there almost 12 years at that time. I was given an end date near the end of October 2001. At the time I was an engineer designing software and databases for automating testing of submarine fiber optic cable.

We were guaranteed if we stayed until our end date that we’d be receiving a very healthy bonus. I decided that I’d finally fulfill my lifelong dream of becoming a commercial pilot. So I set about getting everything set up to do just that. I’d signed up for classes and was prepared to start training. Sept. 11, 2001, came and completely changed my entire life. My lifelong dream completely crushed in an instant. My neighbor was a career pilot with Horizon Air and was being laid off with an undetermined date of being rehired.

My final date of work came and went and I was laid off. It took me two years to find new employment. While I was laid off I applied for worker retraining and went to Clark College to obtain my degree in computer network administration. One week after graduating I had my first job and started all over again.

—Robert Currie, Vancouver

I had just graduated high school in June. I was living in Santa Rosa, Calif., with my parents trying to decide what I wanted to do with my life. When the attacks happened, I felt so far away, yet so close. I ended up moving to New York City, a place I had never been, and I went to culinary school there. I remember wanting so bad to be closer and to understand what happened. On the one-year anniversary of 9/11, I was living in New York and I saw a community grieving, heard first-hand stories of survivors and saw candlelight vigils in person. It is a time in my life I hold most dear. I really will never forget how that community and the entire country joined together during such a tragic time!

— Jami Brown, Vancouver

It was the most unusual day of my life. I woke up to the news, then got ready to go to my job off Andresen Road. A friend came by with a TV. We watched the tower fall. The oddest thing though was how quiet it was outside. Andresen is usually a busy street. That day there was no traffic — none — no planes flying overhead, no noise of any kind, no cars, no people coming into the office or even on the streets. Probably the quietest day in American history.

—Doris Lemire, Vancouver

I was working for the Washington State Department of Transportation when it happened. I had already received my work assignment and was loading my equipment when I heard it on the radio. I went back into the building and turned on the crappy black-and-white TV just in time for everyone to see the second plane hit the other tower. The room got quiet for quite a while. It seemed very quiet working on the roadside by the Interstate 5 Bridge with no airplanes flying overhead and only the freeway traffic, which is loud but didn’t seem that way that day. What really hit home was the next day at work when the agency took a head count so they knew who was at work in case we were attacked.

—Scott Standiford, Vancouver

Debra and I were married in 1996 and in early in 2001, we found out she was pregnant. Deb’s due date was early September and when she went past it, the doctor said she needed to pick a day where she would be induced, so we decided that Sept. 11 would be the day.

We got up early and as we were getting ready to leave the house, Debra said I needed to turn on the news, which is when we first saw what was going on. By the time we got to the hospital, the attack was all anyone was talking about. Over the years, I have described the atmosphere at the hospital as something out of an episode of “The Twilight Zone.” The halls were practically deserted as just about everyone from patients, family members, nurses, doctors and hospital staff were clustered around the TVs in the waiting room watching the events unfold. We kept up as best we could but were obviously focused on Debra and the delivery. Payton came into the world early in the afternoon and it wasn’t until later that night and the subsequent days that we fully learned the details of what happened.

Over the years, Payton’s birthday has managed to serve both as a celebration of the joy life can bring and a reminder of the horror humans can inflict on each other. Our standard line has been that 9/11 brought joy to our family during a day of tragedy. Over the years, I think Debra and I have felt that being born on 9/11 somehow gave Payton a higher calling to make a difference in the world. It sounds a little corny even as I write it, but at least so far, Payton has been fulfilling that challenge.

—Tom May, Vancouver

The attack on the twin towers occurred shortly after I joined the League of Women Voters in Oregon. I quickly realized that the American democracy, which I loved, was under attack by criminals from far-away countries that I knew next to nothing about. A former ESL instructor of refugees from the Vietnam War, I was quickly overcome with questions. Who are these new attackers? Why do they hate us? What is their ideology? What do they hope to accomplish? What can I do to get answers to these questions?

I organized a study group of my league members to learn about American foreign policy and the cultures of Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the countries that had harbored the attackers. We educated ourselves over the following months and years, so that we could help protect and preserve our American democracy. We promoted the study of civics in public schools, so young people would learn about American democracy and its benefits. And we continued to promote the right to vote as the best way to preserve the democracy we love.

—Sandra Gangle, Camas

I was 33 and living in a suburb of San Francisco. As usual, I turned on the TV morning news when I woke up. I tuned in to hear one tower of the World Trade Center had been hit by an airplane. A few minutes later, I watched a second plane slice through the other tower. In that instant, I thought two things: This wasn’t an accident, and it was at the hands of Osama bin Laden.

I worked in a small office in downtown San Francisco, in the shadow of the iconic TransAmerica Pyramid building. As the Pentagon was hit, I immediately called a co-worker. Our boss was on vacation in Europe. We had co-workers getting ready to commute via the Golden Gate Bridge, freeways and the Bay Area’s train system. We had no idea what other landmarks might be targeted, so we made the decision to close the office and ask everyone to do what work they could from home. We didn’t really have the authority to make that decision, but we made it anyway.

The rest of the day was eerily quiet. We knew that our sense of safety was gone forever, that traveling on an airplane would change dramatically, and that we felt more united as Americans than we ever had before.

—Toni Woodard, Battle Ground

My friends and I were on a backpacking trip to Image Lake near Glacier Peak in the northern Cascades. We had been out a few days and were two nights from the end of our trip when two folks came through and asked if we knew what was going on. Several miles in the wilderness, no phones, clueless, we sat and listened at our campsite as they told us what had happened.

We deliberated for the rest of the day if they were just telling us a tall tale. We hiked out a day early. We stopped in Darrington for a hamburger, Coke and newspaper. The headline of the paper read, “America Prepares for War.” The drive back to Vancouver was eerie, no planes, people waving flags from over passes, only news on the radio.

—Chris Bafford, Vancouver

As I walked in to teach fourth grade on Sept. 11, 2001, I had a lot on my mind. I was tired, stressed and had a 1-year-old who had just spent a week at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital with a serious illness.

News was the furthest thing on my mind when I went into my classroom to polish plans to co-teach two bursting classes of almost 30 each with my colleague in our open-wall double classroom. She was in tears as I set my lunch bag down. She had the news on her classroom television and pointed. I stared and tried to process. She could tell I hadn’t heard. When children arrived, we comforted, supported, had feelings check-ins and still taught some lessons and read good books. We made it through that day and the next and many more.

—Katrina Munro, Vancouver

I was pregnant and three days from my expected due date. My husband called to tell me he was worried if something happened here he would be stuck in Portland so he would check on his mom and then head home.

I stood from the couch and felt a slight pain in my back. I let out a pregnant lady “oof.”

I called my husband right back.

“You do not need to rush home,” I told him. “But I think this baby is coming today. I am going to get in the bath. Take your time.”

I went to run a bath, and you better believe my husband was there before the tub was full!

Later, we headed to the hospital. At 7:52 p.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.

We spent the next couple of days watching cartoons and trying not to focus on anything happening in the world around us.

Our son will be 20 years old this year and is attending a pharmacy and medical science school in Albany, N.Y. We do find it a little funny that he ended up in there, clear across the country, after being born on such a memorable day for New York and the country’s history.

—April Jackson, Vancouver

I was living in a remote part of the Southwest Washington mountains, thousands of miles from the World Trade Center. But, unexpectedly, 9/11 impacted my life. Watching the people run from the horrible sight made me feel as if I were there with them myself. I was glued to the TV screen for weeks! My husband became concerned about my mental health. Eventually, I was able to confront my fear and gradually overcome it.

Years later, my helpmate passed away after 42 years of marriage. He died on Sept. 11, 2011.

—Patricia Joy Stepp, Vancouver

My 80-year-old mother and I took a river cruise from Amsterdam to Vienna in September 2001. We were on a bus tour when the guide conveyed his sympathies to us and mentioned that the United States had been attacked. We did not comprehend the extent of what had happened.

We were almost at our destination in Vienna. When we got there, we had a lovely room and were quite comfortable. We spent most of our time in the hotel room watching TV and playing cards. Unfortunately, the only TV station that was broadcast in English was CNN, continuously playing the video of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. It was very depressing.

We were advised to go to Lufthansa airline and try to secure reservations back to the U.S. We went to the airport the following day, but were turned away as flights were not yet allowed out of Vienna into the United States. We were very fortunate in that we were able to get our hotel room back. A day or two later we were back at the airport and got a flight to Dulles International Airport.

Our luggage was lost. I decided a lot of people had lost lots more than just luggage, and we were pretty fortunate. We were so glad we had taken out travel insurance. It covered the extra days in that beautiful hotel in Vienna!

— Tana Hart, Vancouver

My husband, Ben Meek, and his longtime friend Reg were taking an end-of-summer road trip through British Columbia in our newly acquired Chevy SUV. My husband has two brothers there, and was also born in Kamloops, part of the post-war baby boom. By Sept. 11, 2001, they had reached Laird River Hot Springs on the Alaska Highway. The lodge where they were staying had no TV or outside communications, but they went to a fancier lodge for breakfast. There on the big-screen TV, they watched the news that two planes had flown into the twin towers in New York City. The news did not deter them from proceeding to their planned destination, White Horse, in the Yukon. They stopped at a gas station, and the attendant there told them that no one was being allowed into White Horse, that planes were landing there from all over. The attendant told them there were rumors that a plane from Japan was landed there, being checked for bombs.

That’s when they decided to reroute their trip, and headed back south on the Stewart-Cassiar Highway.

I was driving to my north Clark County second-grade classroom that morning and heard the news on the car radio. When my husband called me that evening on our analog cellphone, we had a lot to talk about!

— Emily Meek, Battle Ground

That evening, I watched the F-15s from the 142nd Fighter Wing fly overhead in full afterburner, securing our homeland. With me living so close to the river near Portland International Airport, I took note of how quiet the sky was otherwise.

It was like the time when things slowed down at PDX last year because of COVID-19, but with zero private or commercial aircraft in the skies. Only the military was in the air here and there.

Over time, I noticed all the plastic cheap flags on the street that were littered about. Were they foreshadowing the weapons of mass destruction never accounted for in Iraq?

— Matt Wheeler, Vancouver

After years of planning, the family house was sold, garage sales had been held and the storage unit contained our worldly possessions. Our retirement dream of purchasing a sailboat and venturing into the blue had begun.

We’d seen a couple of boats listed online in Houston, Texas, and were anxious to view them, intrepid seekers that we were.

Driving south on Interstate 25 through Denver, I flipped to National Public Radio and heard reports of the attacks. We continued to drive, now heading eastward along I-70. In early afternoon we stopped in Hayes, Kan., for gasoline. Here we experienced a gas-price panic, fueled totally by rumor. People thought that we were going to war and gas would be rationed. One place was charging $3.98 per gallon. We were fortunate to join the line at another gas station still selling for the usual price of about $1.50.

“Let’s just stay in a motel until things settle,” we said to each other. “We’ll see how the panic plays out.”

Visiting the local Walmart store in the afternoon we were told that items were fast being sold as though in hurricane-preparation mode. An air of uncertainty permeated the lounge area of the motel as guests viewed the nonstop television coverage.

In the seriousness of the moment, we needed to make a decision: return home to Vancouver and remain close to our children in case of disaster, or carry on looking for a boat and following our cruising dream. Soul-searching brought us to a decision: “We’re not going to let our life be governed by terrorists,” my husband said, reflecting my thoughts.

The boat search continued.

— Nan Weston, Vancouver

At 5:45 a.m. Sept. 11, 2001, my son-in-law called to tell me that a small plane had hit the north tower and that my daughter Jennifer was safe since she was at work in the south tower. Just as we turned on the news another plane went into the south tower. My wife asked me, “What floor is Jennifer on?” I replied after catching my breath, “The 89th floor.” We started to cry uncontrollably. We could not move nor speak, but watched the carnage as it was happening .

About 45 minutes later, a call came in from my sister-in-law who lived in Brooklyn. She told us she just heard from Jennifer that she convinced people to follow her down the stairwell.

Jennifer was in the World Trade Center in 1993 when a bomb went off there, and it gave her reason to be aware of danger. When the first plane hit the north tower, she got on the intercom and told people to evacuate. Only 43 followed her down the stairwell.

Once down on the street level, the guards did not allow people to exit, so Jennifer insisted and push the guard aside and went out with 41 of the people who followed her down. The other two are not with us today as within minutes the building collapsed.

— Edward Frankel, Vancouver

I lived in Kansas City, Mo., and it was a normal morning. I worked at the Hyatt Regency Crown Center as a PBX operator, and my shift started at 6:30 a.m. CDT. The hotel was to have a lot of check-ins and check-outs that day.

Around 8 a.m., my husband had called me to tell me a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The PBX office is behind the front desk of the Hyatt and has no windows; it has a lot of concrete cement around it. I tried to get the radio on my Discman so I could hear more info, but because of the walls I could not get a station.

As the morning progressed, TVs in the lobby and the cafeteria got changed to the news. It seemed like everyone was in shock.

As the day went on, the guests who had checked out needed to check back in because of planes being grounded. The guests who were due to check in were wanting to change or cancel their reservations. We talked to guests who wanted to confirm their reservation because they rented a car and were driving in. My day had gone from busy to chaotic. I felt like the country came together for a few years after that. It seemed like people were more about helping your neighbor and not so worried about themselves. Everyone was proud to be an American.

— Merribeth “Beth” Greenberg

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