September 11, 2001 was a beautiful September morning. As far as most of us knew, we weren’t at war with anyone. America had somehow hung together through a contentious election decided by the Supreme Court. We’d entered a new century. America was strong, confident, and optimistic. Looking back, perhaps we were more innocent then.
Then at 8:46 a.m. EST that Tuesday morning, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into floors 93 through 99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
At 9:03 EST, Flight 175 hit the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York, between the 77th and 85th floors.
At 9:28 A.M. EST, Flight 93 was hijacked. The courageous passengers aboard the flight, knowing their plane was probably headed toward the United States Capitol, took back their plane, crashing it in a field outside Shanksville, PA.
At 9:37 A.M EST, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon in Washington D.C., killing 59 on the plane and 125 on the ground.
At 9:42 A.M.EST, The Federal Aviation Administration grounded all flights.
At 9:59 A.M. EST, The South Tower collapsed, killing more than 800 people.
At 10:15 A.M. EST, The Pentagon’s outer ring collapsed.
At 10:28 A.M. EST, The North Tower collapsed after burning for 102 minutes. More than 1,600 in and around the building are killed.
Our world changed.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis:
“20 years ago, Americans started our day like any other only to find our worlds shattered by mid-morning as the terrorist attacks of 9/11 played out.
We remember and mourn those we lost in New York City, in a field in Pennsylvania, and at the Pentagon. They were our loved ones and friends, families were instantly torn apart by an unspeakable attack on our nation.
Everyone remembers where they were when tragedy struck.
As we reflect on the 20 years since that dreadful day, let us remember the innocent lives taken away, let us honor the first responders who heroically put themselves in harm’s way to save others, and let us pay tribute to our service members and first responders who fight to protect us from terrorist attack.
Our country is resilient, it is steadfast even in the face of terror. In this solemn moment, let us recognize our humanity in the face of tragedy, and our country’s unyielding will to prevail. On this solemn anniversary, we keep in our hearts the memory of those lost.”
Governor Polis ordered all flags at half staff today, Sept. 11, in honor of those lost on Sept. 11 and those who tried to save them.
Recollections from some people we know:
U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, Colorado
“I was flying on a plane from Greeley to San Francisco, and the plane turned around and landed back in Greeley. When I landed back in Colorado, I called my boss and he said one plane crashed into the World Trade Center — at the time we thought it was an accident.
Then I saw that a second plane had attacked the Twin Towers. I went home and sat with my wife as I held my newborn daughter on my lap and thought about what this would mean for her future.”
He added an official statement:
“The attacks brought out the best in our nation — courage, resolve, and resilience — but they also set in motion challenges that remain with us today. Powerful unity gave way to intense partisan division. Strategic global leadership became reckless unilateralism and nation-building. Then and now, politicians played to our darkest impulses of fear, hatred, and isolation at the expense of our highest ideals.”
As we reflect on the past 20 years, we must remember the 3,000 Americans lost that terrible morning, along with the men and women who gave their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq, our veterans who still bear the wounds of war (many, invisible), and the first responders who still struggle with sickness. They did their duty to our nation, and their example calls on us to do the same — by learning from the past 20 years, correcting course where we must, and coming together in common purpose.”
Jim Wilson, Former Colorado State Representative
“When 9-11 struck I was in the Uncompahgre Wilderness (it covers 102,721 acres within the north-central region of the San Juan Mountains in Colorado) hunting bear and elk with a muzzleloader. We shot a bear and hauled it out and when we came to town, they said we were at war, the towers had been hit.
We were camped up in the wilderness… we stayed in town for a while to see what was going on, until we got the clarification on what the attack was. It was not a war-like attack, it was a terrorist attack … we didn’t know who we might be at war with. If it was war, it would have been a major power, so your mind was running crazy on who we’d be at war with.
That night, all the aircraft were shut down and I’ll not forget the eeriness of no sound whatsoever in the forest that night. Usually, you hear planes, it was eerily quiet… and with the stuff turning over in our minds, trust me, you didn’t go to sleep quickly that night…
I guess, one thing I learned from it that has changed today’s world is that it’s not a good idea to try to negotiate with someone who’s trying to kill you.”
Keith Baker, Chaffee County Commissioner
“The 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks were shocking but not surprising to those of us who studied the terrorist threat – including al-Qaeda – throughout the 1990s.
Even now, 20 years later, trying to describe my feelings that morning is a hopeless task. The human brain can generate countless thoughts in a remarkably brief time as anyone who watched the World Trade Center towers burn and collapse can attest. And let us not forget the attack on the Pentagon with American Airlines Flight 77 and the attempted attack on the U.S. Capitol or the White House with United Flight 93 that was foiled by heroic passengers.
What I can do is isolate the overriding feeling, the pervasive emotion, as helplessness.
My disposition and the fact my active-duty Navy career had ended only nine months earlier caused my innermost instincts to cry out “DO SOMETHING!” But standing in our bedroom in Colorado Springs, there was nothing to be done. Helpless. Helpless as almost 3,000 people from over 90 countries died, including 343 firefighters and 72 police officers.
Helpless, like a recently-retired athlete watching his old team. I wanted to help, and my staff officer instincts reflexively kicked in. Clearly, the United States had to respond. The question was, what form and approaches would that response take? The question I’d been asked many times before resounded: “Baker, what do you recommend?”
Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin-Laden was reputed to be in Afghanistan; having served as the Joint Staff’s first Central Asia and Transcaucasus desk officer following the collapse of the Soviet Union, I knew Afghanistan’s reputation as “the Graveyard of Empires.”
While the “head of the snake” strategy is rarely successful, al-Qaeda’s unique structure – more like a franchise system than a vertically-integrated corporation – gave that strategy even less chance of one-strike solution. My recommended course of action would have been, and my hope was, the U.S. would employ special operations personnel to surgically eliminate Osama bin-Laden and other key al-Qaeda leaders, then orchestrate military and other elements of national power in a coordinated fashion to reduce the terrorist threat.
Helpless as the military I’d left only nine months before inexplicably acquiesced in taking almost the opposite approach, one unrecognizable to anyone who spent time in American military staff colleges after Vietnam. Indeed, the military from which I’d retired only nine months before was unrecognizable.
Helpless in watching that course of action unfold – and the even heavier invasion of Iraq later – and being unable to do anything to stop it.
Helpless in knowing a strategic blunder was in the offing and being unable to do anything to stop it.”
Tara Flanagan, AVV Journalist
“It was a typical morning — the mild chaos of making sure our young son was ready to get on the school bus. He and I collided in the hallway outside his room.
“Mom, another plane hit the World Trade Center,” he said. It was the first I’d heard of any of this. We saw him to the bus, then turned on the television and went down the rabbit hole. George Bush had been reading to kids at an elementary school. Panicky calls to our friends in New York went unanswered.
The school said kids would stay in class unless something worse happened, but that they understood if we wanted to bring them back home. I didn’t want to imagine the idea of worse.
After a couple of hours, I called the local newspaper to see if they needed freelance help for the day. My assignment was to walk around town to see how people were doing. I met a lot of numb-looking people out on the sidewalks. Some had that messed-up look that comes from crying all day and not being together enough to comb one’s hair. Others just wanted to be out and around people, trying to get a toehold on normalcy.
I ended up walking into a church. The pastor was upstairs and I asked him if he thought people might think God was dead. We sat there for a few minutes. I don’t remember exactly what he said.”
Dan Smith, AVV Editorial Board
“Like most Americans, I remember the morning of 9/11/2001 vividly; around breakfast, my brother Michael called me to say I should turn on the television because a plane had crashed into New York’s World Trade Center.
From that point on, my wife Lee and I were transfixed and sickened by the sights and sounds as the incident became a real-life live horror show as a second plane hit the South Tower, another slammed into the Pentagon. The brave passengers on a fourth plane, Flight 93, were headed for Washington, but they fought the hijackers on board and it was crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania.
I remember at one point Lee and I simply had to go outside and do some gardening to relieve ourselves from the gut-wrenching horrors of the unimaginable terrorist attack. Some memories, of course, as with most people, stay with me to this day;
I can still see, from early on after the first plane hit, the doomed people trapped on the upper floors of the North Tower, waving whatever they could, hoping to be rescued from their smoke-shrouded nightmare predicament, and then the even more horrific scenes of people jumping to their deaths from the buildings. As we watched the towers collapse, we knew the death toll would be in the thousands.
Friends called, and we immediately spoke of how deviously well-planned the attacks were, compared them to our parent’s generation catastrophe of Pearl Harbor, and wondering how it would change our world.
Even then I asked myself ‘What can I do, actually do?’ Outside of the nearly immediate fundraising initiated for the victims, their families, and the first responders who died, there didn’t seem to be anything tenable we could do, far away in Colorado.
An ad in the Denver Post a few days later provided an answer; calling for applicants for security screening at Denver International Airport (DIA). Because I was a career journalist (only working part-time then) I felt I had the observation skills necessary and a knack for relating to people directly.
I applied. A few weeks later, after some intensive training, I took the floor at the security checkpoints, on Veteran’s Day, two months to the day after 9/11.
At this time, of course, security at DIA was intense; National Guard soldiers with military rifles guarded the checkpoints and patrolled the area with law enforcement, and bomb-sniffing dogs were checking people’s bags at random.
Many passengers were thankful for the tight security initially. That changed a few months later, especially after they had to remove their shoes at those checkpoints. It was an interesting study in human psychology; often going from gratitude to resentment at having to be hand-wanded by screeners or have their bags checked.
One couldn’t underestimate the gravity of the job, however – you were responsible for the safety of those passengers. We regularly found weapons, including firearms, in carry-on baggage.
I was proud to do that job for about a year before the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) was established, trained, and manned the checkpoints. I still urge travelers to this day to appreciate the job the screeners do, without much fanfare, keeping airline travel safe from the horrors were witnessed on 9/11.
JoAnne Allen, Retired Dentist
“I was in my dental office in Albuquerque, New Mexico getting ready for our first procedure of the day when the patient arrived. She said, “Have you heard about what’s happening?”
We quickly turned on the TV we had in a treatment room and watched together, horrified, as the second tower came down.
She said, “I’ve got to get to my daughter’s preschool.” My patient and her daughter are Jewish. It was then I realized what it must be like to live in constant fear of being attacked, to always have to watch your back, not knowing who can be trusted.
I also realized that Jews are not the only ones who have to watch their backs. People of color, immigrants, GLBTQ, to name only a few that American society treats as “other” live daily with lack of respect simply because of who they are.”
“Our 14-year-old son had already left for high school when I turned on the TV to see the images of the flames in the south tower of the World Trade Center. My 10-year-old daughter came in the doorway. As we watched live TV, we saw the second plane hit the second tower. I remember we both kept repeating in shock, “Oh my God, Oh my God …”
Numb, I walked her to the school bus, just after learning a plane had hit the Pentagon and drove to work. I was the Director of Western Union North America Money Transfer, with staff and franchise owners all across the continent, including New York City.
Only the prior Thursday, I had been in a chartered boat sailing around Manhattan while we developed 2002 regional sales plans. I snapped photos of the Statute of Liberty, but I never thought to turn around to take pictures of the lower Manhattan skyline ( I’d been there often) where the Twin Towers took pride-of-place. It wasn’t changing.
As I entered the Western Union lobby in south metro Denver, my Blackberry began to ring. A crowd of co-workers had pulled television screens into the reception area. We watched the North Tower fall, one hand over our mouth, the other holding tight to a co-worker. I had a Western Union crew in the base of the World Trade Center, and a product management team gathered in the large conference room off that lobby.
I started the meeting and quickly realized we couldn’t continue … we couldn’t reach our center in the base of the World Trade Center. One of my sales directors had a brother who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st to 105th floors of the World Trade Center who he couldn’t reach. Another tearful staffer had a brother on a plane — somewhere.
Wall Street shut down. The banks shut down. I packed my emotions away and did what I had to do. We operated our Western Union Time Square location on a cash-in-cash-out basis that day, and the day turned into days. People were afraid, and desperate for money and our Western Union Treasury Department had to set its global exchange rates and keep money moving. That week my money transfer product was used by a third of American businesses to make employee payrolls.
I remember that our Western Union counterparts all around the world sent hundreds of messages of support and encouragement. The oft-repeated message — ‘We’re with you. We grieve with you. This week we’re all Americans.’
What did we do with that unity?”
The featured image shows the skyline of lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, as the towers of the World Trade Center burn. Photo by the Associated Press.
Ark Valley Voice gives sincere thanks to the Colorado residents who volunteered their recollections of 9-11.