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Never Forget: BubbleLife Readers Share Their Personal 9/11 Stories

Editor's Note: It has been 12 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 sent shock waves through the nation. Earlier this week, we asked readers to share with us their personal stories of 9/11. Today, we want to let the voices of our readers be heard through their unique perspectives of that tragic day.

 

On September 11, 2001, my first-born son was just nine days old.  We were so excited because my father was coming in from New York City to see his grandson.

I woke up that morning for his feeding and flipped on the TV.  As I sat rocking my son, the image was blurry due to my lack of sleep and coffee.  From the close up of the burning building, I believed it was a building in Dallas.  Only as the reporter began explaining that it was the World Trade Center and had been struck by a plane did I start to panic. I suddenly realized, MY DAD WAS ON A PLANE at the same time heading from NY to DFW!  My husband and I sat panicked waiting for more info.  It came in slowly, so for at least an hour or two we were terrified that he might have been on that plane. We tried calling his cell phone and family in New York but we just kept getting "all circuits are busy."

It was only a few hours later that we finally received a call from my father on the airplane.  He said that everything was fine until the captain came on and stated that they were grounding all planes immediately. Luckily they were near their intended destination. He said once they landed, everyone's cell phones went crazy. Only then did he and the passengers learn what had happened.  As he got off the plane, there was a mad dash to all car rental places because most people wanted to get back to their loved ones in NY.  It took awhile but he was finally able to secure a car to drive back.

He was able to visit for a day but then his two-day journey back to NY began.  Meanwhile in New York City, my stepbrother was working in the financial district.  After the planes hit and he evacuated his building, he was unable to get access to his own car or even drive over the bridge. He borrowed a bike and pedaled for miles and miles.  He needed to get home to his daughter who had just recently lost her mother.  He wanted her to know she still had him.

We have the mementos of my father's plane ticket and itinerary along with the letter he wrote my son. He wanted to try and explain to him someday what really was unexplainable.  The biggest reminders we have of that day are the videotapes of my father rocking his new grandson adoringly with the 9/11 news reports and commentary heard clearly in the background.  I think it made us all realize how precious life was and that little baby made us wonder how there could be such evil in the face of such innocence.

— Stephanie Wolverton, Allen

 

I think we have a unique story for the morning of 9/11. My wife, Kathy, and I learned about the attack on the US on 9/11/01 at Pearl Harbor, the site of the last attack on US soil.

On September 9, we flew from Dallas to Honolulu, Hawaii to meet my parents for a vacation. My father is a 30-year veteran of the US Navy and was once stationed at Pearl Harbor. On the morning of 9/11, we rented a car, bought coffee and headed out to go visit Pearl Harbor to see the base and the memorials. It was a beautiful morning in Hawaii, and we were really surprised to see a long line of traffic when we got near the base. After sitting in line for a long time, my father said to go around the line. When we could finally see the base gate, he said "stop the car, we're not getting on base today because something serious has happened in the world.” What we saw was a Defcon 5 sign and soldiers searching vehicles over, under, inside and out with weapons drawn. At that point, we decided to go to the Missouri memorial because it's off base. We were again surprised to pull into the parking lot to see that it was empty. We thought we were just lucky until, while we were walking up to the memorial, a park ranger approached. He told us that we "must vacate the premises immediately.” When we asked why, he told us about the planes and the towers. As we returned to our car, another car came speeding into the parking lot, and a couple of guys hopped out. They identified themselves as reporters from the local Fox 4 TV station and interviewed us right there about the attacks on the US, standing in front of Pearl Harbor and the USS Missouri memorial.

— Mike Zolton, Richardson

 

I have lived in Allen for 17 years.  On 9-9-01, my husband and I woke up in the sunshine in Midtown Manhattan in a tiny — yet expensive and stylish — hotel room.  We were in NYC for my cousin’s wedding.  We had started the trip a few days earlier by flying to Buffalo, N.Y. and driving over to Niagara Falls on the Canada side. We had a funny thing happen at the border crossing into Canada — the guard asked us if we had anything in there besides “Canollis.”  My husband said, “Whats a Canolli?” The guard laughed and waved us through without looking at IDs or passports.  Then, we flew from Buffalo to NYC on Sept. 6, on a beautiful clear morning, with almost no one on our airplane.  The airline forgot to even check our IDs that morning — which we thought was just weird.  We flew next to the Manhattan coastline, the early morning sun glistening off the buildings and the water.  Thursday, Sept. 6, we’d walked around NYC and went to a Broadway play that night, “The Tale of the Allergists Wife.” 

By Friday, the rest of our extended family had arrived and we were enjoying the city and our relatives.  On Saturday, Sept. 8, a group of us rode the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, visited Ellis Island, and then went to the World Trade Center for a tourist tour.  My husband and I already had tickets to it so we went, while the others in our group decided to skip it since it was almost time for the wedding.  My husband and I ascended the North Tower in a packed elevator, to the 81st floor (not sure if I remember the floor and tower right).  That weekend there was a Michael Jackson concert at Tavern On the Green, and there were lots of people there from out of town for that.  I had my first digital camera with me, and took several pictures from the observation deck. A Russian man who spoke no English asked me with gestures if I could take his picture, which of course I did. We watched the scene all around at ground level from up in that tower.  We saw a movie about NYC and about the making of the building.  We had a picture made of my husband as King Kong next to one WTC tower, and me as the damsel in distress in his hand.  We shopped in the gift shop and talked with people.  They were so friendly and welcoming.  We descended the elevator to the basement and found a whole underground city — a mall, eateries, and the subway.  No time for that now — we had to go get ready for the wedding.   The wedding was beautiful with much merrymaking.  Sunday, we attended Broadway on Broadway, a street celebration of all the Broadway shows. That is where we met the stars of the show we had seen.  Michelle Li and Tony Roberts from “The Tale of the Allergists Wife” stood a foot above the crowd. They were happy to let us have pictures with them — that is my sister in the photo attached.  Happy and very satisfied with our trip and family visit, we flew home on Sunday, Sept. 9.  

Both of us went to work on Monday, and then Tuesday, Sept. 11 morning, happened.  As my husband had stepped out of the front door to leave for work, the radio was on playing music and nothing was being reported.  My husband came back to the door and said, “Hey, they are saying that a prop plane hit the World Trade Center.”  Hmm… I thought. That is weird, as we were just in there.  Little did we know what was about to occur — our Pearl Harbor. Our sneak attack received.  I was at home when it was announced that a second plane had hit and we were under attack.  I drove in to work bewildered, and listened to NPR announce that a tower fell while driving west on Legacy.  I could not believe it — could not comprehend it — so many lives ended that day.  The next few hours, I spent at my place of business, Dr Pepper Seven Up in Plano, watching CNN, my jaw dropped, on the big screens in the training room.  The Pentagon had been hit, now how many other planes were there and where were they going to hit next?   My work friends all listened to my experience having just been in the WTC building a few days prior, and they all passed around my camera to look at the pictures.  One of my coworkers had a brother-in-law in one of the towers and he had tried to hide in a Halon-protected server room designed to protect computers from fire.  Apparently he had texted or phoned his family and let them know where he was.  It was a good plan to survive a fire in the building.  No one thought they would collapse. Sadly, along with 3,000+ others, he perished that day at his workplace.  I also remember telling another coworker, who was a contractor and thought he should continue working that day.  I was not his manager or anything — just a coworker — but I told him, “No one expects you to work today. This is about more important things. Our country is in shock. Please stop writing code and come talk with us.”  The coworker that just lost his brother-in-law was very stoic — I know he was just trying to process everything like the rest of us.  We all just tried to help each other.  By 1 p.m., all of Dr Pepper Seven Up had been released to go home and be with our families.  That was a very good response and I commend them for doing that.  I had to give a ride to a friend that lived in Prosper — her husband had dropped her at the office that day and wasn’t going home for a while.  My husband also worked a full day that day which was ridiculous, I thought.  The sky was eerily quiet since all air traffic was halted.

Like many people, I wanted to do something to help.  My next fear was that family members had stayed to do more in NYC — where were they and were they safe?  It must have been providence, as for the first time, I collected all the family emails when we were together.  This was before smart phones and tablets, but by 2001 many people had email addresses — be it AOL or Juno, or even Compuserv — they had something.  I went home and built a website to collect and post information about the collective family members who had all been in NYC with us.  I mass emailed and got the responses and posted them.  Thank goodness for those email addresses — phones were not working, but email was.  I received texts on my work pager, emails, and a few phone calls that were all good news.  Everyone had made it out safely, even my cousins had left for their honeymoon, and miraculously their local friends had escaped unharmed.   

The mother of the groom’s best friends had had a close call.  She and her husband were supposed to fly from NYC to San Francisco Monday night at 6 p.m.  They sat delayed at the airport for many hours. Finally at midnight, they got on a plane and flew safely home.  Several other locals they had been waiting with, one with a baby, had given up and gone home to try to fly out to San Francisco again Tuesday morning, which was one of the hijacked planes. 

I’ll never know why the terrorists picked Sept. 11 as the day, or if they’d happened to be testing the airlines out and crossed paths with us a few days prior.  I always wondered what I would have done if faced with a hijacker.  I admire those that fought back over Pennsylvania and crashed the plane into a field rather into another building.  We’ll never know what really transpired there.  And I will never look at a box cutter the same way again.

Our thoughts turned to all the local NYC people we had crossed paths with on our trip.  The guy we joked around with about the King Kong picture, the taxi driver, the gift shop worker, the elevator man…etc.  We had come across a group of entrepreneurs that had won a contest, had been flown in to NYC, and they were going to an awards ceremony near the WTC on Tuesday morning — what became of them?  I will never know.  

We started combing through our pictures — some from the Staten Island ferry that look right at the two WTC Towers from the water, as well as a couple of amazing photos from the tower observation deck were stand outs.  We scrutinized the many people caught in those photos — I even sent a couple to the FBI. We also have videos. I put all of our maps into a box for safekeeping, and 12 years later it still is in the top of the closet.

Of course, we were glued to CNN for the next hours, days and weeks, trying to understand who and why and how. Anger and sadness were daily emotions. We had plans to try to get pregnant that fall, and we delayed them. We did finally have a girl in 2003 and a boy in 2009. 

I visited Ground Zero in 2002 on a business trip and was moved by the memorials and the giant pit that was the grounds. I hope to get back there to see the water garden memorial in person. It is certainly beautiful on TV. During the 10-year memorial, I watched the ceremony on TV.  James Taylor sang a song called “Close Your Eyes.”  I could not believe it — that is the song my then 2-year-old son went to sleep with every night.  When I really thought about those words I have sung along with for so long, I realized it meant we need to use our time we have to spend with family and the ones we love. “You can sing this song when I’m gone / and no one is going to take our time away.” Those terrorists did take our time away, leaving only memories. So just in case, make sure you have made those memories and continue to make them.  It helped me decide to stay home with my kids rather than work and put them in daycare. I don’t think about 9/11 every day anymore, but I still think of it often. How close we were to personally being in the middle of it and so thankful we were home safe out of harm’s way. I think about how crossing a border and boarding a plane would never be the same. I think about how there would be no hesitation to physically subdue another passenger who did something suspicious on a plane, train…etc. Being in skyscrapers makes me nervous.

Judy Cote, Allen

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013