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Saturday, 11 September 2021

Where were you on 9/11?

During a recent conversation someone asked me where I was on 9/11, and like knowing where I was when JFK was assassinated, I was able to answer without a moment's hesitation.

I was actually in mid-conversation with a former work colleague, Frank Springall, at his home in Catford, South-East London. We were both semi-retired and he was working on a contract for me. (I was running an educational consultancy at the time.) We were discussing a problem that had arisen when his daughter came in and said that something (possible an aircraft) had hit the World Trade Centre in New York, and the top of the building was on fire.

Having finished our discussion, I drove home and switched on the rolling news coverage on Sky News … just in time to see the second aircraft fly into the other World Trade Centre tower.

I spent the rest of the day glued to the news as it unfolded. The images I saw that day will stay with me for the rest of my life.


Another reason why the date 9/11 remains constantly in my mind is that my mother died on 9th September 2002, a year after the attack on the the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon. I think about her and my father every day and wish that they were still with us.

38 comments:

  1. Don't remember where I was when JFK killed, rememer 9/11. Sitting in a SN classroom when another teacher came in and told us to switch the TV on. Our son was just flying into Singapore airport - they had it on the big screens without sound, so noone knew what was happening. There were a number of phone calls by us to Singapore Airlines to find out what was happening with flights that day!

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    1. Rob Young,

      9/11 was like that. I have a friend who worked as GCHQ, and the place was in turmoil as the situation developed. I live in Woolwich, which at the time was the home station of 16 Air Defence Regiment, Royal Artillery. I was told that when the news broke, they called as many off duty troops as they could so that they could deploy to protect London if the need arose.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  2. I was working in an office in Hanover Square in central London. I was walking between buildings and in the reception of the HQ which had recently been refurbished. A crowd of people were stood around watching the new flat screens. I thought there must be a big client meeting on there were so many people.

    I asked the facilities manager what the event was and he said “a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center”. I was picturing a light aircraft having an accident, said “oh dear hope not many people hurt” or words to that effect and dashed into the lift. When I came back down after a short meeting he said “Chris another plane has hit the other tower”, then I twigged that it wasn’t an accident. It was so far out of experience that I assumed at first it wasn’t deliberate.

    I had a struggle swallowing my food this morning listening to the moving testimony of a NY fire officer on TV, I had such a lump in my throat. I made a mental salute to the brave people who risked everything to help others that day. I expect there will be a minute’s silence at football grounds today.

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    1. Nundanket,

      I think that at first everyone assumed that it was a tragic accident. After all, a B-25 bomber had flown into the Empire State Building in 1945, and although that was in fog, an accident was always a possibility.

      The second impact showed that this and the original strike was a deliberate act … and the world changed.

      The number of first responders who died on that day stands as a testament to the daily heroism they and their like exhibit every day. It is truly humbling,

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I was at my parent's home in bed when my dad knocked on the door and said a plane crashed into the WTC. I immediately thought it was an accident so I didn't rush to find out what happened. After all, even at that time cable news had the reputation for running the big story all day. I took my time joining him in the living room. My laziness was rewarded with being able to see the second plane hit the other tower. That's when it all became clear what was going on.
      I was in college in 2001 so I got dressed and walked to campus. Classes were cancelled but I was a senior member of the college radio station so I went there to hang out with my friends. We had a quick meeting and decided to broadcast information that was relevant to the student body since the "big boy" media stations had real news departments. We announced it when the student center set up phone banks for the student's to call home. Many of them were from the NYC metro area and Long Island so a considerable number of them were freaking out. The campus was a ghost town.
      By the afternoon there wasn't much more we could do or say so we signed off and spent the rest of the day just being with each other.

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    3. Mr. Pavone,

      What an interesting story! Again, you seem to have gone through the ‘it’s an accident … no, it’s deliberate!’ reaction to what happened.

      Nowadays, people would expect to use a mobile phone to contact relatives etc., but in the UK the mobile phone network would be prioritised so that only calls from phones being used by emergency services, intelligence agencies etc., could be processed. It is what happened in London on 21st July 2005.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  3. Well I was about a week old when JFK was assassinated and my Mum was still in bed recovering, as was the norm in those days. On 9/11 we had just finished lunchbreak at work when the news started coming in of a plane hitting the Trade Centre. We assumed a small aircraft and then the updates kept coming in. we more or less stood around the circular saw bench where the radio was and listened to the events unfold, as we had not tv at work at the internet crashed due to the demand for info. It is still clear to me today as it was 20 years ago. When I got home I sat and watched the news bulletin at 6.00pm (no 24hr news for us then) dumfounded by what I saw.

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    1. Steve J.,

      I suspect that your memories of 9/11 are similar to those of a lot of other people, starting out assuming that it was accident followed by a day of growing incredulity and confusion as events unfolded.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  4. I have no memories of the day other than TV footage but I believe I shut out distressing images. I know I was at Aberfan on the day, and through the night of the disaster there, but I have absolutely no memory of it all besides newspaper images.

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    1. Nobby,

      It is amazing how our brain can squirrel memories away in places you cannot find in order to protect itself from the dangerous stress it would otherwise have to deal with.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  5. Remember it clear as day Bob, I had set up my 6x 4 table, laid out all my Connoisseur American Civil War figures for a game, ran my wife to work, came home and started the game then turned on the BBC news. That was that.

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    1. ‘Lee,

      Once one started to watch the news coverage, it became compulsive viewing.

      Did you ever manage to fight your battle, or did you pack it away unfought?

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. Sadly lost interest that day. But my table was often in use in those days when I had a regular local opponent. That was our little Victorian terrace within walking distance of your house Bob, Plum Lane.

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    3. ‘Lee,

      I had pretty well guessed what your answer would be.

      My only regret is that we never met whilst you still lived in Plum Lane.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  6. I was in a weekly meeting when a colleague stuck his head in with the news. The meeting dissolved into a huddle around a tv. Then we migrated back to our office on the 8th floor of Purdy's Wharf Tower, 2 floors below the US embassy and with a clear view of Halifax harbour. One of my colleagues eased the tension a bit by mentioning the US embassy then suddenly pointed out the window and exclaimed "is that a plane flying towards us!?" We all looked and most of us got it immediately (given the source) and laughed but one or two didn't find it funny for a while.

    For JFK I was a young kid sitting on the floor in front of the radio when the news broke into whatever it was I was listening to. If it wasn't for the 45 we had of PT 109, it wouldn't probably wouldn't have even know who he was.
    "Smoke and fire upon the sea, everywhere they looked was the enemy"

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    1. Ross Mac,

      I’m not so sure that I would have wanted to stay in the same building as the US Embassy … and the joke sounds like the stupid thing that I would have said to help relieve the tension in the room.

      I was at home watching TV when the news of JFK’s shooting came through. We were all shocked by what had happened, especially as it came so soon after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

      All the best,

      Bob

      PS. The day after the shooting in Dallas, the first ever episode of Dr Who was transmitted. It had such poor viewing figures that they showed it again the following week.

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  7. As a state employee I was in the State Office Tower in downtown Columbus, Ohio. A co-worker informed me of the first crash and we switched on the TV in time to see the second crash. That’s when it hit home that this was no accident. I was communicating with a fight-sim buddy in the Pentagon when his communication went dead (he was evacuated when Flight 77 hit the other side of the building). Shortly after that, downtown Columbus was evacuated… I think it was about the time that Flight 93, which was over northern Ohio, veered off course. It would later crash in southwestern Pennsylvania.

    I had taken the bus to work that day but it didn’t matter since traffic was at a standstill. I started walking towards home. A stranger on the street let me borrow his cell phone to call my wife who was out of state on a business trip. (It would take her three days to return home.) After about an hour of walking, traffic had cleared enough that I was able to catch a bus and I got home in time to watch the towers of the World Trade Center collapse. (Interestingly enough, I found the Canadian Broadcasting Company to have the best coverage. It was much less histrionic than other news coverage and I will always be grateful for that.)

    I now work as an archivist for a federal law enforcement agency in Washington, DC. I have daily contact with artifacts of the Ground Zero and the Pentagon attacks. And the people…. If you want to see the best of humanity, learn the stories of the thousands of responders who spent days, weeks, months and years at the attack and recovery sites. While everybody has different motives for what they do, so many people have contributed to gaining an evidence based understanding of these events, bring closure to the families of the victims and protect us all from similar attacks. I’m fairly certain that the number of responders who have died of complications due to the environmental exposure they endured at the sites now exceeds the number of victims on 9/11. Keep them and their families in your prayers, too.

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    1. Jeff K,

      Thank you for sharing your story with us. There is very little that I can write in response other than to say how right you are about responders who ran to danger on the day as well as the thousands of ordinary people who stepped up to the mark to help in whatever way they could. It was only recently that I discovered purely by chance of the waterborne evacuation of Manhattan in the aftermath of the attack.

      As long as such people continue to put others before themselves, we have a society - however flawed it might be in places - that we should cherish.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I was also (still am) in Columbus on 9/11. My office was out by Port Columbus (the major airport in town) and one of my lasting memories of that day was how quiet and empty the sky was when I went to lunch. No aircraft noise, no contrails in the sky so small a thing but such a big thing when you consider the reason….

      JimG

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    3. ImpGrdArt,

      It’s amazing how small details like this can stuck in ones memory. Thank you for sharing your story.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  8. I was at school preparing for a parents evening. We stopped what we were doing and gathered round the television.

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    1. Tradgardmastare,

      It was that sort of day, wasn’t it? Things like Parents Evenings, which loomed so large on school calendars, no longer seemed quite so important anymore.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  9. I was waiting at home, getting ready to fly out that day to Boston. The news was on TV and we saw the initial report of a "small" plane hitting one of the towers and then the 2nd plane hit. Cancelled my trip immediately. We had people stranded all over the US, trying to get rental cars to get back to town.

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    1. Brent,

      I’m not surprised that you cancelled your trip. Mind you, the chances are that if you had gone to the airport, they would have sent you back home.

      I seem to remember that lots of transatlantic flights were diverted to airports in Canada. Gander, Newfoundland, ended up with temporary increase in population of over 50% when 38 aircraft were diverted there.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  10. I was visiting the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh with my mother. I think this is the only time I can remember where I was when some major occurrance has happened

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    1. Red_Cardinal,

      It was a day many of us will never forget.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  11. It was the second day of my last semester of my Architectural Design program. We had spent the day before studying the construction of the WTC towers. Someone told us about a plane hitting one of the towers so we wandered down to the commons where there was a TV. It was low-key, everyone assuming it was a terrible accident and speculating on how someone could hit the tower on such a fair weather day. Then the second plane hit. School was cancelled. I went home and watched the towers collapse, pentagon coverage and Flight 93.

    The freaky part (for me) was that the semester had started a week earlier than usual, I had been planning to attend a HoTTs event in Berkeley, UK. Taking Monday to travel back to London (Heathrow) I probably would have been on a plane at the time and forced back to the UK or been diverted to Gander, Newfoundland. Gander had 38 airliners diverted to it increasing the local population by 70%. They took care of all those people for days. One of the heartwarming/redeeming stories of that day.

    After everything settled down, I talked to my sister, declined to seek refuge with her family and then ended up at my local game store commiserating with a handful of other "orphans" with no where better to go.

    The dark irony is that my apartment (flat) was under the approach path to our main airport, with all flights grounded for days, I actually had the best sleep since moving there those nights with no air traffic.

    Bit long, thanks for reading it.

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    1. StuRat,

      What an amazing coincidence … or is it another example of synchronicity that you’d been studying the construction of the World Trade Centre Towers? I must admit that I would have found it a spooky.

      A lot of communities in Canada pulled out all the stops to help stranded flyers that day and for some days afterwards. It shows the basic well of human kindness that exists to be tapped when the chips are down.

      We live directly under what was the flight path for Concorde coming into Heathrow. Every night at 6.00pm she would fly over and the house would shake. When she cease flying it took us months to get used to what became ‘normal’.

      Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  12. It's funny (funny hmmm, not funny ha ha) you bring up JFK as a memory for your age group but there are two others us yanks remember well.
    The first was attempted assassination of president Regan. I was in rth or 5th grade that day, about 9-10 years old. I was leaving school when the news hit TV. All the adults were understandably upset.
    The second big one was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. It was an extra big deal because they had a civilian teacher on board. I remember it clearly because I was home from school, sick that day. I spent the morning watching daytime TV and convalescing when they cut to the launch of the shuttle. I never missed a launch when it was televised so I watched intently. I got to see the thing explode in real time. Again, I was totally shocked.
    The Challenger disaster had a lasting (but not traumatic) effect on me since throughout my life I have managed to run across people and situations deeply affected by it. My wife went to MIT and she had friends who knew people don't he ground (and in the sky) that day. I later worked for an aerospace contractor that made equipment used in the shuttles. The whole company was worried that it was their equipment that may have caused the accident. That was not the case for them.
    I guess what really brings it home, and history full circle, is the video of desperate Afghanis falling from USAF C-17 transport planes. It makes me sad to see that, given we had people leaping from the WTC towers to escape death by immolation or smoke. The Taliban just bring terror and misery to everything they touch...
    Even now it's always there for us. I look across the Hudson River and see the Freedom Tower (a misnomer if I ever saw one) I know the Manhattan skyline is permanently changed. To watch an old movie like Escape From New York or any 80s Wall Street movie is to be reminded. To know that I knew people in Albany, NY who saw AA flight 11 scream down the Hudson and think "Huh, that's odd..." then go about their day is mind-blowing. I can stand almost anywhere in Jersey City and see the Manhattan skyline and know people stood in the same spot to see what was happening that da, it's haunting.
    Man, I could go on and on but I'll let it rest unless anyone else wants to read more.

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    1. Mr. Pavone,

      JFK held a special place in the minds of my generation. He was young, good-looking, a war hero, and seemed to be the harbinger of a new and better age. Then we had the Cuban Missile Crisis … and the world held its breath. We practiced what to do in event of a nuclear attack … and then sanity seemed to be restored, and JFK was seen as the man who would not back down in the face of threats. He took us to the brink of nuclear war … and then brought us back again. To an impressionable teenager (like me), his America was the greatest nation in the world.

      I remember the assassination attempt on President Reagan and the Challenger disaster. I also remember the Columbia disaster, which coming after the loss of Challenger seemed to mark the end of the Space Race JFK had started.

      I never saw New York until after 9/11, so I have no idea of the impact the disappearance of the twin towers must have had on those who saw it every day … but I can imagine that it was - and probably remains- traumatic.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  13. An interesting question you posed and some fascinating answers. I actually recall the JFK assassination. I was watching TV and it came on as a news flash. Not sure what I made of it at the age of 11 but it certainly struck me as a special event. On 9/11 I had been out at a meeting and returned to the office minutes after the first plane hit. My wife, who worked in the office with me, told me what was going on and we spent the rest of the afternoon watching events on the computer then later at home on TV. What made it very real to us was that only three months before, in June, we had visited New York and had been up the WTC in the viewing deck. Made us both go cold to say the least. A few weeks later we were in London and visited the US embassy and signed the book of condolences. I can not leave without offering my condolences on the loss of your parents, it never leaves us as I know only too well. Regards.

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    1. Tony Adams,

      Thanks for sharing your story with us. Some years ago I was teaching a class about the Cold War, and The Cuban Missile Crisis and JFK’s assassination came up. One of the students commented that I talked about the events as if I had been there. When I told them that I wasn’t there but lived through those events, there was a stunned silence, followed by a comment that I didn’t look that old!

      Thank you for your condolences. My mother died in 2002 and my father in 2013. I think about them every day, and still miss them, even though I am 71 years old. They helped to make me what I am, and I owe them a great debt for that and all the love they gave me.

      All the best,

      Bob

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    2. I also had one of those “oh, you’re that old” moments some years ago in regards to JFK’s assassination when in a discussion at work. It made me deeply aware of the filter of time and its impact on our understanding of historical events. You can read immense numbers of works on a historical event, but if you didn’t actually live through it, do you REALLY understand it in a “yeah, I get it” sense? I try to keep that in mind when in a discussion of some historical (but in my lifetime) event with my stepson!

      JimG

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    3. ImpGrdArt (JimG),

      You are right. It is always important to remember that unless we actually lived through something, our second-hand experience of events is affected by the passage of time.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  14. I got a late start on 9/11, and got to the office just as the second plane hit. About the same time, the plane that hit the Pentagon, flying at a pretty low altitude, went DIRECTLY over our building. We figured the target was obvious (the Pentagon was about 3 miles from our building, although not visible to us because of intervening trees and other terrain); we then saw the explosion and smoke. At that point about half of the people on my staff concluded we were at war, and left to spend whatever was coming next with their families.

    Meanwhile, my wife, a counselor at an Elementary school, said the first thing that happened was the Muslim kids were all picked up by their parents, figuring they might otherwise be attacked by enraged locals. (I'm happy to report that there no such incidents then or in the days thereafter. Kind of different from today...)

    My sister was flying somewhere a couple of weeks later. After takeoff, the pilot made the usual comments, paused, then said: "If you are ever on a highjacked plane, do NOT huddle in your seats--yell, scream, throw pillows or whatever you've got at their heads. Yes, people might get hurt, but what is there to lose at that point? Why let the thugs achieve their hideous goals without any difficulties? LIke the heroic passengers on Flight 93, take the bas***ds down!" My sister said you could have heard a pin drop after that. A lot to contemplate.

    Best regards,

    Chris

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    1. Chris,

      It sounds as if you almost had a front row seat to events in Washington DC. The reaction of your staff sounds very natural in the circumstances, as did the reaction of the Muslim parents.

      That pilot’s speech sounds a bit over the top nowadays, but back then it was probably the right thing to say. The actions of the crew and passengers of United 93 almost certainly stopped another successful terrorist attack, and their sacrifice deserves to be remembered.

      All the best,

      Bob

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  15. It may sound over the top but that's exactly what the passengers of American Airlines Flight 63 did three months after 9/11. They subdued and sedated an AQ recruited terrorist who was trying to detonate explosives smuggled on board in his shoes. Analysis has shown that the explosive was enough to bring down the plane but his ability to actually detonate it has been questioned due to the moist conditions in his shoes (eeuuww!).

    Twenty years later, most of these non-successful and thwarted attacks have been forgotten by the general public and that may be for the better. But for those of us who teach history (in one way or another) they are an important part of interpreting the past and helping those who did not experience the times to understand them.

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    1. Jeff K,

      The Shoe Bomber was Richard Reid, who was a pupil at one of the schools I taught in. I never actually taught him, but knew several people who did, and they all described him as being normal, average pupil who did not stand out very much from the rest of his contemporaries.

      I totally agree with your final paragraph. The past informs the present, and can easily influence the future.

      All the best,

      Bob

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