TERRE HAUTE —
The Tribune-Star and Tribstar.com recently asked readers to recall the memory of where they were at the moment they learned of the 9/11 attacks. Here is our second batch of responses:
I was working in the College of Education at ISU. A professor from our department came up to my office which was located on the 13th floor and said a plane had hit one of the twin towers. I rushed downstairs to the lobby because there were televisions there and watched with complete horror as the second plane also hit. Perhaps the thing that still remains in my mind was when I turned to watch the students, they didn’t seem to understand what had just happened. I was watching with tears running down my face, but the students seemed untouched by what they were seeing. They continued on to their classes or to the sandwich bar to purchase something to eat while I wanted to scream and deny what had just happened. Maybe they thought it wasn’t real, or a disaster movie, or some kind of hoax. When I returned to my office, I followed the live reports on my computer. I was shocked, horrified, scared and terrified. I hope never to repeat that experience for the rest of my life.
— Shirley A. Thomas
We were staying in a motel in Branson, Mo., when we learned about the attacks. I walked over to the motel office to get coffee and juice for my husband and me; and when I got there, the tragic news was being reported, with photos, on the television. I was stunned and in disbelief and quickly returned to tell my husband. We were scheduled to attend an Andy Williams/Glen Campbell musical show that evening and were sure that all of the shows would be cancelled. Ours, however, was not. Before starting the show, Andy Williams stepped to the front of the stage and said a wonderful prayer. A patriotic song followed that, and I have never felt more proud to be an American! Driving home from Branson, we didn’t see even one airplane in the sky. What a strange feeling, knowing that all aircraft were grounded out of necessity following the tragedy. Our president and our country pulled together in such a magnificent way and called on God for wisdom and direction. Oh that we, as a nation, would do that routinely —not just in times of crisis. May God bless America, and may America bless Him!
— Tom and Mary Sue Jackson
I’m from Elkhart, Indiana and, of course, recall where I was when I first heard about the events of 9/11. I was in a technical training course in Mishawaka, Indiana. But, I’m writing because I thought you might be interested in seeing this music video that I recently completed for an upbeat and uplifting patriotic song that I recorded for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. I co-wrote the song with my sister Danette, who lives in Muncie, and I’ve been invited to the sing the song at the dedication of the Project 9/11 Indianapolis memorial on 9/11 and also prior to the 9/11 Heroes Run in Westfield, to be held the same day. I’ll also be singing the song in the studio on the Fox 59 morning news show on 9/9. In addition, the song and video are to be included in a documentary that the PBS affiliate (WFYI TV-20) in Indianapolis has commissioned about the making of the Indianapolis 9/11 memorial. They hope to debut it at the Heartland Film Festival in October.
All of the filming for the video was done in central Indiana with lots of great footage coming from the 4th of July parade in Carmel and the Westfield Rocks the 4th festival. I think the video is amazing and feel it’s a very fitting and moving tribute to the fallen heroes of 9/11, and to America. In addition to the patriotic footage from the parade and festival, the video features firemen, a policeman and his police dog partner, Indiana National Guard soldiers, Veterans from VFW Post 10003, and much more.
I know Terre Haute is a ways from my hometown of Elkhart and a little way from Indianapolis too but, given the significance of 9/11, I thought that maybe since the song was co-authored by two Indiana residents and, since the video was filmed in Indiana and has a "Heartland" feel to it, you might consider it worthy of a write-up in your paper.
— Daniel Baird
I was in Boulder, Colorado, driving home with my two very young children. As I drove into my driveway, I heard the news on the radio. My first thought was that it was a “War of Worlds” type thing — I didn’t believe it was true. I went into the house and turned on the TV, and to my horror saw that it was true. I had the TV on most of the day. My children were too young to understand what was going on. As a native New Yorker, I felt personally attacked. I literally could not believe that they were flying airplanes into the World Trade Center. We didn’t fly for a long time. We usually go back to NY for Christmas, but stayed put that year. I still have not visited the WTC site. I can’t bear to go downtown and see it. I can’t stand to look at the NYC skyline anymore. I don’t think NYC should build something higher to be an even better symbolic target. I think NYC should lay low and not be a target anymore. But that’s not the culture of NYC. We’re fighters and don’t let anyone push us around. We also have a lot of heart, as was displayed by heroics all around, especially the NYFD. I am worried about the 10th anniversary. We are still so vulnerable. The “War on Terror” has not made us any safer. The other shoe will fall. The terrorists have won, though, because America is not the same anymore. We are now a nation of paranoid people willing to give up our basic rights, and the rights we fought so hard for in the Revolutionary War, so that we can have the illusion of protection. The terrorists have already ruined our American way of life. A nation committed to justice for all hunted down and killed a man without a trial. A nation committed to equal rights tortured people. 9/11 marked the end of America as those of us who grew up in the ’60’s knew it.
— Barbara and Charles Eversole
September 11, 2001.
The day started off so beautiful. As I was walking from the parking garage to my office in Philadelphia, I looked up. I thought to myself that the last time I could recall such a cloudless blue sky was on our wedding day seven years ago. I kept looking up to catch a glimpse of that bright blue, to catch any trace of clouds, and in disbelief, I found none.
Forty-five minutes later I was typing away on my computer when my secretary, rushed in to tell me she heard on the radio that a plane hit one of the Twin Towers. She said it was a commuter plane. I stopped for a second to recall when a plane crashed into the Pan Am Building many years back. I also thought about when the Twin Towers were bombed in 1993. I brushed it off thinking it was no big deal. This is New York. It was the vivacious and invincible city of my childhood. It was just a dent in the building. It and all its inhabitants were resilient and would survive. I went back to speed typing as I was under a deadline.
Minutes later, my secretary came back into the office and told me to go to her desk as I had to see what was on her computer. A photograph of the Twin Towers was on her computer screen. The higher portion of Tower One was engulfed in flames and smoke. I recall being startled and worried that people may have been hurt, but not fearful. The same unconscious feeling of invincibility made me say that it would be ok. The powers that be will put out the fire and rescue everyone. I went back to my desk and my deadline.
Looking back over the years I think I must have been in shock at that moment. How else could I explain my denial? The thought of being, breathing, and living in New York without the Twin Towers was unimaginable. It was only ten years ago, in 1991, that I lived across the street in Battery Park City. Every day, I crossed the bridge above West Side Highway. It connected Battery Park City to The World Trade Center. Every day, I looked up in awe at the silver striped twins as I walked in and out of the Towers, down the escalators and onto the street towards New York Law School, where I was enrolled. New York City was the center of the world. It was the city that never sleeps. Nothing could stop it from being King of the Hill and Top of the Heap. Not the Son of Sam. Not George Steinbrenner v. Billy Martin. Not hurricanes Gloria in 1985 and Andrew in 1992. Not the Blackout of 1977. Not even the countless terrorist attacks prior to that day. NO. No matter what happened, New York would always be the omnipotent jewel of the American crown, symbolized by its brilliant and towering skyline.
Just a little bit later, everyone in the office was screaming in disbelief. The second plane hit Tower Two. It was mass chaos. After the third plane crashed into the Pentagon, there was a call from the lobby. The high rise building, in which our office was housed, was being evacuated. Everyone, everywhere, was being evacuated. All of the office buildings and government buildings were being shut down. There was concern that Penn Station was a target. Fear and caution finally took over as I ran to my car to get to my son, Luke. Luke was at a Penn Children’s Center, across the street from Penn Station.
In the car, I was in stopped traffic. When I tried to call the day care I could not get through. The phone lines were jammed throughout the city. I was able to reach my husband at the hospital where he worked. I tried to call my parents in New York and my best friend, who happened to live in Battery Park City. I could not get through as the phone lines were jammed again. I had spoken to my mom the day before and thought she would be safe because she did not tell me that she had any plans of going into Manhattan. After I put Luke in the car seat, I tried calling my best friend again. The phone lines were still jammed. All I could think about was whether one of the Towers would fall on her and her husband. (The possibility of both falling was still unthinkable.) Would they have been able to get out of Battery Park City before the planes hit? She took the PATH train to New Jersey every day. The PATH line was under the Towers. Was she stuck on the train? Was she buried by piles of rubble? I started to cry.
I made it home about four hours later. The Towers, of course had fallen. I, my husband Tom, Luke, who was three years old, my nine month old twins, Lily and Erica, and their babysitter, were all glued to the television. Our babysitter was speechless. We took her to New York only two months before in July. My mom took her to the Twin Towers. She was staring at the picture of herself inside Windows on the World, the restaurant on the top two floors of Tower One, the North Tower.
It was the end of the day when I finally heard from my parents and my best friend. My parents were physically fine, but not emotionally. My best friend and her husband did not make it out of Battery Park City until later in the day. They were fine but suffered through the horror. She told me that after the first plane hit, they were all evacuated from the buildings. On the street, they saw people jumping. At first, she thought “Oh Great, there will be a safety net that will catch them!” She soon realized that was implausible. (She was also in the same denial mindset as I was in and did not think the Towers would fall). There was no time for the trauma of the events to set in. The Towers fell and they were running. Eventually, they were covered with soot from head to toe. She could not recall when, but sometime later, they made it onto the ferries heading for New Jersey. She tells me that she often remembers the smell of death that the soot painted on her.
The rest of the day was filled with an endless slideshow of catastrophe and shock. We kept watching different news channels hoping that there was some mistake. The last picture that I saw on the television was of that beautiful blue New York sky with the black smoke rising. Ironically, I found the clouds that I was looking for earlier in the day. Again, I was in disbelief.
— Alpa Patel, Terre Haute
I was at my desk at Columbia House when I heard about the first strike and as we were talking about it, we heard the second plane had hit. I suddenly realized that my daughter-in-law at the time was an airline attendant. I had to call my son (stepson) immediately to make certain that she was okay. Of course, I did not get through immediately. Thank God she was okay, not on any of the flights involved. I cried anyway for all the other poor souls. I could not concentrate on work. We were on production, had to keep track of what we were doing and how much time we spent and I knew my day was going to be a total wash so I asked to go home. I remember it was my friend Linda who had her headset (radio) on and heard the news first in our area. My other friend Edy was concerned about her brother who worked at the Pentagon at the time. Thank God he was okay, too.
— Rhonda Terstegge
I was at home, we home schooled our daughters, and could not believe the horrific tragedy taking place, At first we thought it was a movie stunt, but no, it was a terrorist attack against us.
We were home, our TV plays 24/7, and I woke up to see the tragedy, at first it seemed unreal, then I realized we had been attacked, it was horrible, I will never forget.
The morning of 9/11 I was subsitute teaching at our local high school. We were beginning ISTEP testing that day and I aided the special needs students. I checked in at the office, and the secretary said "they said an airplane hit the World Trade Center." She wanted me to know, as she and I had recently chaperoned a senior trip to NYC and visited the WTC with the students. When I went into the teachers’ lounge, all eyes were glued to the TV. I was sure it was a small plane, maybe a military jet, that either got lost or had an incapacitated pilot. Someone said, "No, it was intentional." Then my mind went to a suicidal pilot or angry boyfriend … then when I found out it was a commercial airliner, I still could not wrap my mind around terrorism. What kind of people hijack an airliner full of innocent people and fly it into a building full of more innocent people? Who ARE these monsters? Throughout the day, between getting on with the business of testing students, we caught what bits and pieces we could on TVs throughout the building. The assistant principal, who had two sons, made me think the hardest — what if they institute the draft system again and start taking our boys to war? I thought of my eighth-grade son at the junior high next door and cried. I wept again sitting in the cafeteria at lunch, watching our young men nonchalantly eating, laughing, acting-up … seemingly so oblivious to all the hatred and ugliness in our world. But, at the same time, happy for them that at that moment they were living their lives for themselves and WERE ignoring all the craziness we adults were so ingrossed in all day. I soon learned many of them, especially the ones in my classes, simply didn’t understand what had happened. As teachers, we tried to explain it to the best of our ability, while admitting we too didn’t really understand.
— Twila Usrey
In 2001 my oldest son, Bradley, who was a member of the Indiana Army National Guard was ordered to Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia to attend his basic training (boot camp) for the army. His class was scheduled to graduate on Sept. 13th, 2001. We received a letter from his camp that the families of the soldiers were invited to witness the graduation ceremonies and to have a "Family Day" with their soldier on Sept. 12th. My wife and I rescheduled our vacations and decided to make the trip with our other two sons to Fort Benning to be with Brad and watch him graduate. This was the first time we had been apart from Brad for this long a period of time and we were anxious to see him.
On Sept. 9th, we headed out for Georgia and took some extra time to enjoy the sights along the way. On the night of Sept. 10th, we spent the night in Ringgold, Georgia and left for the final leg of our journey to Fort Benning. Then on Sept. 11th while we were about 50 miles north of Georgia we heard the first news report of a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center buildings. The news stories were sketchy and confusing as to the nature of the collision (accident or deliberate). Soon after, we heard of the second plane hitting the other building, then the third plane hitting the Pentagon; by this time it had been decided that these were deliberate attacks. By the time we got to Atlanta, Hartsfield airport had been closed due to a "National Emergency.” We finished the trip in total shock and virtual silence.
When we arrived at Fort Benning, the camp had been ordered to FPCON DELTA (or Threat Con Delta) which was the highest military alert. We were able to obtain housing on the post, but were unsure of the graduation ceremonies.
The next morning, Sept. 12th, after making some phone calls, we learned that the ceremonies would not be cancelled by attacks and would proceed as scheduled. We followed the map to the "Sand Hill" area of the post where the basic training was conducted and where the soldiers’ barracks were located. When we arrived at the entrance, it had been closed due the FPCON DELTA condition, and were ordered to turn back. The MP on duty, however, gave us instructions to the main Sand Hill gate which required leaving the camp and driving back through Columbus.
The following ordeal was one of the most stressful nightmares I have ever been through. We got turned around in Columbus and somehow ended back on I-185 which is the road leading back into the main gate of the post. The traffic was backed up at least 2 miles since every vehicle entering the post was being thoroughly inspected by armed guards. Meanwhile, we learned by calling the post commander’s office that the soldiers had been moved from Sand Hill to the Columbus Civic Center to be picked up by their families. They would be there from 11:00 to 12:15 after which they would be bussed back to the post. Any family that did not get there on time would simply miss out on family day with their soldier.
At 10:00 we were still 1.25 miles from the civic center turnoff, and traffic was at a literal standstill. Watching the time slip away second by second, at 10:45 I took a gamble and decided to try driving down the shoulder of the highway. I got within 1/2 mile of the turnoff when we were stopped by a large truck that had deliberately blocked the shoulder. MP’s were also clearing the shoulder to make way for emergency vehicles. I was able to work my way back into the traffic lane and finally made it to the turnoff at 12:05. At this point, it looked as if all our efforts were in vain since there was no way we could get to the civic center by 12:15. All I could envision was the look on Brad’s face when he returned to the camp disappointed that we did not get the chance to reunite as a family.
Finally the Civic Center loomed in front of us. The time was now 12:25, ten minutes after the soldiers were to be returned to the camp, and we were sure that we had missed Brad. As we turned into the Civic Center we saw the soldiers in formation being herded back on the busses to take them back to the post. I will never, ever, forget the look on Brad’s face when he heard us honking and turned to see his family driving onto the parking lot.
Even though we were still reeling from the sense of horror, loss, and disbelief we felt in the aftermath of the one of the worst moments in our nation’s history, we also experienced the greatest feeling of joy and love our family ever enjoyed. The rest of the trip turned out better than we could have hoped for. We had most of our family day and got to attend the graduation ceremonies (along with 5 other families who had traveled from Terre Haute). We even got an additional bonus. Due to the cancellation of domestic flights, Brad’s flight to El Paso for his advanced training was cancelled, so we actually got an extra unplanned family day. September 11, 2001 will truly be one day that I will never forget the rest of my life.
— Gary Birchfield
Memories of 9/11/01
A much anticipated trip during the first week of September in 2001 to visit cousins in Denmark resulted in lifelong memories from afar viewing the U.S. under siege. We began a calm Sept. 11 road trip on a beautiful day from one cousin’s home in Ringe, Denmark, which ended with horrific television coverage at another relative’s home in Copenhagen.
It is difficult to put on paper the range of emotions that swept through those gathered for a welcome dinner on 9/11 — four Americans and six Danish cousins — but we vowed to somehow treasure the long awaited time together while doing what we could to determine that our families in the U.S. were safe and to revisit grandfather’s native land. With three sons in the military (one celebrating a birthday on 9/11) and phone lines inaccessible, we were thankful to be in a home with email capability.
The days following 9/11 are a blur, but we do remember reading every word we could find online, in newspapers and via television reporting. The most vivid recollection, however, was the compassion and sympathy extended by the Danes, both family and strangers. The American Embassy lawn was flooded with floral tributes and messages of hope, and we watched adults and children arrive on foot, by bicycle, and in taxis to place condolences to the American people. We even observed an elementary class walking across a foot bridge waving small American flags. Likewise, women in a public restroom heard two of us speaking English and said, “We are so sorry.” And the caring spirit continued even through very rigorous security in Amsterdam a week later as we flew back to the U.S.
The thought passed through our minds in flight — “did all of this really occur in our absence from the U.S.?” Unfortunately and inalterably, it did.
— Lou and Mary Jensen